A few years ago I received a call asking if I’d like to attend a dinner with Hugh Johnson, without question one of the greatest wine writers. Unfortunately, I had to decline the invitation – but I was able to meet up with him and share a bottle beforehand. I was nervous as hell (it’s like the monkey from the E-Trade commercials getting a call from Jack Nicholson), but relieved when he and I both gravitated to the same wine on the list (Millton Chenin Blanc from Gisborne, New Zealand). After a glass and a half or so, Johnson cracked a smile and uttered words I’ll not soon forget:
“You know, I invented Twitter.”
You get the joke if you’ve ever purchased one of his Pocket Wine Books, slim annual publications listing thousands of the world’s wineries. Some producer names are bolded or merit stars, so as to indicate Johnson’s fondness for the wines. And most get short little
Tweets blurbs, either extolling the virtues of a winery or bestowing upon it harsh – yet often hilarious – criticism. I’m pleased to see, however, that Johnson has actually joined the Twitterverse for real, since one apparently random Tweet in Sept. 2009.
I’m not even sure I understand half of his first 17 Tweets (though he’s absolutely correct about Chinon blanc in my opinion…though I’ve only ever tasted one, and never found another again), but that’s sort of the joy of reading Johnson’s work. Whether it’s a quick, cutting swipe at a winery in the new Pocket edition or a paragraphs-long explanation in the Word Atlas of Wine. He is always miles ahead.
Speaking of which, Johnson revealed to me a secret after his quip about having invented Twitter: each Pocket edition, he said, contains about a dozen fictitious wineries. He just makes up a few different winery names each year, writes reviews for them and waits for a reader to notice. As of that shared bottle of Millton a few years ago, no one had ever detected one of Johnson’s fake reviews and contacted him asking where to find one of those bottles.
Some contend that the old guard of wine critics is on its way out, disconnected from the modern wine drinker’s interests; whether or not that’s true, at least one of them is still treating wine in a fun, unpretentious manner.