The Oxford Companion to Wine, 2015

Published by Sally on September 14, 2015


Title of book: The Oxford Companion to Wine
Authors/Eds: Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 2015
ISBN 978 0 19 870538 3
Pages: 912
Price: £40.00 (hardback)

 How does one review an icon of the book/wine world?

Added to which I’m partial. The book is so often a ‘first source’ to kickstart some research, or a confirmatory comfort blanket when a random brainstorm strikes me brainless, or indeed it’s exactly the apposite repository of just the information I’m after.

Frankly anyone who imagines this book is anything other than an essential ingredient to a wine-bookshelf is deluded. The book drew a line in the sand with its first edition 21 years ago, and it continues to be at the front line of consumer- and trade- appropriate (i.e. not scientific journals) educative material. Mind you, plenty of the 187 contributors are academics, providing the latest information on their specialist subjects. Dumbing down is not a criticism that’s going to be levelled at this book.

In answer to my own question, I thought I’d have a look at entries for themes that have been developing since the last edition in 2006, and about which I’ve written regularly, so have some small idea of what the entries might conceivably constitute.

Minerality is one such issue. It’s intriguing and inconsistently used. The subject gets its own, new, extensive entry, which is great to see. And it is somewhat gratifying (and relief-inducing) that my conclusions on the subject reflect those of the authors of the book.

“Cool climate” is another term that’s inconsistently used. And similarly to minerality, has somehow developed a (potentially misleading?) ‘quality’ imperative. The science appears to be a bit easier for this subject, and it’s good to see the climate classifications entry now includes reference to GST (growing season temperature) as an increasingly useful indicator to enable matching of cultivar groupings to site.

Closures are another topic nerdily close to my heart. Two recent acronyms have new entries. Oxygen has a big influence on the shelf life and development of packed wine (whether packed in bottle, composite carton, PET, can, pouch etc). Recent years have seen a lot of research into the subject. Exactly how much oxygen gets in via the closure has increasingly been measured, and many different stopper types now come with specified OTRs (oxygen transmission rates), which winemakers can relate to the wines they’ve made and their preferred ‘evolution’ rate (broadly).

Another newish measurement, total package oxygen, (TPO) also gets an entry. This is the amount of oxygen in the headspace plus that already dissolved in the wine. In combination with OTR, it gives clues as to post-packing development.

Another zeitgeist of our time … sustainability … also gets a new entry. The wine industry has been keen to put protocols in place to measure and improve sustainability parameters, not just viticulture (which had an entry in the previous issue too) but winemaking, packing and logistics, too, and these are all outlined in the new entry.

These few examples show both how dynamic and exciting is the wine industry, and how the OCW does such a great job at keeping pace with those changes, and informing readers about the wonderful world of wine from so many different aspects.

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