20 years of fine wine writing

Three mastheads from previous versions of Jancis Robinson dot com

As we approach our 20th anniversary on 1 November, we are responding to some of the suggestions of Andrew McKinna, joint winner of our 20th anniversary competition at the beginning of the year asking for suggestions as to how we might celebrate it. Richard provides this exceedingly incomplete review of some of the most memorable wine writing on JancisRobinson.com since it launched, as well as resurrecting three earlier designs of the site above. All of these 20 articles are now free to view, even if they were originally on our Purple Pages.

As far as I can work out, the very first words published on JancisRobinson.com, on 30 October 2000, were 'Yes it's a googly one.' This was by way of introduction to an inaugural wine of the week, Mission Hill's Pinot Blanc from the Okanagan Valley – a perfect statement of intent for this website.

Twenty years and millions of words later, we have brought you coverage from every conceivable corner of the wine world. Today, a team of 15 writers collectively publish two articles most days, as well as continually building our database of 228,911 tasting notes and counting.

JancisRobinson.com team in 2018
Some of Team Jancis at their Christmas dinner in 2018, from left to right: Richard Hemming MW, Ferran Centelles, Julia Harding MW, Michael Schmidt, JR, Andrea Frost, Andrew Morris, Tamlyn Currin, Rachel Shaughnessy and Francesca Bellometti-Davies

At the helm of the good ship Purple Pages stands Captain Jancis herself, of course, ably assisted by Commander Hawkeye Harding and Lieutenant Currin, but many others have served on board over the years, and this selection of articles represents a wide range of contributors. Many of these articles have previously been republished as a 'Throwback Thursday', which is our way of drawing attention to the best writing from the JR.com archive.

Beyond that, it is a somewhat random (or should I say googly?) voyage through Shiraz-infested waters, which we hope all passengers, from the longest-serving residents to the newest embarkees, will be glad to indulge in with us.

Milk Thistle – the drinker's friend Jancis, 31 December 2001

The first but by no means last mention of this wonder-herb was published shortly after the first anniversary of the site … and the morning after Jancis had 'eight 1989 red bordeaux sloshing round my system from last night's annual first-growth dinner'. Ever since, milk thistle has become one of the most popular search terms on Google for directing traffic to this site, believe it or not.

Sicily – Italy's new California Jancis, 25 October 2002

Staying abreast of the latest trends in wine is something this site prides itself on. At the turn of the century, Sicily was still establishing its reputation for fine wine. Jancis visited the island to provide an insight into all the goings-on with both international and indigenous varieties, especially at Planeta, a relative newcomer at the time. (I remember haranguing the Planetas about their initial tendency to celebrate and price international varieties way above those of the island which were consigned to inexpensive blends sold under the name La Segreta, if I recall correctly. Things changed, as Walter made clear in his recent appreciation of the late Diego Planeta JR)

Historic ingenuity in Asian wine storage Guest contributor, 25 April 2003

Five years before Hong Kong became the fine-wine hub of Asia (thanks to the abolition of duty), this brief report from Debra Meiburg (who became an MW in 2008) is an early example of the guest contributions that allow a plethora of voices on Purple Pages. Asia has long been a topic of fascination to the Western wine world, and this story reveals aspects of an emerging fine-wine culture that was to become a new, dominant influence on wine.

Nick dreams on Nick, 26 November 2004

The restaurant columns of Mr Jancis Robinson have been a feature of this site since the beginning, and this is a typically intriguing peek into Nick's subconscious, drawing on his experience of both running and reviewing restaurants. In this article, he explains the dreams and nightmares involved in the restaurant trade.

Our anniversary dinner Jancis, 2 December 2005

No wine website would be complete without tales of indulgent dinners through which readers can drink vicariously. This is a prime example, featuring a host of famous names from the wine world, both in liquid and human form, including Krug, Hugel, Coche-Dury, Cheval Blanc and more, stretching back to the 1970s. If emojis had existed back then, this would have called for the salivating one.

Headshots of Steven Spurrier and Thierry Manoncourt
Pictures arrived on the site in 2006, albeit in small format. On the left, Steven Spurrier and on the right, Thierry Manoncourt.

Steven Spurrier – champion of French wines Jancis, 27 May 2006

Another stalwart subject of this site is profiles of the personalities behind the bottles, from growers to winemakers to importers to critics. This account of Steven Spurrier's career to date is a prime example of Jancis's knack of delivering unflattering truths with unfailing charm: 'Fortunately he began life with a fortune, was wise enough to marry another, and seems to be happy enough to have spent his 42 years in the wine business gently frittering them away in various agreeable wine-related pursuits.'

Sixty vintages under his belt Jancis, 31 March 2007

Access is everything, and here's an example of a detailed history of the man behind Château Figeac, Thierry Manoncourt, who had recently celebrated 60 vintages, written three years before he passed away at the age of 93.

Sauvignon – methoxypyrazines v thiols Julia, 6 October 2008

Julia's typically scrupulous attention to detail has been a feature of her writing since she joined JancisRobinson.com in 2005. This article, examining specific flavour components found in Sauvignon Blanc, demonstrates another important mission of this website: to be an authoritative resource regarding the many technical, legal and scientific aspects of wine.

Soviet wine archive – the conclusions Jancis, 29 October 2009

Unearthing the more obscure wines of the world is a most intriguing assignment, if not always the tastiest. This report of Jancis's visit to the cellars of southern Russia is a warts-and-all account of 'one of the most exhausting and extraordinary tastings I have ever taken part in, but … also one of the most educational'.

A crowd of people tasting champagne at the Jancis Robinson dot com ten year anniversary
In 2010, we hosted our first-ever tasting event: a fête of champagne to toast the ten-year anniversary of the site. It was held when London was in the grip of one of the worst snowstorms of recent years, in the German Gymnasium, now a restaurant.

Cinders goes to Burgundy Tamlyn, 28 October 2010

Tamlyn's poetic and full-hearted writing is epitomised in this article recording her first impressions of Burgundy: 'I am quite sure I betray my callowness when I write that I got goosebumps as I climbed onto a tumbling stone wall and looked out over Échezeaux, glowing scarlet in the sun. I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I was really there, with a sweet second-crop bunch of grapes in my sticky fingers.' Great writing, just like great wine, is transportational.

Spätburgunder – the price of confidence Michael, 12 December 2011

Our German correspondent never shies away from injustices in the wine world, and here he bemoans the inflated prices of one of his country's finest Pinot Noirs, at a time when their reputation was still being established.

The vinification of Ningxia Jancis, 13 September 2012

Another visit to Asia, and an early visit to China's vine-friendly Ningxia province. Despite some impressive faux-European architecture, the vineyards themselves were whelming at best, but the wines were another matter, showing the promise that is still being realised 12 years later.

Are wine tasters idiots? Alex, 5 December 2013

Over 36 glorious columns between 2012 and 2016, Alex Hunt MW shared his multidisciplinary expertise in a series of intelligent and funny essays. They covered all corners of the wine world and revelled in both low and high culture, as well as providing a definitive commentary on some of wine's most slippery concepts such as this brilliant piece on aesthetics, snobbery and defining quality in wine.

An American perspective on Japan Alder, 1 May 2014

Our man in America is the botanically named Alder Yarrow, who normally files reports on what's happening on the west coast but on this occasion shares his memories of wine in Japan as a riposte to an earlier piece pessimistic about that country's wine culture an example of how this site strives to stimulate the never-ending debate that wine provokes.

Italian grape varieties in Australia Walter, 23 February 2015

Through his writing here on JancisRobinson.com, Walter Speller has established himself as one of the world's leading authorities on Italian wines. For this 2015 article, now accompanied by full-size images, he takes that expertise to Australia in an in-depth critique of how Italian grape varieties perform in the land down under.

Jancis Robinson and her team at Brunello Night in 2015
In 2015, the first in a series of member-only tastings at Caravan restaurant in Kings Cross began with Brunello Night, offering some of the team a rare chance to gather in person! Left to right: Emily, Tam, Richard, Francesco Ripaccioli of the Consorzio, Jancis, Walter, Julia and Nick.

Wine by numbers: viticulture, part one Richard, 7 September 2016

Since my debut in 2008, I've written dozens of columns that attempt to entertain as well as enlighten, but this piece has proved among the most enduringly useful, giving a series of measurements and statistics to help define the boundaries of wine, such as the world's largest and smallest vineyard.

Rebirth of the Australian super-blend Max, 3 October 2017

Max Allen writes with unrivalled knowledge of the wine scene in Australia, and this article investigates the rise of the red 'super-blend', perhaps exemplified by the g3 and g4 cross-vintage cuvées of Penfolds Grange. As usual, Max tackles the subject with positivity tempered by a healthy dose of scepticism.

Amontillado – Ferran's best tasting ever Ferran, 7 February 2018

Surely nobody writes with more detail, humility and thoughtfulness about Spanish wine than Ferran. Furthermore, his use of illustrations, videos and infographics add an extra dimension to his work, rendering complex subjects easily comprehensible. This article also shows the unbridled enthusiasm he has for great wine – in this case, Amontillado sherry.

The story of California Chardonnay – part one Elaine, 24 December 2018

Rivalling only Alex Hunt MW for the Largest Brain In Wine, Elaine Chukan Brown contributes articles with forensic levels of detail. Her academic background brings the kind of research rigour that few of us can emulate, as demonstrated by this definitive history of Chardonnay in California, which stretches over four parts and beyond 10,000 words.

Re-thinking en primeur Guest contributor, 21 April 2020

Finally, a recent example of the site's contribution to thought leadership in the wine industry. As part of a series of articles (and forum discussions) about the strategy of marketing bordeaux en primeur during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Hanson MW shared his 50-year experience of the matter, as did Melbourne vintner Daniel Airoldi.

Jancis adds This is just the tiniest little taste of what we have published over the years. There are 200,000 tasting notes in addition to more than 10,000 articles, as well of course as all of the most up-to-date version of The Oxford Companion to Wine, all the maps in the latest, eighth edition of The World Atlas of Wine and our lively Members' forum. Please don't hesitate to let us know what you would like to see more, or less, of via the Contact link below.