Wine writing doesn't get any better than when Jancis Robinson picks up her pen. To me, she is the ideal wine writer. She answers questions and she asks them, and I think that's what sets her above the crowd. She's curious like you or I sitting in our own kitchens wondering about wine, grapes and winemaking. Unlike most of us, she then finds the right person to answer the question (and she is unafraid to delve into controversial issues with industry bigwigs, often getting answers outright, which I respect). It's a simple formula for success.
Simple, once you've gotten yourself into the equation. Obviously Robinson has oodles of accomplishments to her name which allows her access to a wealth of resources. The other day I pored over her summary of the 2004 southern Rhône vintage, a summation of some 220 individual wine analyses she conducted during a recent visit to the region. That's not a wine tasting but a staggering responsibility. Some might say she is privileged to have such a pass into the world of wine (she's undoubtedly earned it through immense study and natural talent), but in all seriousness I think I might throw in the towel after Vacqueryas number 19. Let's be honest. We're talking enormous commitment here.
Content aside, Robinson reports in a manner that is at the same time true to the material and demystifying. She seems at ease conveying complicated processes, intricate ideas, and heavily detailed information. This makes her simply a pleasure to read. But best of all, her prose is transparent. Nothing gets in the way of the point she aims to convey. She is a sound conduit of knowledge.
I can't forget to mention that Robinson goes beyond the role of wine journalist when appropriate. She possesses a singular voice and can express her own personal opinions. Like a pinot nestled in the Côte D'Or, you can very often tell where she's coming from. A favourite moment of mine in which she demonstrates this happens in episode four of her Wine Course. Profiling the Sauvignon Blanc grape, her least favourite variety, she signs off the show admitting her lack of attraction to the grape before tipping into her glass and smirking "...but it is a darn fine refreshment on hot summer's day. Ahhhhh."
There's an approachability to her body of work and her attitude, which is always positive. For example, I didn't expect a personal response to my online query -- certainly not within the day -- but there it was, arriving directly from her desk anyway, full of encouragement and zest. (You yourself can ask the expert).
Now I see her Books webpage has been updated and news of a 3rd edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine is out. I think this teaser was just published last week, in a sinister mention-in-passing kind of way. In any case, it is great news. The new version will update the previous effort from 1999, a volume I've thumbed frequently but held back on purchasing because a revision was due. And since it's set for a late summer release, people like me will have to wait only a little bit longer. A huge recommendation and summer reading to look forward to!
Now if I could only get an answer as to what exactly is sitting in the purple wineglass sketch shown behind her on the website masthead.