Review of The Oxford Companion to Wine (4th Edition) by Jancis Robinson

By Ali Nicol –  

The fourth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine is proof that Jancis Robinson OBE is truly the foremost global voice of wine. Two years of research, writing, editing and personal self-sacrifice by both Jancis and Julia Harding MW has resulted in what is certainly the most definitive wine encyclopaedia ever written and by some distance the greatest wine reference book ever created. Jancis has solidified her position as the most influential wine writer in the world with this true work of vinous art that is surely the benchmark to what all other wine reference books must aspire.

Twenty one years after its inception in 1994, the Companion has come of age and this fourth edition is concise, detailed and packed with as much wine information that anyone will truly need to know about all facets of wine; merging both the subtle and complex intricacies surrounding its understanding. With over 4000 entries listed alphabetically for ease of reference, Jancis and Julia have left no root unearthed in a herculean effort to garner as much up to date and relevant information as possible to compile what is truly a fully comprehensive ‘wine bible’.

Throughout the last ten years since the release of the previous third edition much has changed in the world of wine and Jancis has incorporated all that has evolved over such time into this fourth edition. As the perspective around the world of wine changes, even tradition has had to embrace modernity and the Companion has managed to gracefully do just that within its pages; information on new technologies both in the way we look at wine and the way we make wine has been incorporated making it truly the reference tool for both the modern and the classic wine generation of oenophile. The inclusion of information on wine apps and the web-based CellarTracker show exactly how the wine world has changed and modernised in order to grasp the attention of younger, aspirational wine enthusiasts. The internet and information technology has transformed the way we self-educate, research and buy wine today and her incorporation of such into the Companion is paramount in the books ability to resonate with the new ‘millennial’ generation of wine aficionado.


From the offset, the Companion is a stark reminder of the dedication and passion that has gone into the completion of this mammoth project. The award-winning online publisher and Financial Times wine correspondent together with one of the world’s foremost Masters of Wine have worked alongside 187 top local experts in their own regions of expertise to give the reader the most complete and intuitive compilation of relevant wine facts and figures ever recorded. Included in the new edition are more than 300 brand new reference points that incorporate newly recognised winemaking appellations, regions and countries whilst also embracing the language of the modern day era for wine descriptions and tasting notes. The latest new styles of winemaking that have become the norm in this new millennium such as the recently reinvented natural wine movement feature as does a wider selection of grape varieties that have become more fashionable with the new generation of winemakers around the world such as Koshu and Savagnin.

The influence Asia has had on the wine world has not gone unnoticed either with the addition of Hong Kong to the Companion. The Asian wine market has exploded in recent years, helped mostly by the reducing of import tax on wine to zero percent in the former colony. This in turn has fuelled a ‘wine revolution’ in the region with countries such as China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia forging a keen interest in the subject and, buoyed by ‘new money’ brought about an initial explosion of interest in fine wines which was initially reflected through the auction market but that has subsequently cooled off somewhat since the heydays of 2008.

Education has become big business all around the wine world and Asia too has seen triple figure percentage increases in wine education enrolment; fitting then that Jancis has included WSET in the Companion – a testament to the progress the London based outfit has made to educate the wider wine loving public across the globe.


Many of the facts and figures in the Companion have been specially created by Jancis through rigorous and time consuming research. A unique list of the world’s appellations and their permitted grape varieties – which is broken down by country for easy reference – is the pinnacle of such research but constitute just a fraction of the outstanding facts and figures in the appendices – something that has most certainly taken an immeasurable amount of time. These appendices also include total vineyard areas in both hectares and acres by country, total wine production by country and per capita wine consumption per country – something that researchers, wine writers and wine companies around the world would and should be most interested in and can benefit a great deal from.

The Companion is literally brought to life by the inclusion of some stunning colour photography that, in their own right speak volumes about what life is like in the wine world. From tools of winemaking centuries ago to the high technology world of wine that exists today, the images are a testament to an ever changing wine world and a fantastic snapshot into the wine world of yesteryear and today. Informative charts and diagrams are an integral part of this latest edition and with everything in place exactly where they should be the illustrations are both relevant and visually stimulating.

The superbly concise Companion is surely the best wine book to grace any bookshelf in history and can be a phenomenal aid for both the wine beginner and the wine expert. A must for anyone studying wine – be they studying for the simplest of wine courses or pursuing the ultimate acclaim; the Master of Wine certificate. No discerning wine lover can live without this latest edition of the Companion and the manner in which it is written is both educational and thoroughly enjoyable. Jancis has an incomparable way of making wine sound exciting and interesting; a far cry from the perceived image of wine that many people still hold today and the Companion is not only essential reading, but entertaining and enlightening concurrently. Jancis’ opinions are revered the world over and the companion perfectly combines her witty riposte with her insatiable thirst for perfection and enduring polished rectitude.