Book Review: 'Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties...'

Astonishing and encyclopedic, a necessity for wine lovers

We can only imagine what an incredible joy it was to receive a copy of Jean-Jacques Audubon’s gorgeous Birds of America.

For wine lovers, the new book Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz (Ecco, 1280pp, $175) is every bit as astonishing and encyclopedic as it is a necessity for oenophiles everywhere.

Photo courtesy of Jancis Robinson

Jancis Robinson is on a roll with reference books. She also wrote The Oxford Companion to Wine and was the co-author (with Hugh Johnson) of The World Atlas of Wine. Combining the three books would cost between $180 and $300, depending on where you buy them. That’s a stiff outlay, but you would possess a masterful reference library in just three volumes.

There are all sorts of wine lovers. Some love the panning-for-gold feeling of scanning the aisles for ridiculous bargains. Others are happy to spend a huge amount of money just to impress their friends. I have no doubt the latter group will snap this book up and lay it out for all to see. But what I would really love to see is the former group get copies and use them till the pages are covered with wine stains, hand-written notes, and lists of the best wineries for each of the grapes.

Like Audubon’s opus, Wine Grapes is by necessity just a smidge behind the times as soon as it’s published because viticulturists are always discovering new grapes. Luckily, Robinson’s own website will be keeping abreast of these events.

Jancis Robinson
Photo courtesy of Jancis Robinson

Back to Birds of America. A copy recently sold for $12 million. I’m not sure a copy of Wine Grapes will ever fetch that kind of money, but I have no doubt, for those of us who love wine, this will end up at a similar level of importance.

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