“The word ‘expert’ is not appealing,” writes Jancis Robinson in her memoir. Tasting pleasure: Confessions of a wine lover. “It reeks of exclusivity, rarity and elitism.” Indeed, “knowledge is not a necessary condition for wine appreciation. It is perfectly possible to enjoy wine enormously without really understanding it. But the connoisseur sees each individual wine in its historical, geographical and sociological context and is truly sensitive to its possibilities.” Those who drink wine too carelessly or too strictly, “those who do not meet the wine halfway and consistently ignore the story, that each wine has to tell, deprive themselves of much of the potential pleasure associated with each bottle”.
How best to experience this pleasure—or rather, how best to achieve a state of expertise that makes it accessible at all? One could do worse than start with the works of Robinson herself, who is not only one of today’s most respected wine writers, but also a former supervisor of luxury wines on British Airways’ Concorde and a wine cellar consultant to the late Queen. Elizabeth II.
Since turning to wine professionally almost half a century ago, she has produced a large body of work both in print and on screen. It is perhaps the most ambitious of the latter Jancis Robinson wine courseten episodes of which were originally broadcast by BBC 2 in 1995 and can now be viewed on Robinson’s own YouTube channel.
With this $1.6 million production, Robinson “let himself loose into the world of wine, too much time in full make-up, with freshly styled hair and clothes subsidized by the BBC’s official budget”. Dedicating each episode to a different grape variety “allowed us to visit more than one region in a single program – and therefore vary the scenery, the architecture and the climate. It also reflected my passionate interest in grape varieties and my belief that meeting the most important grapes is the easiest way to learn about wine.” The year-long shoot took her and her team around the world, visiting winemakers wherever they could be found: France, Germany, Australia, Chile and even Northern California, where they managed to get an audience with author winemaker Francis Ford Coppola.
“The conflict between the New and Old Worlds of wine was coming to a head at the right time for our series,” notes Robinson. These worlds have settled into a sort of relative peace in the intervening decades—much like the “Chardonnay boom” of the mid-1990s, about which Robinson lets some frustration slip on screen. Despite her extensive wine knowledge and experience, Robinson rarely shows any hesitation in cracking jokes, and her continued prominence as a wine teacher is surely due to the sense of humor on display in Talks on Google interview about her 2016 book 24-hour wine expert. It has recently established another collaboration with the BBC, namely the new online education platform BBC Maestro, to create an ‘Understanding Wine’ course. In all activities, understanding is the basis of pleasure – but even more so in wine.
Episodes Jancis Robinson wine Course:
Vintage Wine Course (UC Davis, 1973)
A high-end Japanese camera proves that the shape of the wine glass affects the taste of the wine
Salvador Dalí’s 1978 Wine Guide, Wine galaReissue: Sensual Winery Meets Surrealist Art
Storm: A new short film captures the art of winemaking
How to open a bottle of wine with a shoe
based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.