Hugh Johnson (wine writer)

Hugh Johnson in 2003.

Hugh Johnson OBE[1] (born 10 March 1939) is a British author and expert on wine. He is considered the world's best-selling wine writer.[2][3] His 1961 tasting of a bottle of 1540 Steinwein from the German vineyard Würzburger Stein is considered to potentially be one of the oldest wines to have ever been tasted.[4][5]


Johnson became a member of the Cambridge University Wine and Food Society while an undergraduate at King's College, Cambridge in the 1950s, reading English.[3] On describing his introduction to wine-tasting Johnson has recalled:

my room-mate Adrian Cowell, committee member of the University Wine & Food Society came in after dinner with two glasses and said, "Come on, Hugh, are they the same? Or different?" Both were, I am sure, red Burgundy, but one was magic and one was ordinary. This caught my imagination. It was my Damascene moment.[2][6]

Johnson has been writing about wine since 1960, was taken on as a feature writer for Condé Nast Publications upon graduation,[3] and started work on Vogue and House & Garden , becoming in 1962 editor of Wine & Food and in the same year wine correspondent of The Sunday Times, of which in 1967 he became Travel Editor. From 1968 to 1970 he edited Queen magazine in succession to Jocelyn Stevens.[7]

He has published a wide array of books, starting with the publication of Wine in 1966. The publication of The World Atlas of Wine in 1971, was considered the first serious attempt to map the world's wine regions, described by the director of the INAO as "a major event in wine literature".[3]

Since its launch in 1973 Johnson has been President of The Sunday Times Wine Club, part of Laithwaites, now the world's largest mail-order wine merchant. From 1986–2001 he was a Director of the Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Latour and in 1990 was a co-founder of The Royal Tokaji Wine Company in an attempt to rebuild the foundering Tokaji industry after Communism. In 1986 he started The Hugh Johnson Collection, which sold (until 2010) wine glasses and other artefacts related to wine,mainly in the Far East, with a shop in St James's Street, London.

His vintage – The Story of Wine – an authoritative 500-page compendium was first published in 1989 by Octopus, and re-edited in 2004 as a fully illustrated edition published by Mitchell Beazley. It also was made into a 13-part TV series for Channel 4 and Boston P.B.S., first airing in 1989. Since 1977 he has compiled his annual Pocket Wine Book, selling many million copies in up to 14 languages.

In a parallel career, in 1973 Johnson wrote The International Book of Trees, in 1975 became Editorial Director of The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society (The Garden) and its columnist, 'Tradescant'. 'Trad's Diary', now in its 37th year, appears online and in Hortus magazine. In 1979 he published The Principles of Gardening and in 2010 a new rewritten edition of Trees . Trad's Diary has twice been anthologised as Hugh Johnson on Gardening (1993) and Hugh Johnson in the Garden (2009).

He was selected Decanter Man of the Year in 1995, was promoted Officer in the French Order Nationale du Mérite in 2004 and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2007 'for services to wine-making and horticulture'.

Johnson is known as one of the wine world's most vocal opponents to awarding numerical scores to wine.[3] In the autobiography A Life Uncorked, Johnson also expressed regret over the wine critic Robert Parker's influence on the world of wine, which has in his view moved winemaking in many regions towards a more uniform, bigger and richer style.[7] In 2005 Johnson stated, "Imperial hegemony lives in Washington and the dictator of taste in Baltimore[a]".[8]

Selected publications


See also


a.  ^ Robert Parker resides in Monkton, a small town in Baltimore County, Maryland.

  1. Lechmere, Adam, (8 January 2007). "Hugh Johnson honoured with OBE".
  2. 1 2 Sale, Jonathan, The Independent (17 January 2008). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Hugh Johnson, the world's bestselling wine author".
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Oxford Companion to Wine. "Johnson, Hugh".
  4. G. Harding "A Wine Miscellany" pg 22, Clarkson Potter Publishing, New York 2005 ISBN 0307346358
  5. H. Johnson Vintage: The Story of Wine pgs 284 Simon and Schuster 1989 ISBN 0-671-68702-6
  6. "University library plans new expansion". Cam. University of Cambridge Development Office. No 47, Lent Term 2006. pp. 45–46. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. 1 2 Kissack, Chris, "Wine Books: Hugh Johnson".
  8. Styles, Oliver, (23 March 2006). "Parker: I'm targeted and misunderstood". p. 8. Retrieved 1 June 2006.
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