Distilling the history, science, politics, geography and mystery of wine into 813 pages is a formidable task—but the third edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine rises to it wonderfully. Jancis Robinson, the acclaimed wine writer, is again at the helm, overseeing 3,900 erudite entries. Four hundred are new, reflecting the influence of globalization, the Internet, technological advances in precision viniculture, and the encroachment of obnoxious “critter” labels. The tome can be dipped into by anyone in urgent need of illustrations of German trellising systems or of settling dinner-party quibbles about “sirah” versus “syrah.” There’s also no shortage of fodder for oenophile one-upmanship: the proper term for “plastic corks,” for instance, is “synthetic closures.” Where the book excels, however, is in telling the story of wine in a manner that will captivate even the non-wine drinker. Entries span Islam’s effect on wine’s history, wine in English literature, and Louis Pasteur’s legacy to winemakers. There are some weird surprises as well, such as the inclusion of former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev because of his anti-alcohol campaigns in the ’80s, which stifled the indigenous industry and forced nearby countries exporting wine to the Soviet Union to better their quality for more discerning markets. All is reader-friendly, down to the pale burgundy accent colour used on pages; it’s destined to blend nicely with inevitable red-wine spillage.
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