Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course: Explore the TV Series That Introduced the Wines of the World (1995)

“The word ‘con­nois­seur’ is not an attrac­tive one,” writes Jan­cis Robin­son in her mem­oir Tast­ing Plea­sure: Con­fes­sions of a Wine Lover. “It smacks of exclu­siv­i­ty, pre­cious­ness and elit­ism.” Indeed, “con­nois­seur­ship is not a nec­es­sary state for wine appre­ci­a­tion. It is per­fect­ly pos­si­ble to enjoy wine enor­mous­ly with­out real­ly under­stand­ing it. But a con­nois­seur sees each indi­vid­ual wine in its his­tor­i­cal, geo­graph­i­cal and soci­o­log­i­cal con­text and is tru­ly sen­si­tive to its pos­si­bil­i­ties.” Those who drink wine too care­less­ly or too strin­gent­ly, “those who will not meet a wine halfway, and who con­sis­tent­ly ignore the sto­ry each wine has to tell, deprive them­selves of a large part of the poten­tial plea­sure asso­ci­at­ed with each bot­tle.”

How best to expe­ri­ence that plea­sure — or rather, how best to attain the state of con­nois­seur­ship that makes it acces­si­ble in the first place? One could do worse than start­ing with the works of Robin­son her­self, who’s not just one of the most respect­ed wine writ­ers alive today, but also one­time super­vi­sor of the lux­u­ry wine selec­tion on British Air­ways’ Con­corde and advi­sor for the wine cel­lar of the late Queen Eliz­a­beth II.

Since she began cov­er­ing wine pro­fes­sion­al­ly near­ly half a cen­tu­ry ago, she has pro­duced a great deal of work in print as well as for the screen. Among the lat­ter, per­haps the most ambi­tious is Jan­cis Robin­son’s Wine Course, whose ten episodes orig­i­nal­ly aired on BBC 2 in 1995 and are now avail­able to watch on Robin­son’s own Youtube chan­nel.

With this $1.6 mil­lion pro­duc­tion, Robin­son was “set loose on the wine world, far too much of the time in full make­up, with fresh­ly done hair and clothes sub­si­dized by an offi­cial BBC bud­get.” Ded­i­cat­ing each episode to a dif­fer­ent grape vari­etal “allowed us with­in a sin­gle pro­gram to vis­it more than one region — and there­fore vary the scenery, archi­tec­ture and cli­mate. It also reflect­ed my pas­sion­ate inter­est in grape vari­eties and my con­vic­tion that com­ing to grips with the most impor­tant grapes pro­vides the eas­i­est route to learn­ing about wine.” The year­long shoot took her and her team around the globe, vis­it­ing wine­mak­ers wher­ev­er they could be found: France, Ger­many, Aus­tralia, Chile, and even north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where they man­aged an audi­ence with auteur-vint­ner Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la.

“The con­flict between the New and Old Worlds of wine was com­ing nice­ly to a head at just the right time for our series, Robin­son notes.” Those worlds have set­tled into a kind of rel­a­tive peace in the decades since — as has the “Chardon­nay boom” of the mid-nine­teen-nineties, about which Robin­son lets slip some frus­tra­tion onscreen. Despite her vast knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence of wine, Robin­son sel­dom shows any hes­i­tan­cy to crack a joke, and sure­ly her con­tin­ued promi­nence as a wine edu­ca­tor owes some­thing to that sense of humor, on dis­play in the Talks at Google inter­view about her 2016 book The 24-Hour Wine Expert. More recent­ly, she entered into anoth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with the BBC, specif­i­cal­ly the new BBC Mae­stro online edu­ca­tion plat­form, to cre­ate the course “An Under­stand­ing of Wine.” In all pur­suits, under­stand­ing is the basis of plea­sure — but in wine, even more so.

Episodes of Jan­cis Robin­son’s Wine Course:


Relat­ed con­tent:

A Vin­tage Wine Course (UC Davis, 1973)

High-Tech Japan­ese Cam­era Proves That the Shape of a Wine Glass Affects the Fla­vor of Wines

Sal­vador Dali’s 1978 Wine Guide, The Wines of Gala, Gets Reis­sued: Sen­su­al Viti­cul­ture Meets Sur­re­al Art

Storm: New Short Film Cap­tures the Artistry of Wine­mak­ing

How to Open a Wine Bot­tle with Your Shoe

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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