Book review: American Wine, Jancis Robinson MW and Linda Murphy

  • Tuesday 2 April 2013
American Wine

Just months after the release of the boulder-sized Wine Grapes, here comes another Jancis Robinson MW tome. How does she do it? Answer: with collaborators. American Wine doesn't specify how the task of covering half a continent was divided, but it seems apparent that Linda Murphy carried most of the weight. Tags like ‘Italian vino maestro Antinori', ‘topnotch eateries', and ‘popping up like prairie dogs on a Montana field' don't seem typical of the Robinson phrase-book. But if it is Murphy behind the typewriter, she is a fluent, accurate, breezy guide.

Just months after the release of the boulder-sized Wine Grapes, here comes another Jancis Robinson MW tome. How does she do it? Answer: with collaborators. American Wine doesn't specify how the task of covering half a continent was divided, but it seems apparent that Linda Murphy carried most of the weight. Tags like ‘Italian vino maestro Antinori', ‘topnotch eateries', and ‘popping up like prairie dogs on a Montana field' don't seem typical of the Robinson phrase-book. But if it is Murphy behind the typewriter, she is a fluent, accurate, breezy guide.

The text is a methodical march through the wine regions of the US (Canada not being included in this view of ‘American'), covering history, and then individual growing regions, alerting readers along the way to the most interesting producers. The American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are incredibly confusing, since so many overlap or are located within other, larger AVAs. This is all elucidated by the authors, aided by good photographs and maps. Two-thirds of the book is devoted to the West Coast, giving the authors plenty of room for the rest of the country. And that is the value of the book: exploring territory that's not well known even to many American wine enthusiasts.

Almost every state makes wine (often from grapes grown elsewhere), and the coverage here is complete. Rhubarb wine from North Dakota? Carnelian from Hawaii? Vignoles from Kansas? These are not on most wine drinkers' radar, but it's worth knowing about them.

Of course, excellent wines from vinifera varieties rather than hybrids are produced away from the West Coast: Viognier and Cabernet Franc in Virginia, Riesling in Michigan and a wide range of varieties in Texas and New York State. Elsewhere the climate is too cold in winter and too humid in summer for vinifera to survive. Hybrids take their place. The authors accentuate the positive, and are reticent about the more repellent wines from hybrids such as Catawba. But few such wines make it beyond their state borders. The authors are right to include them, as they do have a domestic following.
American Wine is workmanlike and well packaged, a useful and current reference book rather than an excitingly individual approach.

Mitchell Beazley, £40 

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