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A Life Uncorked Hardcover – March 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writing about wine is only one of British author Johnson's (The World Atlas of Wine) many incursions into the high life, as he recounts in this impressive 40-year journey. World travel, gardening, glassmaking and grape growing (at his own vineyard in Bourbonnais, France) have alternately warranted his attention since he began his career as a journalist in 1960 as British Vogue's first wine writer. Under the tutelage of legends André Simon and Elizabeth David, the young editor came of age, and he tracks his career milestones in terms of notable vintages, e.g., 1975 was a great year for Bordeaux, and the year he began his monthly column as pseudonymous Tradescant in the British journal The Garden; 1982 was the year of "marvelous clarets," and when Johnson helped launch Cuisine magazine as its wine editor. Convinced that great wine and glassware evolved together (in the 17th century), Johnson was even a purveyor of glass and silver for wine drinkers from his shop in London. His memoir proceeds following broad categories of wine—bubbly, white, red and sweet—each chapter replete with memories of remarkable trips, vintages, vineyards and people. Johnson opens his notebooks and the oenophile's lifetime experience richly spills forth. (Mar.)
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From the Inside Flap

"Vintage Johnson—lively, graceful, and satisfying. An engaging read."—Gerald Asher, author of The Pleasures of Wine and Vineyard Tales
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520248503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520248502
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #675,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Joshua E. London on April 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I recently published a brief review of this wonderful book in the print edition of The Washington Examiner newspaper ([...] -- April 29 & 30th Weekend Edition). Here is that review:

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with world-renowned wine writer Hugh Johnson as he breezed through town promoting his new memoir on the inner workings of the wine world, A Life Uncorked. This is a deeply personal book. Yet, as Johnson admits, it is not an autobiography. Rather, this memoir is a personal journey, as much about wine as it is about his life.

For Johnson, wine is essentially "a social game" not merely an interest or a hobby. Wine is "about human relations, hospitality, bonding-all the maneuvers of social life-and all under the influence, however benign, of alcohol." Who can argue with that?

This social experience is richly transformative: "However good a wine may be, sentiment can make it better" and "with the right companion, a single wine can be a continuing conversation." In person, as in his writings, Johnson comes off as witty, personable, and charming, and his approach to wine is wonderfully infectious.

Never one to shy from a fight, Johnson (a Brit) takes issue with Robert Parker, the preeminent American wine critic. Johnson criticizes Parker's wine scoring system, which treats wines "like American high school students"-50 points just for showing up, 60 = dreadful, 70 = pretty poor, 80 = not bad, etc. Johnson decries the effect this approach has had on the wine industry, where wines are Parkerized to get higher scores.

Ultimately, Johnson's unpretentious and highly enjoyable attitude towards wine appreciation is compelling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By GTLAmerica on March 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As the title suggests, this tome is as much a combination of anecdotes as it is a tour around some of the world's greatest wine appellations. Drawing on his decades of wine writing experience, author Hugh Johnson manages to bring the reader into his world. Imagine your sexagenarian uncle reclining into his armchair with a glass of red wine: he sniffs; he drinks and satisfyingly says "ahh", then starts telling you all the experiences in his life that led him to the point of enjoying this wine right now, and what you should know about it if you are to be included in his will.

The book's almost 400 pages are ordered like a tasting: bubbly, white, red, sweet. Johnson sets the stage with a question about wine, then answers it: "What does the reasonable, perfectly balanced person need to know? That wine is not one thing, but many. To appreciate it you don't have to swallow an encyclopedia, but you do have to pay attention. A good memory helps, but a clear focus on what you are drinking is indispensable". Then he follows up with another (unanswered) question: "If it turns a drink into a recreation, who can complain?" Indeed, he poses a lot of questions throughout the book in an effort to draw the reader in and make him think. Why drink inter-state? Why does this drink have bubbles? Are Burgundians all neurotics? Would Chablis be asked for everywhere if it were called Pernand-Vergelesses?

The structure of the book bequeaths on each chapter its own world tour. Bubbly (he co-names the chapter "the social drug") obviously begins in the Champagne district in northern France before moving into California. He begins the White chapter in Australia, blitzes through a tasting date in Japan and plunges into the German Rheingau.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Flippy on April 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is meant to be savored. It is all things wine and the appreciation of wine. Johnson's actual presence, his life's tale wanders in and out of the narrative. We learn about his schooling, his early university days, about his wife, his early work and publications but that's just part of the beauty of reading this book.

Imagine if you had a friend who not only spoke eloquently but who could talk at great lengths about a subject he held dear to his heart. Imagine this friend to be well-traveled, with many connections and stories to tell. Hugh Johnson might be that ideal friend. He doesn't talk down to the reader, he doesn't namedrop the way some wine writers do, glorifying personalities in the wine trade. Johnson is certainly living a comfortable life but his presentation of facts, experiences and meetings with great wine and great winemakers is lively and surprisingly modest.

The book is divided into several sections: Prospects, Bubbly, White, Red and Sweet. Throughout these sections he explores past episodes of his life, the people he met and the wines he encountered. His style is direct, light, poetic and friendly, an approach in prose that both informs and involves the reader. You never feel like you're being lectured to, mostly that he is here to mentor, to share and express his love of the great fermented grapes of the world.

I would recommend this book to all kinds of readers, especially the wine lovers. If you're starting out or know the difference between a Pouilly-Fusse and Pouilly-Fume, then read this. For wine writing, this work is a treasure. I wish there were more writers like Johnson working in the industry.
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