Drinking Culture: The World Atlas of Wine 8th Edition

Welcome to Drinking Culture, a new series on the OWC blog in which we indulge our literary side. Each month we’ll be perusing our bookshelves and picking out one of our favourite publications to share with you.

For our first instalment, we have chosen a book that deserves pride of place in any wine lover’s collection. Last October, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW released the eighth edition of their seminal World Atlas of Wine, arguably the greatest wine book ever published.

All major wine regions of the world are covered, beginning with a big-picture overview before zooming in on specific regions in the most minute of detail. The book is beautifully written, and manages to be at once informative and evocative. Key concepts are explained with aplomb, and as you read, you feel not only the vast expertise but the love the authors have for their subject.

And the maps! Oh, the maps. This book is a cartographer’s dream with maps detailing elevation, soil types, appellation boundaries and key producers. Not only are these maps immensely informative, they are also beautifully designed.The new edition contains twenty new maps (bringing the total in the book to 230). The introduction has been extended to include new pages on weather, finance and – crucially – climate change. In addition to this, there is what Robinson describes as ‘our increasing, and justified, preoccupation with sustainability so that organically and biodynamically grown vines are no longer exceptional and they need to be acknowledged specifically.’

The expansion of this benchmark reference work reflects the development and globalisation of the wine world. The first edition, published in 1971, devoted just 28 pages to ‘The New World’, while 74 went to France alone! These days the balance has of course shifted. In the words of Hugh Johnson, taken from the foreword of this, the eighth edition:

Why does an encyclopaedic work need so much revision? There are fields where progress is gradual, but the wine world in the past half-century has been a maelstrom of change. Wine as a pleasure, a study, a science, a pastime – and as an industry – has gone into orbit. You can credit scientific advance (indeed, you must), new interest in food, the expansion of travel and foreign holidays, more disposable income, more leisure, more curiosity, more ambition to produce something exceptional and make a name in the world. They all apply to wine – with the result, over five decades, that we now have a vast choice of at least drinkable, and often brilliant and original, wines to choose from.

Brilliant and original wines, yes. A brilliant and original book – absolutely. The World Atlas of Wine is more than just an atlas. It is a piece of history, conscientiously and comprehensively charting the development of the wine producing world for half a century.

If you haven’t already got a copy, you can order one here from Blackwell’s Bookshop