The combination of deep intellect, poetic sensitivity and a profound palate makes Jancis Robinson perhaps the greatest human to ever write sentences about wine. Thomas Jefferson and Ernest Hemingway have some great quotes, but their wine knowledge doesn’t even come. Hugh Johnson (friend and mentor to Robinson), has the knowledge and palate but he can’t compete with Robinson’s linguistic artistry.
The long-time British wine writer, and first woman to earn the prestigious Master of Wine title, has been churning out essays and wine books for decades, and she’s still going strong. Her BBC series about wine and her cadre of wine books were the basis for my early wine studies, and I continue to learn from her about far more than just vintage variation or fermentation techniques. She’s a skilled orator, a beautiful writer, and a passionate defender of maximizing pleasure through wine appreciation.
Recently, I went back and read one of her books called “Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover.” Composed of musings, travelogues, wine tasting notes, and random wine-related thoughts, this book was first published in 1997. Some parts do come across as dated, but reading it 20 years later, I found it fascinating how much her thoughts on wine were still very relevant today. Even though the global wine industry has shifted dramatically in the past two decades, many of her thoughts about appreciating wine seem timeless.
Some of the book reads a little too much like an overly-detailed diary, and some parts are skippable, but there are little nuggets of wine appreciation wisdom I thought I’d share.
Why “taste” wine as opposed to just drinking it?
“The most common sort of conscious wine tasting (as opposed to just drinking, which anyone can do) is the most admirable one, tasting for the purposes of pure pleasure… It also makes perfect sense because just throwing something as heavily taxed as wind down the gullet — as a surprising number of people do — is a waste of someone’s money.”
On blind tasting:
“There is no doubt that guessing a wine’s identity on the basis of taste alone is one of the most impressive tricks a human can perform.”
The greatness of almighty Riesling
“Riesling is the greatest white wine grape in the world, a proposition I continue to disseminate to this day.”
On wine connoisseurship and the preeminence of pleasure
“I am very aware that these strange connoisseur creatures, who clearly allow their conduct to be swayed by previous experience, may sound a bit precious, perhaps suspiciously snobbish. But the difference between them and, say, a stickler for protocol or etiquette, is that they do what they do for the entirely sensible, selfish and laudable reason of maximizing pleasure. There is nothing whatever wrong with wine lovers who simple pour wine with careless gusto down their throats. There are times when that and only that will do. But those who will not meet a wine halfway, and who consistently ignore the story each wine has to tell, depirve themselves of a large part of the potential associated with each bottle. As I was to learn, a wine is more than just a liquid.”
On visiting South Africa during apartheid
“South Africa was fascinating – such a vivid clash of natural beauty and human brutality.”
On hoarding, re-selling wine for profit, turning wine into a speculative enterprise
Robinson tells a story about how she purchased a case of Pomerol Le Pin 1982 for $240, tens of times less than what those cult wines demand on the market today: “ I know I should feel triumphant about this but in fact I feel almost physically sick. I hate the way that something I bought to give myself and my friends innocent, escapist pleasure has been transformed into a financial asset that is crying out for management.”
“I have a horrible feeling that talk about those who take fine wine seriously is going to become increasingly dominated by money. I have already come across too many bores who confuse wine appreciation with financial appreciation.”