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Interview with Jancis Robinson

by Sally Bernstein

San Francisco Les Dames Pay Tribute to Jancis Robinson

On April 9th, 2004 the San Francisco Chapter of Les Dames d' Escoffier hosted wine writer extraordinaire Jancis Robinson with a luncheon in her honor at Bacar restaurant. Jancis, as she is known by one and all, is the wine correspondent for the Financial Times and contributes bimonthly to the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Section. She is editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, 5th edition. But her newest and most time consuming venture is her popular website www.jancisrobinson.com

With over 60 people in attendance, the audience included winemakers, journalists, restaurateurs, sommeliers, and others from the Bay Area wine and food fields. Moderated by Linda Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jancis answered questions with stories of her personal background, and thoughts on current industry trends as well as wine regions.

Many thanks to Dames Zelma Long, Dolores Cakebread, Dawnine Dyer, and Martine Saunier for donating wine, and to Chef Arnold Wong and Debbie Zachareas of Bacar for providing the ideal venue. Recognition also goes to Dames Karen Mackenzie, Susie Biehler, and Roberta Klugman for organizing what is the first in a series of salon style gatherings that are open to food and wine professionals as well as Les Dames members.

Jancis, as she is known by her admirers, is the author of many books including:

The Oxford Companion to Wine,
World Atlas of Wine
(5th Edition) and
Jancis Robinson's Wine-Tasting Workbook / How To Taste

1) You are a prolific writer, with over 17 books to your credit. Add to that TV shows, narrating television documentaries, DVD, videos, syndicated newspaper columns, a website, not to mention a husband and 3 children… how do you do it all?

“I have a saintly husband (Nick), both of us work at home, Nick is the chef in the family, and I have very supportive kids: Julia, age 21, Will, age 19 who attends Oxford, and Rose, age 13.”


2) At what age did you have your first taste of wine? Did your family drink wine with meals?

“I had my first taste of wine at age 12 at a Christmas dinner. My family did not drink wine with meals. As with most typical families, wine was exotic then. We had a bottle at Christmastime and a few other times of year. At age 18 I was a chamber maid in a hotel earning $8 week, but I drink all the wine I wanted for nothing.”

3) Your husband, Nick Lander, writes about food and restaurants for the Financial Times. Is this a match made in heaven, pairing food and wines?

“It is a lovely mixture and Nick was a restaurateur. Our work overlaps some so that we can travel together but have our own expertise & specialties. We do entertain quite a lot, although we usually pick the food first.”

4) I have read that you refuse to take yourself too seriously. But to some wine connoisseurs, wine is a very serious subject.

“Wine is meant to be a nice pleasure, wine tasting should not be serious, a complex subject but not gloomy. Wine is my favorite drink.”


5) The initials OBE behind your name stands for “Order of the British Empire.” Tell us about this distinction you have received.

“I am the only wine writer in the world to receive this award, which is given by Queen Elizabeth. It was presented to me at Buckingham Palace where I met with the Queen.”


6) You are one of only 236 "Masters of Wine" in the world. How many of these are women?

“40% of the Masters of Wine are women and I understand that the pass rate is higher among women than men.”

7) Recently, on March 20th, you began writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle in their Thursday Wine Section. The Chronicle is the only newspaper in the United States to feature your commentaries. How did you choose the Chronicle?

“Linda Murphy asked me and the column is now syndicated, in about 10 other papers in world such as Japan, Brazil, Poland, Bulgaria, and Israel.”

8) I see on your website that you sell subscriptions to the purple pages. Tell us what this is. Are credit cards accepted?

“I began the website in November, 2000 and decided to sell the online content by subscription in December of 2001; yes, we do accept credit cards.’

“We named the section the purple pages because it is the color of wine and it sounds good.”

“The purple section includes tasting notes, when wines are ready to drink, inside gossip, breaking news, and you can send in questions and I will try to respond.”

9) What are some current wine trends?

“Wine is more alcoholic, we have gone from reds at 10 ½ % alcohol to 11% and 12% norm, and now reds & Chardonnays are 15% alcohol. I’d like to see wines with less alcohol.”

“Australian wines are making inroads, they have overtaken French wines in Britain. They are smart growers and the France are losing out as they don’t market their wines well.”

“Wines are being made to be drunk earlier & earlier, that is why they are made stronger now.”

“ The trend is that people are sick of chardonnay, cabs, and merlots and are wanting a broader range of wines. There are more varieties now. The general public drinks 50% red and 50% white in England, whereas it used to be more white was consumed.”

10) Name a few of your favorite wines.

“A fine Mozel Reisling, light in alcohol, only 7-8% alcohol, ages well, keeps 10 years, gets more delicious with age.”

“A light subtly red Bordeaux.”

11) Name a few of your favorite wine regions.

“African wine country & the Napa Valley in California.”

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