Jancis Robinson’s “World Atlas of Wine” book launch at Hedonism Wines

I attended this event last Friday at the fabulous Hedonism Wines in Mayfair.

But appearances are deceitful. I don’t really know much about wine; in fact, I started learning about it quite recently. Prior to that, I just disliked wine in general terms. The most I’d consent to drink was ‘maybe white wine’, but even that was quite hit and miss, as not all white wines are the same!

Sometimes it’d be “OK”. Occasionally I’d love it (but I wouldn’t know exactly why). Other times I’d be regretting my decision really quickly. “Why did I say yes?”, I wondered, “now I have this drink I don’t like in front of me, and the host keeps refilling it, and I feel bad about saying I don’t like it…”

What a torturous situation!

And then I met who was going to become my partner, who also turned out to be “quite proficient” with wines… and thus my journey into the wine world started ????????❗️

I learned the difference between “dry” and “sweet” wines, and understood why I tend not to like the driest ones, but sometimes I like drier ones as long as their tannins are not too much and have nice aromas. And, oh wonder!, I discovered I could also drink red wines, and depending on their strength, I didn’t necessarily require food with them!

More things I learned: you don’t always have to pair fish with white wines, or meat with red wines. Also: orange wines do exist. And I do like champagne and sake, which I thought I hated—I just don’t like the bad quality versions I had drank until then. And a good wine pairing can bring out dimensions of taste on what you’re eating that you would not otherwise experience.

So amazing: an entire new world of possibilities opening in front of me!

I started reading Jancis’ column on the FT when we got the week-end subscription. I have been enjoying her writing since then—although it has its dose of technical terms, it’s still extremely readable. I don’t always understand everything, but it slowly seeps into my brain.

This video is a good example of what a great communicator she is:

I really like that she’s so clear and systematic—it’s something I can’t but admire.

You can imagine that after following her work for a while, and reading about the new edition of the Atlas with so interest, I would be very curious to meet her in person!

A picture of the World Atlas of Wine, with my scarf wrapped around it
Maybe my scarf was meant to be paired with the Atlas

Funny thing: she complimented my scarf, whose colours turned out to be an almost perfect match to the cover of the book—and this was not deliberate; I just like teal a lot and have a lot of clothes and objects in that colour ?

I also took the opportunity to ask if she had tried wines from the confluence of the South of Valencia / North of Alicante / East of Albacete areas, as we have seen some really interesting wines coming from there lately (for example, Arráez), and she said no, but wasn’t surprised to hear about it either, since there’s lots of producers that have started to make more ‘terroir’ oriented wines, aiming to capture the place they come from, rather than trying to replicate French “classics”.

This is something that has me fascinated recently: wine as a means to capturing. A moment, a season, an intention. A sort of liquid preserve, a time capsule.

Before I got to this understanding, I thought that shipping wine across the world was such a waste of energy, as most of wine is water. Why not just brew it locally? (as it’s done with industrial beer).

But it’s hard (impossible?) to mimic geography and origins elsewhere. I suppose if you throw enough “Chemistry” at it, you could get a good approximation, but even Jancis was explaining that they don’t scientifically know the answers for some of the reasons that make wine taste the way it tastes when some conditions take place (e.g. a draught, warmer climates, etc). And besides, I suspect you’d also experience a bit of an uncanny valley: where things sort of feel like the real thing, but also not entirely there, and it’s very uncomfortable.

And that’s why “authentic wine” is still fascinating and irreplaceable. And also how, as she explained, things have changed so much in the last six years (since the last edition of the Atlas). Lots of new producers giving importance to native grapes; others are having to adapt to the restrictions introduced by climate change; others are producing “serious” wine in places that were not a wine territory before (such as the north of Europe, and as perfect example, the delicious English sparkling wine from Nyetimber that we were drinking courtesy of the producer, who were also in attendance in the presentation). Lots of changes!

She also shared her feelings about wine glasses (and specially when it comes to wine tastings), how she initially turned down Richard Brendon, who approached her to develop their glassware, but then thought again about it and eventually accepted the challenge. It is funny that the country that she cannot convince to buy the glasses is France, since they’re selling the glasses via wine importers and not general wholesalers, and what France does NOT generally do is to import wine! ?

Jancis also talked about which bits of the book had been completely rewritten (e.g. the introduction), expanded, moved around (e.g. some countries that are in a permanent war and used to be placed on side by side pages are not anymore, out of diplomacy), and how whatever they do, they will always be unable to please everyone, because this is such a wide and deep world. It got me thinking whether we would benefit from a sort of ‘Google Maps’ but focused on wine—so you wouldn’t have the issue of keeping things up to date or having to choose whether to give more or less pages to this or other region.

Jancis talking about the new edition of the World Atlas of Wine
Jancis talking about the new edition of the World Atlas of Wine

A really enjoyable presentation; it made me wish I could be that eloquent and still succinct without any support material, as she literally had stood up in front of the table and started talking, empty-handed 😀 (#lifegoals, as they’d say).

I stayed a bit longer after the presentation and Q&A. It was fun to chat with some of the other attendees and see where we each were in our “wine journeys”. Someone was a wine buyer, someone was studying for the WSET level 3 exam (a serious Wine and Spirits qualification) and ran away holding the book in her hands and declaring “I am going to study all of this!!!”.

I’m not at that level yet, but I’m sure going to keep paying attention (and read that gorgeous atlas…)!

More resources

Jancis recommended checking out her website as there’s lots of free content for people like me who want to learn more about wine. There’s also a number of her videos in YouTube.

I also think Alice Lascelles has a lot of interesting things to say about wine and other [alcoholic] drinks!

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