Hugh and Cry

Hugh Johnson

Hugh Johnson

There aren’t many wine writers in the world with the breadth and depth of knowledge, not to mention the sheer page volume, of Hugh Johnson. The seventy year-old Englishman has authored wine encyclopedias, pocket guides, atlases and even (several) gardening books too. And there are multiple printings of just about everything that Johnson has written- most often numbering in double digits. For example, the 2010 Hugh Johnson wine pocket guide is the 33rd edition of its kind. It’s a great little book, even if it does include a few oversights as to Long Island wine-which I’ll get to a bit later.

I’ve been a big fan of Hugh Johnson for ages- he’s one of the first wine writers I read. So when the two of us sat down to dinner together (with a couple other wine writers as well) last Friday night in Manhattan, I was a bit star struck. And when Hugh, who was sitting next to me, suggested that he and I  “put our eyes together” to look at the wine list, I was whelmed, nearly overwhelmed. So much so that I knocked my glass of Champagne over in the direction of Hugh -who jumped. “It was empty,” I said to him reassuringly.

Hugh still looked a bit nervous but we resumed reading the list.  Then someone jostled the table- sending my water glass tumbling towards Hugh. This time, alas, the glass was quite full. “You’re very dangerous,” said Hugh, patting himself dry with the sixth of seven napkins.  I wanted to cry- instead, we drank (yet) more wine. Hugh ordered the 2001 Pontet Canet. Hugh liked 2001 Bordeaux, he said. The 2001 Bordeaux are drinking well now, according to Hugh. Or as he put it, “It’s a fresh vintage-not a thick vintage.”

I told Hugh I had just moved to the North Fork and therefore was interested in his comments on the wines of Long Island that I’d found in his latest pocket guide. Hugh called it “an exciting wine region and a hothouse of experimentation.” That sounded pretty good to me- especially compared to what Hugh had to say about Argentina- not to mention the EU.

But how did Hugh decide what Long Island wineries to mention? He features some and not others in his book- for example, I thought he should have given Channing Daughters in a seperate entry as they are making some truly exciting wines ( Had Hugh visited Long Island recently? He had not, in fact, he hadn’t visited since “those first winemakers had a few promising vintages” about thirtysome years ago. Did he mean the Hargraves? He did. “Delightful people,” Hugh recalled. We went back to talking about Bordeaux and I kept my glass upright through the rest of the meal.


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