Text Size:-+

Book Review: The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson

oxford_companion_3.jpgAs casual wine lovers, we live in the daily romance of wine. We thrive on the pleasures of a great glass with a wonderful meal, a fabulous bottle shared with a friend, or the exciting first taste of a new grape variety. But lurking just under the surface of this delightful, even magical world, lies a deeper more complex universe of wine made up of history, geography, geology, meteorology, organic chemistry, geopolitics, economics, philosophy, and more.

Some are content to always experience wine in the most casual of ways, but nearly every wine lover I know has at some point wanted to at least dip their toe into the richer world of knowledge that adds new layers of meaning and enjoyment to our favorite beverage.

Ultimately, there are two types of people in the world: those who want to own an encyclopedia and those who do not. But anyone who seriously wants to learn more about wine -- more than simple osmosis from friends will afford -- should become devotees of at least one reference book on wine. When I realized that I actually did want to know what the hell mercaptans were, and once and for all figure out how to pronounce Meritage, I went out and bought the heaviest wine book I could find.

I've now owned all three editions of the Oxford Companion to Wine, and while I expect that the recently released Third Edition will be my last made from dead trees, I will continue to purchase every edition that is ever released. Why? Because it is the single most useful book on wine ever written in the English language.

I will resist the temptation to justify my claim by peppering this review with a shotgun blast of knowledge from this weighty tome. While I certainly have found that there is a lot of obscure wine knowledge that is not in The Oxford Companion (it sadly does not describe every single one of the thousands of grape varietals in the world) I have learned more about wine from this book than any other I have ever read.

Back when I was single, blog-less, and had time to sit around on the couch flipping through my coffee table books, I would also occasionally grab (carefully bending at the knees and lifting with a straight back) this book, flip it open to a random page, and soak in the wine knowledge.

Most of the time, however, I use it whenever I come across a wine word, region, variety, technique, personage, or bit of history that I want to know something (or more) about. Google can be useful for a reminder of what are the five First Growths of Bordeaux, but when I want to know the types and uses of different grape trellising methods there's no substitute for the succinct prose of The Oxford Companion.

Organized in straight alphabetic form, with edge-guides and section markers, the book clearly earns its nickname as"The Encyclopedia Britannica of Wine." Simple typographic conventions help readers understand when entries exist elsewhere for terms that are used in the text that they are reading, and a helpful few pages in the very back of the book list every item covered in the book. Other helpful appendices cover wine production volumes and vineyard acreage for every wine producing country in the world; the permitted grape varieties for every controlled appellation in the world; and per capita wine consumption by country. The text is richly illustrated with diagrams, maps, photographs, tables, and charts worthy of any major reference book.

Importantly, The Oxford Companion does more than just define, it explains. The entry for "rootstock," for instance, contains a brief explanation of what they are, followed by a brief history of their use, their effects on wine, how vintners choose an appropriate rootstock, the characteristics of different rootstocks, and a listing of all the major rootstocks and their uses. In short, pretty much everything you'd want to know unless you were studying for your viticulture final at U.C. Davis.

Every wine lover eventually reaches a point where their enjoyment of wine requires them to know more about it. Every wine connoisseur, no matter how knowledgeable, runs across things in the wine world that need to be looked up. And every wine geek needs a secret source of knowledge so that next time someone mentions mercaptans, they know that they are chemical compounds found in wine caused by yeast reacting with sulfur in the wine that are responsible for off odors like "burnt match" and "rotten egg."

Neat, huh?

Jancis Robinson (editor), The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition), Oxford University Press, USA 2006 $40.29 (Hardcover).

Comments (29)

03.20.08 at 10:16 AM

As a WSET Advanced Certificate and soon to be Diploma Student I would have to agree about this book. This is an invaluable tool for wine lovers and wine professionals alike. My general rule for using the Oxford Companion to Wine in my studies is, if it isn't in the book, than it doesn't pertain to wine.

Dean Tudor wrote:
03.20.08 at 1:05 PM

Well, nice as it is to see a review of the book, it could still be as dead as the dead wood it is printed on, in that it came out in 2006 (copyright 2006)...why is the review appearing now? It is not, as you say, "recently released". I don't want to start any flame wars, but why now? The EB literary edition (#11? #13?) is a great read too, but it came out about 100 years ago...

Alder wrote:
03.20.08 at 1:53 PM


Thanks for the comments. The 3rd edition is much more recently released than say, the 2nd edition which was back in 1999. I wasn't aware that in order to be relevant or useful, book reviews could only be about books released in the past 6 months...?

Part of what I'm trying to do on Vinography is build a collection of wine book reviews that are written by and for the wine loving community. That will include current releases as well as "classics," of which this certainly qualifies.

1WineDude wrote:
03.21.08 at 1:01 PM

Thanks Alder - I've recommended this book to people for a long time, it seems that once they hit a certain plateau of wine knowledge (past Intermediate but not quite Advanced yet), they need this book.

Wink Lorch wrote:
03.22.08 at 11:09 AM

Great review summing up this invaluable 'bible' and who it might appeal to well. Interesting, Alder that you mentioned that the 3rd edition is likely to be the last you will buy in book form. Since the 2nd edition, it's been available on-line for members of Purple Pages - the subscription part of www.jancisrobinson.com - and of course, that makes it searchable with a click.

On the subject of how up-to-date the 3rd edition is ... I believe that the intention is - when they can ever find the time - for Jancis and her side-kick Julia Harding MW to try to keep entries up-to-date for the on-line version. I don't think it's happening quite yet, but that would make it really worthwhile to use the on-line version.

08.22.14 at 5:53 PM

If you cannot eyeball the slope then use two pegs at either
end of your planned and attach a string and measure the slope with a level and then use the string as your guide to assure a correct slope.
Spider-Man barely had the strength to hold Green Goblin. I'm telling you, B-Rex is a genuine Jayszoo-Johnny-One-Note and
damned proud of it'absorbed by it 'virtually reeks of it.

08.23.14 at 9:07 AM

Hola, me encantó esta publicación. De hecho, yo elegí a registrarse en el sitio.

Luego, puedes seguir más los dos m. Aprovecho este post para
presentarme. Mi nombre es Claudio, trabajo en España y me apasiona el mundo digital.
Un cortesía a todos aquellos que leen este mensaje.

08.23.14 at 9:37 AM

Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing
this post plus the rest of the website is extremely good.

mcaf.ee wrote:
08.23.14 at 10:49 PM

Asking questions are in fact fastidiojs thing if you are not understanding anything
entirely, except this article provides nice understanding even.

08.24.14 at 8:37 AM

Thank you for ?xdpressing your thoughtful knowledge with all of ?s.

I thought your webpage was well written and give? the reader a lot to

08.24.14 at 4:02 PM

I blog frequently and I genuinely appreciate your information. This article has truly peaked my interest.

I'm going to take a note of your website and keep checking for new details about once per
week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

08.24.14 at 7:52 PM

Often, you will be given a paper game sheet to use with your Mexican Jumping Beans.
The drawback of this browser is that, it won't fit the iPad display.

In case, file s get deleted you can get them from the Back
again up information.

08.24.14 at 11:31 PM

No matter if some one searches for his essential thing, therefore he/she needs to be available that in detail, therefore that thing is
maintained over here.

08.25.14 at 11:07 AM

I e?ery time spent my half an hour t? read this blog's content daily ?long with a
mug of coffee.

08.25.14 at 3:30 PM

I have learn a few good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting.
I surprise how a lot effort you place to make the sort
of wonderful informative website.

Hershel wrote:
08.26.14 at 12:16 AM

Hi the?e to ?v?ry one, t?? contents ?resent at this website ?re genuinely awesome for people knowledge, ?ell,
kee? up t?e nice work fellows.

08.26.14 at 3:40 PM

Fastidious respond in return of this query with solid arguments and telling
all on the topic of that.

08.26.14 at 6:19 PM

This can be imperative to get your meaning across.
Vertical blinds are best as these might be transferred at a side, for moving gates similar to the door slides over a side.
Bass shades are recognized to keep pests away.

outdoor dog wrote:
08.26.14 at 7:44 PM

Many puppy owners find a dog pen to be a great investment in keeping the puppy safe.
You may choose to build one inside, however, it will surely
block the view. Your pet will not need you in order to get exercise
at his own pace in a secure area.

blogspot.com wrote:
08.27.14 at 3:34 AM

Just like you can verify your email at function or on a friends computer.
Everyone can perform bubble breaker, be it the young or the previous.

No trips need to be made to the library henceforth.

08.27.14 at 4:48 AM

You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think
I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely
broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the
hang of it!

movie 4k wrote:
08.27.14 at 10:57 PM

Such link bars go with any kind of fits provided that you watches that match and have belt buckles.
But need alone will not provide a lot of money to you.
Meaning meetings that are style or standard haircuts.

Magda wrote:
08.27.14 at 11:12 PM

For her presenting her the split she deserves you might arrange a quick holiday.
The wrap may be the frosting to the meal, in terms of your clothing goes.
What are their favorite movies or guides?

08.28.14 at 2:19 AM

There are resources accessible to you that you can use to
determine the loyalty and sincerity of your girlfriend.
You can choose the hardware and software you need for your computing

08.28.14 at 8:57 AM

Hi there, I discovered your website via Google whilst looking for a comparable topic, your website came up, it appears to be
like good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

Hello there, just changed into alert to your blog through Google, and located that it's really informative.
I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will appreciate if you happen to proceed this in future.
Numerous folks will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

08.28.14 at 10:06 AM

It's not my first time to visit this website, i am
browwing this web site dailly and take pleasant facts from here all the time.

96off.com wrote:
08.28.14 at 10:23 AM

An execllent application just for a jailbroken telephone
could be the My3G. Another choice is always to turn into a tester.
Actually, however, those cameras draw in terms of performance and specs.

appcake deb wrote:
08.28.14 at 10:28 AM

I hope that the articles have been useful for you.
As you do it, you then have to wait around for a couple of seconds for the notification concept to
appear. Not precisely, but we've all chatted with someone whose been annoying like

09.02.14 at 3:10 PM

Hi colleagues, its fantastic article regarding teachingand entirely explained,
keep it up all the time.

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Pre-Order My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Earthquake Rattles Napa Harvest NIMBY Versus Vineyard in Malibu Vinography Images: Precious Droplets MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch 2014 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: August 29-31, Healdsburg, CA The (Still) Dismal State of California Chardonnay What a Way to Go: Wine At the End of Your Life Vinography Images: Into the Tank 72 Pinot Noirs on a Sunny Afternoon: Tasting at IPNC 2014 The Great White South: An Introduction to Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.