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Books: Hugh on Hugh

Published:  18 January, 2007

To judge from Hugh Johnson's latest book - Wine: A Life Uncorked (20; Weidenfeld & Nicolson) - he has spent the past 40 years purely swanning around the world enthusing over fine wines. Of course, Hugh has had two strokes of luck: as Andr Simon's adopted' son, and being chosen by publishing genius James Mitchell to edit the first of his two masterpieces, The World Atlas of Wine. But this ignores the enormous effort required to write those two classics, the Atlas and The Story of Wine. He also largely passes over the contribution he made to spreading the gospel of wine through The Sunday Times
Wine Club. Unfortunately, such omissions make the book seem rather self-indulgent.

Okay, he's being grossly unfair to himself, showing only his gentleman amateur-connoisseur side, but so what? Every page contains what might be called numerous felicities', which add up to an incomparable lesson in how to convey the enjoyment that, combined with Hugh's incomparable depth of knowledge of the world's wines and their producers, gives wine writing its legitimacy. It helps that he has a nice line in self-deprecation. He pins down the taste of a Chablis to orange blossom, spring weeds and bonfire smoke, with a hint of almonds and

nail varnish. Does it sound undrinkable? That's the trouble with words.'

But it is not all golden words; he can slay fashionable dragons with a single phrase. On oak:

The smell of a carpenter's shop is fine when when you are buying a table, but not in your glass.' And on Robert Parker: the weakness of any system based on scores is that it is based on tasting not on drinking Scores have invented that old bogeyman, the wine snob and as a more potent force.' For a wine snob is a wine bore'. And that is certainly not Hugh.