Hugh John­son

‘The ques­tion is al­ways, what next? My hunch is... look east’

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Hugh John­son OBE is a world-renowned wine writer

At this time of year i’m head-down in my next Pocket Wine Book. it’s the 43rd time i’ve done it, and no, it doesn’t get mo­not­o­nous. When i say ‘i’, by the way, it’s re­ally a big ‘we’. ev­ery year mar­garet Rand com­mis­sions and col­lates re­vised ma­te­rial from our 30-odd cor­re­spon­dents round the world; hi­lary Lums­den ed­its them; i pore over them, com­pare them with my own re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences, do a lot of fussy sub­bing, cut out any dis­pos­able words with­out mercy (‘min­eral’ is a fre­quent one) and round it off with my an­nual ‘Agenda’; a sum­mary of what strikes me as new, dif­fer­ent, bet­ter or worse. even ideas for im­prove­ments.

this is the tricky bit. there are a thou­sand changes i could men­tion: of style, own­er­ship, qual­ity, ma­tu­rity... But can i de­tect a theme, or themes? Over 40 years i’ve de­scribed many, and got quite shirty about some of them. i’m not averse to shar­ing the credit when, for ex­am­ple, the world no­tices that wines are get­ting too samey, too strong, or too oaky. i’ve cel­e­brated new grapes, new re­gions and new ideas of all sorts. the ques­tion is al­ways, what next?

my hunch is that we should look east – and not just to the ar­rival of China on the wine scene. it is scarcely news these days when vines are planted yet higher in the An­des, or Pinot Noir does well as far south as you can go in Aus­tralia. si­cily now makes very fine wines. south Africa is on the qual­ity level of Cal­i­for­nia – and of­ten above it. But what about the coun­tries in europe that have been at it for cen­turies and were eclipsed for 50 years by com­mu­nism?

Aus­tria was the first to emerge defini­tively as be­long­ing in the first rank. then Greece took its bow with a gi­ant leap no one could have an­tic­i­pated. hun­gary, with its own elab­o­rate wine cul­ture, masked by names we can’t pro­nounce, is still only half-un­der­stood. What is hold­ing back Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia? Noth­ing, i’m sure, that trans­la­tion and time can’t straighten out. As for slove­nia and Croa­tia, nat­u­ral ad­van­tages of their geog­ra­phy and cli­mate will soon see their wines com­pared with italy’s.

i know not ev­ery­one is blessed (or is it cursed?) with my nosi­ness – want­ing to stick my nose, that is, into ev­ery wine in reach. But how bor­ing to stick with what you know; pizza ev­ery day, roast on sun­days. i am in­trigued when new foods ap­pear on the high street, new wines on the shelves. Aren’t you?

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