“The 24-Hour Wine Expert” by Jancis Robinson MW came out over two years ago so one would ask as to why I’d bother reviewing it now? Quite simply that in a time of fake news, half truths, and more succinctly, questionable wine authorities, this book is more necessary now than ever.
How I came to be in possession of the book was that a friend was asking me one day what books she should get in order to better her own wine knowledge. An unabashed drinker and lover of wines, she found her knowledge lacking and was bothered by it. I found myself in a similar predicament years ago which set me on the path I’m on now but for people who don’t want to spend literal months leafing through the massive tomes that do indeed have all the answers (and which Jancis has also written), what books are recommendable? What books can one read quickly, find approachable, and know that the knowledge gained is correct knowledge? This short little pocket book is the one that I found arrived to the top of the list.
What makes it unique? Well, it does exactly what it says it does. Sure, it’s black and white on light paper but that makes it very portable and thumb-able. It doesn’t have all the answers to everything–nothing that’s a fast read can accomplish that–but it has everything that forms the base of knowledge for anyone who wants to know what say, fermentation is, or what Burgundy wines are in general. What are fancy wines to buy for that collector friend? Those are in there. What are those wines to bring to a party or match well with certain foods? Those are also in there.
There is another book out there that has pretty pictures and charts to go along with the text. It claims to make experts out of people and I’ve bashed its horrid lack of factual accuracy here before as it sacrificed brevity and “fun!” for usefulness. The does not plague “The 24-Hour Wine Expert” and it’s everything that one actually needs to get started in wine. It’s not flashy but it more than does the job it sets out to do. I don’t really understand why it didn’t get more press than it did.
Anyone who follows me here knows that I can take a critical eye to most anything, including my own work. But in looking through the book, there’s essentially nothing I can criticize. Jancis is pinpoint accurate while at the same time writing in such a manner that I feel anyone wanting to explore the world of wine more would not be put off by. Sure, there’s a lot of information inside these 100 pages of text, but you can come back to it as you like and carry the book as a quick reference. If you ever get to a point where you think, “Hmm, I’d like to know more about this.” it’s very easy to jump off into the Oxford Companion to Wine, World Atlas of Wine, Wine Bible, or for the seriously nerdy, Wine Grapes.
The one thing I find in this book is that there’s a tilt towards more French wine references than any other. Of course for a writer whose career has spanned a most impressive, unstoppable four decades, this is quite understandable as French wine formed and to a large extent continues to form the backbone of what modern wine is. You need a base point and given that most appellation and classification systems in the world are based upon the French model, I’ll handily yield it’s the place for people to set as a foundation to their knowledge. I’m just always a fan of exploring as much of the wine world as possible, but within 100 pages, you have your limits. That said, the short section of suggested wines to try if you like a certain style or grape and want to branch out is excellent and really the best I’ve seen in this department both for its brevity as well as its accuracy.
I think that beyond the immediate accessibility of the book, what I love is that Jancis didn’t just phone this in and write some droll, quick text. For anyone who doesn’t know her writing, she’s exceptionally witty and there are plenty of small asides I feel people might have missed but give the book much more texture and life than other attempts at such guides. I quite enjoyed in “Topic of wine choices: English/Canadian wines: English/Canadian patriot & Burgundy: masochist”.
While this isn’t a book for people who’ve years of study under their belts, it’s definitely the book for people who ask those people no end of questions. Now, if only there was the exact same book for IT, the world would regain balance although I can’t see a book called, “The 24-Hour Computer Expert” to work anywhere near as well as this one does for wine.
Review copy purchased by reviewer