I sometimes wonder if it's possible to write a new book about wine and have it published successfully without a foreword by Hugh Johnson. He is probably the most noted authority on wine, and a kind of conglomerate in his own right, with several wine books on the market (also books about trees and gardening), guest appearances at select enophilic endeavors, articles in many publications, and all those forewords. Johnson's approval has become a kind of imprimatur of legitimacy in a world full of querulous palates and frothy congratulation.
Michael Broadbent is another wine writer who is often asked to write a foreword by publishers of new wine books. After that, the "names" fall off rapidly, although some wine writer can usually be found to scribble some orthodoxy. And so it is with pleasure that I announce a new book about wine not just without a foreword by Johnson, Broadbent or any other olfactorian but, in fact, without a foreword at all.
It is The Essential Wine Book by Oz Clarke (Viking; $20), an odd book that seems to fit the personality of the writer, with good photographs that include dreamy ones of Clarke parodying wine appreciation, and one of a woman holding a bucket and wincing as Clarke spits into it.
Clarke is not only a wine drinker of some repute -- he was once the youngest Wine Taster of the Year in Britain, according to the dust jacket -- but also an actor and a singer. Wine drinking has always been the sport of amateurs, but the pros no doubt consider Clarke's appearing in "Evita" as a bit much for a trade that takes itself very seriously. I recommend The Essential Wine Book for its breezy yet concise exposition of the world's wine regions and some good, accessible information for beginners and intermediates.
The best bargain on the market is the reissue of Alexis Bespaloff's introduction to wine, now called Alexis Bespaloff's New Signet Book of Wine, a quality paperback without pictures but full of basic, absorbable information. The latest edition, revised and expanded and more expensive than its predecessor, still costs only $10.
Other reissues include the latest edition of Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine (Simon and Schuster; $40) and Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits (Knopf; $40). Johnson's is the more appealing, with beautiful maps and more attention paid to wine-producing countries other than Johnson's beloved France. Lichine's book is fatter. There's enough information in both to keep you busy until the '82 me'docs mature.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston has undertaken a new series called "The Wines of France," with individual volumes on the regions of Bordeaux. Both Margaux and Saint-Julien, by Bernard Ginestet, are overpriced at $20. The photographs are nice but the prose has that dour quality of translation. Like so much writing about Bordeaux by people involved in producing, evaluating and selling its wines, this book seems determined to promote, rather than report on, the people and wines of Bordeaux. Both books have -- you guessed it -- a foreword by Hugh Johnson.