“ Certified wine educators,” “sommeliers,” “wine directors,” “wine writers”—there are a lot of people out in the wine world running around with titles that convey a sense of authority when it comes to wine. As the first non-trade person to pass the rigorous MW exam, how do you feel about the proliferation of wine professionals? What do you think about their influence on both winemakers and wine drinkers?
I’m all for as many people as possible being interested in wine. But I’m always a bit wary of anyone who claims to be an expert (in anything actually). I’d certainly never call myself an expert as I am always learning something new. The only time I ever thought I knew it all was for a few weeks back in 1978 when I’d finished all the Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses. How very wrong I was!
As a wine retailer for the last 30 years, K&L has strived to stay on top of the evolving wine business, and to offer our customers a diverse selection of excellent wine at every price point. Do you have a favorite up-and-coming or re-emerging wine region that our customers should keep their eye on?
I wonder how many Americans are aware of the Agly Valley in Roussillon around Maury and Calce, which to my mind is France’s, and one of Europe’s, most exciting and dynamic areas for red and especially white wine production? It has old vines, exceptional soils and a pretty reliable climate. The problem is that—crazily —it doesn’t have its own appellation. You can find its wines sold as Côtes du Roussillon and as Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. But both these areas are much bigger than the Agly Valley. Crazy!
In greater Europe, Slovenian winemakers are trying harder than most, on the Burgundian model of small domaines where the same person grows the vines as makes the wine.
And in the world, I have just been exposed to the rapidly improving wines of Turkey, just as quality has been soaring in Greece, Lebanon, Israel and, I’m told, Cyprus. So many hot spots for the vine nowadays! Wine is SO much wider an interest globally than when I started writing about wine in the 1970s.
4) Considering our current economy, “value” level wines are in high demand. How do you suggest wine lovers go about finding the best values in wine without compromising quality?
Read www.JancisRobinson.com and follow me on Twitter!
5) The wine business has changed dramatically in the last decade. You mention on your website that while you find that few wines are technically flawed, many of them are dull. Can you expand on this? What qualities do you look for in wine?
In great wine, I am perfectly happy to find the perfect example of a tried and tested style such as red Bordeaux, white Burgundy, Cabernet/Merlot or Chardonnay etc etc but in everyday wine, I must say I am usually looking for something a bit different from Another International Varietal. New flavours. I love it when I come across a new grape variety for example, and I think there is huge potential for interesting blends.
I have never subscribed to the view that there is a direct correlation between price and quality in wine. There are all sorts of dull wines selling at $70 a bottle and there are some exciting wines, notably but not exclusively from Spain, selling at $10 a bottle.
6) How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that has influenced your reviews of wine? What you drink?
Three questions in one —sneaky! I can’t be sure but I suspect my palate evolution has been similar to the majority of wine lovers, e.g. I used to be more tolerant of obvious oak, obvious malolactic fermentation characteristics, obvious lees contact effects than I am now. I have never been a fan of really big, alcoholic wines and I am particularly intolerant of wines with a drying, sandpaper-like finish, usually because of over-oaking or over-extraction. High acidity doesn’t bother me if there is sufficient fruit. I am an equal fan of whites and reds whereas I get the impression that many modern wine drinkers see red as inherently superior to white.
7) What words of advice do you have to someone first getting into wine?
Funnily enough I never suggest reading me. I always suggest finding a mentor, most usually a friendly wine retailer. Try out several and find out which suits you best. Treat them like the owner of a small bookstore. Tell them what sort of wine you like best and ask them to recommend something similar but more interesting or better value. It’s in their interests to treat you well and this can be a particularly fruitful relationship.
8) Much of the wine press had completely dismissed the 2008 vintage Bordeaux back in the fall, but they have been praising it since the en primeur tastings in April. How do you feel about the vintage overall? How have your impressions changed? And do you think that April is too early to start evaluating the new vintage?
I always think April is ridiculously early to evaluate wines as long lived as red Bordeaux. I was very surprised by how the 2008s tasted. While not being quite as enthusiastic as Robert Parker about it, I said before going that I was going to taste out of academic interest whereas in the event I was impressed by the quality of many of the wines—too many for the producers to have somehow managed to produce special tasting samples of so many.
9) Do you see the way Bordeaux is sold in the US changing with Diego and Southern effectively getting out of the Bordeaux business? If so, how?
You’ll know far more about this than me. But I do wonder whether they will remain out of the Bordeaux business forever?
Your response to Winesooth’s questions about editorial ethics were fascinating How do you feel about the current debate over wine writing ethics? About the growing pool of wine bloggers?
I am very excited about the number of new communicators about wine and, while of course it puts pressure on those of us who charge for (some of) our material, I think that overall it’s a healthy development that we are no longer on an unassailable pedestal. It certainly keeps us on our toes. You might like to include a link to a speech I gave in February about the likelihood of wine writers’ becoming an endangered species:
The link for my ethics piece is http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20090418.html. While I apply some pretty strict standards about travel, accommodation and employment, I think it is unrealistic to demand that wine writers never socialize with people in the wine trade or wine producers. We all learn a great deal by spending time together, whether it’s in tasting rooms or round tables, although obviously I would never accept the sort of gratuitous hospitality expressly designed to curry favour with a wine writer such as tickets to sporting or arts events.
And it’s great that wine is now such a popular and respected subject. When I graduated, although I knew that what interested me most was wine and food, I didn’t dare get a job in either since then they were regarded as irredeemably frivolous subjects and it would have been thought to have been a waste of an Oxford education. How things have changed!