I’ll Drink to That: Wine Writer Hugh Johnson

Episode 385 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently and it’s somewhat of a milestone, despite the odd number, says Levi Dalton: “I have been asking to have Hugh on the show for over 3 years. Of course, the wait was worth it.”

Hugh Johnson has been hard at work as a writer of words for over 50 years, but it is the voice that gets you. His is a gravelly metronome, as sure to bring bright expectation as to bring swift closure. Consider, for instance, Hugh’s description of The Comet, an early airplane discussed at the beginning of the episode. It was, he says, “an aircraft that was way ahead of its time. It was the first jet airliner across the Atlantic, it was going to revolutionize everything! And then the wings fell off.” The statement rises with the plane, lifting off with promise, and then crashes quicker than it left the ground. It is an amazing way of speaking, really. To ebb and flow in this manner, with nothing extraneous in the motion. No extra words slosh around in the mixture or slip over the side. But then Hugh has long practiced sharing his experience within an economy of style. This is a writer who idealizes the way words were purchased for the old telegrams: As few as possible. Stop.

This interview finds Hugh reaching back to his childhood during the Second World War, through to his discovery of wine as a young man, all the way past the apogees of his career (unlike for most of us, there have been several for Hugh), and casting ahead to books that haven’t even been written yet. With 42 years behind him of publishing a wine atlas, his mind is on the 8th edition to come. There is a collection of poetry he would like to get out there. And of course, another new book is just about to arrive for us to devour. I know I’ll be picking it up. After all, there aren’t a lot of others out there who can write like Hugh can. No matter whether it is on the page or in person, it is his voice that gets you.

Listen to this episode:

I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine.