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Review

The Life 
and 
Wines 
of
Hugh Johnson

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 Come calling at the Winefullness Towers and you'll hear no complaints about the great Hugh Johnson. His work as a wine writer and viticultural authority is beyond anything the rest of us could ever reach. His knowledge about the world of the grape is immense, and his welcoming ease is something that I'll always remember from a brief meeting I had with him at a Romanian wine event I went to a few years ago.

 His 'Story of Wine' is a must read, and if you haven't read it then shame on you, because it makes the link between the history of the world and the history of the grape so intrinsic that you wonder why it's not part of the history curriculum of schools. It seems as though the progress of the human race has always rested upon the backbone of wine, and without it, our backstory would be so different. It is a constant companion in my wine library, and a constant reference work when I'm trying to find a deeper element to a subject. 

 Once again Académie Du Vin Library know what they're doing, and once again they have chosen a subject that most of us gravitate towards written about by a man you just want to spend time with. Congratulations to Académie for their mission to bring us works that are either deserving of a revisit or essential if you want to enlarge your knowledge.

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 I'm going to say that I always find Hugh Johnson a master storyteller whose works are so easy to read and enjoyably sprinkled with juicy nuggets of storytelling, and 'The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson' is a welcome edition to his portfolio.

 As I write this, my copy of his hugely informative and entertaining work, 'The Story of Wine' is close at hand, and I just hope that 'The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson' is cut from the same cloth.

 The foreword is written by Eric Asimov, a man who's the Chief Wine Critic for the New York Times, and I think that his opening statement could have been written by any number of people. 'I'M PROUD TO CALL Hugh Johnson my role model for writing about wine.' and, on the pages that follow, we learn why, as Johnson takes us through his life in wine, his journeys around the world of wine and his encounters with various other enthusiasts.

 He tells us that with the right companion, a single wine can be a continuing conversation. I would add that a volume of Hugh Johnson causes much the same effect, and as I read this particular book I found oodles of stories that made me long to meet Hugh again so that I could ask him some of the questions that are raised. We learn that he got into wine while at Cambridge (Universities seems to play a significant part in the journey for wine knowledge by the British). How lucky he seems to have been to sample the delights of a Lafite 1949 at so young an age (once you've been bitten by that kind of quality bug there can surely be no way back).

 One of my favourite things about reading the writings of Hugh Johnson is the page-turning quality of what he's telling you. This is done through humour, astute observations and language that makes one feel that the writer is in the same room as the reader. I've briefly mentioned his Cambridge days, but I love his early encounters with Californian wines. This reminded me of when I first went and was met with a similar reaction when I told anybody who'd listen about the marvels that could be drunk in the Napa and Sonoma region.

 As the book unfolds you're taken on a journey as Hugh recounts his adventures with various vintages around the world. Thankfully, there is nothing pompous about the work, and his humour is never far away, along with those vivid word pictures he paints through his writing.

 I don't want to give you too many of his anecdotes because I actually want you to read this book and enjoy discovering them for yourself, but among my favourites are his visit to Japan to teach about wine, his continuing look at what California had to offer when nobody knew there was anything of note there, and his relationship with the Rhone. Each are described with such ease that it's possible to see them clearly in your imagination. If you've ever been to any of the places he mentions then his descriptions will have you thinking of return visits while a smile plays on your lips because they are so observationally vivid.

 If there is a downside for me it's the quality of the photographs. I feel that they're lumped together in a cluttered fashion. They are also printed on a paper of the quality that doesn't do them justice. They're often quite small, and detail is lost as one tries hard to pick out what is going on. Perhaps it would have been better to cut the number down and print them on something a little bit more glossy. With books like this I usually look at the photographs first as my way in to the text, but with these it makes me feel a little frustrated, and I'm glad that the excellent text takes my mind of them.

 So, would I recommend, 'The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson'? Without hesitation. He's been at the top of the game for so long, and reading this tells you why. He informs without patronising, and his prose make it feel as though he's a friends who's just got back from an interesting holiday that he wants to share with you.

 

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