Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A companion or a bible?

Following last week's post (Les 5 d Vn) on the new edition of The Wine Bible's coverage of the Loire, David Cobbold asked me to do a comparison with the new edition - the fourth - of The Oxford Companion to Wine. As always I do what I am told ......
Firstly there are some similarities: both are edited by women: The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeill and The Oxford Companion by Jancis Robinson MW. Both women sport impressive items of jewellery - a necklace for Jancis and earrings for Karen. The rather severe photo of Jancis appears to be warning reviewers to watch out or else......
Both book covers make big claims. The Bible is ' A masterpiece of wine writing' while The Companion is 'The greatest wine book ever published', so clearly we have heavyweight titles here.....
Talking of actual weight The Bible at 1.34 kilos is a flyweight compared to The Companion, which tips the scales at 2.85 kilos. Bearing in mind that Jancis' Wine Grapes is even heavier @ 3.08 kilos, it is clear that her campaign against over-heavy wine bottles does not extend to wine books!
The Wine Bible runs to 996 pages for $24.95 against 860 pages for $65 forThe Companion. These figures are, however, misleading as The Companion is very significantly wider than The Bible with three columns of text compared a biblical two. There are black and white photos or tables on many of The Bible's pages, whereas The Companion is solid text with the few full pages colour photos are not included in the page count. Although I haven't attempted a word count it is clear that Jancis uses many more words than Karen.
So how do the two contestants fare regarding the Loire? As we saw last week The Bible is weak on the Loire with a decidedly partial revision. UnlikeThe Bible, which is arranged by region,The Companion is ordered alphabetically, which makes it rather more difficult to judge as it involves hopping about the book.
Anyway time for a look at some of The Companion's Loire entries. Montlouis is covered in more detail and includes mention of the recent AC Montlouis Pétillant Naturel. However, Montlouis' recent dynamism isn't recognised and the figure of a third of the production being sparkling is low - the Interloire site has sparkling wine at 55%.
Turning to Vouvray the entry declares that 'In less generous vintages, only dry and possibly sparkling wines are made.' Whereas sparkling Vouvray is invariably made, especially in difficult vintages as there is both a demand for it in French supermarkets and the maximum yield permitted for sparkling Vouvray is substantially higher than that for still - 65 hl/ha compared with 52 hl/ha for still.
The Quarts de Chaume entry makes me think that The Companion lacks the local knowledge that would provide full accuracy. It is incorrect to say there has been little recent investment as there has been investment at Bellerive and, perhaps, more importantly the last decade or more has seen a significant number of Anjou producers acquiring parcels here. Domaine Ogereau being the latest. The situation is now radically different from the late 1960s when there were just a handful of producers. It is also incorrect to say that the minimum sugar levels are rarely achieved. Of recent vintages since 2005 only in the horrendous October 2012 was it virtually impossible to make genuine Quarts de Chaume - unless you picked unripe and used cryoextraction......
Would I buy either of these reference books? Fortunately these were both review copies. I certainly wouldn't buy Karen MacNeill's Bible and I would have to think hard before I shelled out £40 (£25.03 on Amazon…) for Jancis Robinson's Companion, although I am pretty sure there are sections that are more convincing than the Loire.
My doubts about buying The Companion are, in part, whether I would actually use it as if I have a query the net is my first resource. I have had my copy of The Companion for a while now and have hardly used it .....


Bob Rossi said...

One thing that would keep me from buying the Companion is the alphabetical arrangement. It's why I instead bought Tom Stevenson's Wine Encyclopedia years ago as a basic reference. On the other hand, the Jancis Robinson et al Wine Grapes, with its alphabetical arrangement, is a great resource.

Jim's Loire said...

Bob. I agree I would buy Grapes, which I did, long before the Companion.