Buff not bluff: how to be a wine expert


the 24 hour wine expert

Today marks the publication of The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson MW, arguably the world’s foremost wine critic and author. Here she talks to us about distilling her knowledge into such a diminutive tome, the key piece of advice you should take from it and the landmark wine that got her hooked…

You won’t even need especially large pockets to accommodate this 112-page Penguin paperback: surely that’s not enough room to convincingly convey even the basics of wine? And yet, somehow, having stripped back anything that’s non-essential, Jancis has crammed this book with nuggets of information which will take novices through how to buy, taste and select different wines, how to store them, serve them and how to recognise different grapes, how to match wine with food and how to cut through all the “wine speak” and jargon.

While a pass-notes guide cannot hope to delve into topics in any great depth or detail, throughout the pared-back text you are aware of Jancis’s effortless expertise. She envisions readers using the book as a touchstone to inform a weekend of wine-tasting with a group of friends – a purpose it would serve admirably; equally the lone student could happily work through its pages. For those who have an appetite to learn, but don’t quite know where to start, The 24-hour Wine Expert offers a perfectly compact solution.

Who should pick up a copy of this book? Anyone who enjoys drinking wine and would like a shortcut to the essentials of the subject

You know better than most how infinitely complex the wine world is: with that in mind, we wondered whether it was easier to write a simple guide to wine such as The 24-Hour Wine Expert, or an in-depth one, such as your Atlas or the Oxford Companion? In many ways it was more difficult to boil wine down to the essentials and to answer the most common questions about it than to write my huge reference books. It didn’t take as long of course but I was frequently caught up short by the sort of questions non-professionals have. I realise how much I take for granted.

What was the hardest thing to leave out? I honestly can’t answer that as I don’t think I have left anything essential out!

What single piece of advice in there do you hope readers will retain? Get to know your local independent wine retailer. (I know that I earn my living giving advice about wine but I always tell people the most useful thing to do is to establish a rapport with a local wine shop.)

What was the first nugget of information you gleaned about wine that got you interested in learning more? It was a wine itself that lit the flame: Chambolle Musigny, Les Amoureuses 1959

There’s lots of fantastic tips in the book. We were intrigued by the suggestion of Fino or Manzanilla Sherry as an alternative to Meursault: what was the thinking behind that? Full bodied, savoury, bone dry, oak aged – and not that different in terms of alcoholic strength

You cite Bordeaux’s first growths as overpriced. Do you think value can ever be found at the top end? And if not, then what is the future for Bordeaux? I don’t think the sort of people who buy Bordeaux first growths are looking for value; they are looking for luxurious status symbols. While the number of seriously wealthy people interested in wine continues to grow, then the future of the first growths is assured.

You’ve been writing about wine for long enough to have seen many regions come and go from being in vogue. In your book you describe Jura as ‘fashionable’ and Sicily as ‘exciting’ and Moldova as having ‘massive potential’; which emerging regions do you believe will be really on the wine map in a decade from now? England, Canada, Mexico and Brazil

If there was a piece of advice you could go back and give yourself when you were just starting to learn about wine, what would it be? When blind tasting, always go for your first guess.

Having read and digested The 24-Hour Wine Expert, where would you suggest readers go next? Their nearest good wine shop.

And finally… what’s the most interesting thing you’ve spent 24 hours doing? Believe it or not, I used to be a rock climber in my teens.

The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson (Penguin, £4.99) is out now.