Reigning British critic Jancis Robinson, a wine adviser to the queen, has influenced world opinion for almost 40 years. Here, she talks about the past, the future and the surprising health of her hardworking liver.
Q. You’ve mentioned that a glass of 1959 Chambolle-Musigny “lit the flame” for you in terms of wine. When did you have it?
A. It was when I was reading Maths and Philosophy at Oxford. I had a boyfriend whose father gave him a very generous allowance, some of which was spent on taking me out to eat. We shared this seminal bottle of Burgundy at a restaurant called Rose Revived, which still exists.
Q. You’ve had a long career. What have been some of the most significant changes in wine since you started in the mid-1970s?
A. Are you calling me a dinosaur?! If I tell you that when I started writing about wine, everyone was mad for white in general, especially a rare grape variety called Chardonnay, you will get some idea of how long I have been in this business. The red wine boom is an obvious change of direction from the mid-’70s, as is the trend I am now witnessing in most of the wine world, where both producers and consumers are tiring of very concentrated, alcoholic wines and are looking for more freshness and wines that are shaped more by the vineyard than by what happened in the winery. I’ve seen people fall in and then out of love with oak. Another very significant change has been the shift in interest away from a handful of international grape varieties toward indigenous varieties—great for biodiversity. Then there are the very noticeable effects of climate change, and the increased awareness of the importance of sustainability.