Hugh Johnson, encore!

A while back, I wrote with both pleasure and a little sadness about the popular British wine writer Hugh Johnson’s autobiography, Hugh Johnson: A Life Uncorked.

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I was pleased, because I love Hugh Johnson and his work. But I felt a little sad because I feared that this noted wine scribe’s autobiography, looking back over nearly 50 years, signaled a capstone on a great career.

I’d like to say that I followed him since the very start, but in fact he already been writing about wine for years before I picked up my first copy of his handy little Pocket Wine Book in 1978 and then had the great pleasure of meeting him – and finding him as modest and unassuming in person as he is in print – at a wine competition in Torgiano, Italy, in 1982.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. That was in 2006, and more than a decade later, Johnson is still going strong. His Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine 2017 came out last autumn, marking the annual guide’s 40th Anniversary.

Hugh Johnson on Wine

And now, I’m delighted to learn that Johnson is publishing yet another volume looking back over a life in wine well-lived: Hugh Johnson on Wine, Good Bits from 55 Years of Scribbling, will be published on May 2 by his longtime publisher, Mitchell Beazley. It is already available for pre-ordering on at $15.84 for the hardcover book, a 37 percent saving from the $24.99 list price; or $9.99 for the Kindle edition.

I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy from the publisher, and am enjoying it greatly. Know that it is not new material but a thorough (256-page) anthology of Johnson’s writing, organized by decade from the 1960s to the 2010s. “There is not often time to pause, reread, reflect or realise how many traces you have left in the sands of time,” Johnson writes. “Sometimes I am inconsistent, often I repeat myself but … it amounts to one man’s wine history.”

It’s carefully selected to offer a broad sampling of Johnson’s thoughts and opinions on a wine scene in which, as he points out, “All commentators agree (and rightly) that wine has developed more in the past fifty years than in the previous five hundred. Although ‘improved’ is probably a more relevant word than ‘developed’. Good wines have flooded into our lives from places, countries, even continents that were innocent of any wine before. What was, when I set out, very much a niche subject has blossomed into something of wide (I daren’t quite say general) interest.”

This is a book that wine lovers could easily sit down and read straight through – the Kindle edition guesses that it will take an average reader 5 hours and 45 minutes – or to dip in and browse through one decade of wine, then another.

I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment with too many quotes, but let me wrap up with just one poetic thought that captures Johnson’s view of wine, a view that matches my own:

“Wine is grape juice. Every drop of liquid filling so many bottles has been drawn out of the ground by the roots of a vine. All these different drinks have at one time been sap in a stick. It is the first of many strange and some –despite modern research –mysterious circumstances that go to make wine not only the most delicious, but also the most fascinating, drink in the world.”

Again, you can pre-order Hugh Johnson on Wine, Good Bits from 55 Years of Scribbling on at $15.84 for the hardcover book, a 37 percent saving from the $24.99 list price; or $9.99 for the Kindle edition.

And here’s good news: If you just can’t wait until May 2, if you have a Kindle device or Kindle applet, you can get an early peek at the Introduction and 1960s chapter by clicking “Get a Free Sample” on the book’s Kindle page.

Enjoy your reading!


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Wine Focus: Wines of Australia

Many of us who were crazy about Australian wines back around the turn of the Millennium have felt that infatuation falling away in more recent years, perhaps knocked down by a combination of a move toward super-ripe, high-alcohol blockbuster wines at the high end and, well, Yellowtail at the other end. But times are changing, and lately we’re starting to see more of the balanced, interesting wines from Australia that those canny folks had been keeping home for themselves.

We think it’s time to take another look at the land Down Under, so we’re spending the month of April reacquainting ourselves with wines that we once not only enjoyed but admired. Never mind the heavy hitters … let’s go find the good stuff.

To join in our discussion and tastings, click Wine Focus for April 2017: Wines of Australia and bring your Australian comments, questions and tasting notes!

And now, here are my tasting reports on a pair of good, interesting and affordable Australian wines from a favorite producer, d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale.


Today’s Tasting Reports

d’Arenberg 2012 McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)

The Stump Jump

A typical Australian (and Southern Rhône) red blend of Grenache (46%) Syrah (39%) Mourvedre (15%), this is a very dark reddish-purple wine, shading to clear garnet at the edge. Juicy raspberries, the signature scent of Grenache, predominates in the nose at first, but there’s other ripe fruit there too, blackberries and plums, carrying over on the palate with a full, medium-bodied mixed-fruit flavor framed by tart acidity, brisk tannins and warm but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol. U.S. importer: Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. (April 7, 2017)

FOOD MATCH: Fine with a hearty meat-and-tomato sauce over spaghetti, and worked as well after dinner with bites of buttery, creamy cheeses.

WHEN TO DRINK: No rush, but it’s not really intended as a long-term ager and won’t gain value with time. I’d drink it up over the next two years or so.

My local price matches the $10 U.S. retail reported by, and it’s an excellent value for that price.

Here’s a Stump Jump fact sheet on the d’Arenberg website.
You’ll find similar information on this Stump Jump promotion sheet on the importer’s website.

Find vendors and check prices for d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” pm


d’Arenberg 2014 “The Hermit Crab” McLaren Vale Viognier-Marsanne ($17.99)

The Hermit Crab

An aromatic white blend of Viognier (74%) and Marsanne (26%), with a portion of the Viognier spending time in French and American oak barrels to add tannic backbone, this is a fresh and aromatic wine. Clear, bright straw color with glints of gold, it offers typical Viognier floral scents at first, quickly joined by notes of peach and musky melon and a whiff of spice. Full-bodied, 13.3% alcohol, but structured with crisp acidity, its flavors follow the nose, stone fruit, orange peel, and a lemon-squirt of acidity in a very long finish. It’s a complex and interesting wine, a great buy for fans of aromatic whites. U.S. importer: Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. (April , 2017)

FOOD MATCH: The name suggests seafood, and it would serve well with lobster, crab, and other sweet, rich seafood. We enjoyed it with a fresh kale salad in a light vinaigrette, built up to dinner-salad status with bulghur, avocado and slices of Parmigiano.

WHEN TO DRINK: The sturdy screw cap will keep it clean and fresh, but it’s not a wine for long-term cellaring. I’d enjoy this one over the next year or two and watch for succeeding vintages as they become available.

I paid a few bucks more than the $15 U.S. retail reported by Shop around if you can find a better price, but it’s certainly a reasonable value into the upper teens.

This info page on the d’Arenberg website features the 2016 Hermit Crab, but you can find links to download tasting notes on the 2014 and other vintages.
Importer Old Bridge Cellars has a good Hermit Crab fact sheet at this link.

Compare prices and find vendors for d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Hermit Crab” on


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