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Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 recently hit the shelves, and it’s interesting to see how the acclaimed British expert handles the Pacific Northwest wine industry.
The Pacific Northwest coverage accounts for just five of the 336 pages, and that section appears in the final third of the book, which packs information on every single page.
At $16, along with the content and its handy size, The Pocket Wine Book, published by Octopus Books USA, make this an ideal Christmas stocking stuffer for any wine consumer, all the way from novice to serious collector. Its condensed format and use of agate type may pose a challenge for those who squint to read the alcohol by volume on a wine label. Regardless of that, the 11 million copies sold since Johnson launched the series in 1977 allows publicists to refer to Johnson as “the world’s most popular wine writer.” His fascinating work includes a remarkable background as one of England’s leading horticulture and gardening experts.
Johnson lists Willamette Valley journalist Cole Danehower and British Columbia critic Anthony Gismondi in his acknowledgements, which helps explain why The Pocket Wine Book devotes coverage to not only the traditional Pacific Northwest wine legends but also shows the insight to provide a scouting report on some up-and-comers. There’s also an accurate primer on the past six vintages in the Northwest.
Don’t look here for wine reviews that use a point scale. Johnson loathes them in rather famous fashion. Instead, he favors a star system, with four stars as his top rating. Chateau Ste. Michelle is ascending with its quality, according to Johnson, and received his top rating of four stars while also denoting “usually particularly good value in its class.”
Joining the four-star club in Washington are Betz, Cayuse, L’Ecole No. 41, Leonetti, Long Shadows, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon.
As far as looking to the future, The Pocket Wine Book’s summary of Dusted Valley Vintners — three stars — is accurate. “Fast-rising star, impressive wines. Popular for Stained Tooth Syrah; beautiful Old Vine Chard or any single-variety release.”
Well-researched snippets, which lead the consumer to specific wines at the rated wineries, might be The Pocket Wine Book‘s most impressive feature, especially when time is limited for tourists or when needing help while standing in the aisle at the supermarket.
An interesting plug for the Northwest pops out on page 15 where Johnson suggests, “If you like Rioja, try Washington State Merlot.” It’s one of eight tips within his “If you like this, try this” chapter.
The entry for Northstar Winery — three stars — serves as a prime example. “Winemaker ‘Merf’ Merfeld is a Merlot maven. Northstar Premier Merlot is drop-dead gorgeous; Walla Walla Merlot is sultry.”
Oregon’s four-star wineries were Adelsheim, Bergstrom, Domaine Drouhin and Ponzi. The Pocket Wine Book noted Luisa Ponzi has taken her family’s wines to the next level. “Legendary producer now in 2nd generation making excellent wines. Res Chard is a standout, Aurora Pinot N a knockout. Don’t miss the brilliant Arneis.”
Indications of “good value” among three-star vintners in Oregon included Argyle, Bethel Heights, Dobbes and Soter. Spangler also grabbed three stars. “V.gd (very good) warm-climate reds, esp Res Cab Sauv and Petite Sirah; Viognier is always top-notch.”
Just three Idaho wineries were mentioned: Cinder, Koenig and Ste. Chapelle. Praise for Cinder began with three stars and properly described it as “Breakout Idaho winery making small amounts of marvellous Viognier, a unique Mourvedre/Tempranillo blend and (very good) Syrah.”
British Columbia received less than one page of coverage. Those garnering three stars included Blue Mountain, CedarCreek, Mission Hill, Road 13, Tantalus and rising star Painted Rock. No winery in the province got four stars.
There’s also a good listing of varieties recently planted in the Pacific Northwest, and that will encourage the intrepid to seek out wines made from Albarino, Auxerrois, Grenache Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Lagrein and Vermentino.
The Pocket Wine Book features wine recommendations based on taste preference and grape type, and it also lists Johnson’s favorite 200 wines from the last 12 months. He’s quick to mention those 200 selections should not be interpreted as his list of “The World’s Best Wines” — although there’s no doubt at least one of those spotlighted wineries will tout their ranked wine as just that, among the Top 200 of the year.
The book’s final 16 pages feature a section that drills down on Pinot Noir and includes a vignette on Veronique Drouhin, the second-generation winemaker at Domaine Drouhin-Oregon.
In the section of pairing Pinot Noir with food, Johnson’s praise of Oregon includes a comparison that “Oregon Pinot is probably the closest thing to burgundy in style and weight in the New World,” he wrote. He adds that “Salami and other charcuterie are good with these wines,” which may prompt the Red Hills Market in Dundee to stock up more heavily on its inventory of Olympic Provisions.
There will be a few chuckles throughout the Northwest when folks read the reference to the influence and influx of Californian winemakers in Oregon, “where every other winemaker seems to be a refugee from California — though not always for reasons of climate. The alleged crop sometimes known euphemistically as ‘Oregon ground cover’ (marijuana) was sometimes allegedly a greater attraction.”
Johnson also hinted California’s Russian River “can seem warm for Pinot.” That may generate some debate from defenders of Sonoma County.
And while the printed version of Hugh Johnson’s 2014 Pocket Wine Book can easily fit in the back pocket of a pair of cargo shorts, it’s available as an eBook through Amazon.com. There’s also an app form via the Apple Store, and its promoted features include a wine search function, an expanded version including seasonal articles and content, and the functionality to share research using social media.
There’s no doubting Johnson’s popularity and power on the global wine scene, but he remains remarkably prolific. This fall also brings the seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine, which Johnson co-wrote with Jancis Robinson, another famous British wine writer.