4 June 2020

Wine websites behind the paywall: jancisrobinson.com

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Jancis Robinson MW OBE is one of the handful of wine writers worldwide who can justifiably claim to be a household name. Her website, jancisrobinson.com, exudes a cool, no-nonsense authority. A clever marketer, she has gathered around her a salon of eminent and idiosyncratic talent. Julia Harding MW and Richard Hemming MW headline an international team – former El Bulli sommelier Ferran Centelles, Italian expert Walter Speller, “the world’s youngest MW” Tom Parker, Alaskan former “commercial fisherman” (sic) and academic philosopher Elaine Brown – are all authorities in their particular fields. Other proprietors tempt their big-name contributors with six-figure salaries; Robinson doesn’t wield the chequebook to the same extent – the kudos of working for her is a big part of the deal.

jancisrobinson.com launched in the early 2000s, around the same time as decanter.com. It’s not known for its visual beauty – even after a recent redesign the homepage still looks as if it was created in a bedroom – but it works. The navigation is clear: “Articles. Tasting notes. Forum. Maps. Learn.” The wine search is intuitive and reacts fast.

The site’s great strength, and that of its creator, is a “does-what-it-says-on-the-tin” directness. Robinson’s writing style (she’s been honing it in her Financial Times column for 30 years) is straightforward and unadorned; honesty is her trademark. She disapproves, for example, of the 2019 Bordeaux en primeur campaign going ahead in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, and says so. She’s scrupulous about press trips and will only accept if there’s no conflict of interest. But she’s not po-faced about it: on being recently invited to “a particularly wine-minded hotel” in the Maldives, she writes in her “Ethics” section, “now that I am trying to put my new mantra ‘less work, more perk’ into action, I am delighted to say that I have plans to visit the Maldives as part of my significant [her 70th] birthday celebrations in 2020”.

jancisrobinson.com exudes a cool, no-nonsense authority

The recommendations database is vast and efficiently ordered. There are over 90,000 notes for France (23,937 in Bordeaux, 34,190 on Burgundy, 476 on Jura); 9,540 for Australia, nearly 26,000 for Italy. Tasting notes are bracingly spare. This is the Lafite 2010, tasted in early 2014 by Robinson: “Sweet, rich on the nose. Sweet and round and easy to like. Lots of tannin and savour on the end after some very rich fruit. Just a little drying on the finish. Noble but not yet charming.” Where she has one descriptor for the fruit (“rich”), Robert Parker has six (“white chocolate, mocha, cedar and charcoal, vanillin and creme de cassis”). Go figure, as they say.

Elsewhere, Robinson’s major work, the Oxford Companion to Wine, is reproduced in its entirety. It’s exhaustively cross-referenced and indexed (no detail escapes interrogation: there’s a seven-line entry on “Wire”, cross-referenced to: trellis systems, posts, mechanization, training systems and cordon training). It’s worth the joining fee alone. Maps from her other major publication, the World Atlas of Wine (co-authored with fellow wine OBE, Hugh Johnson) are also usefully presented.

In terms of aesthetics, jancisrobinson.com is neither slick nor polished. Images are frequently blurry iPhone snaps, headlines presented with little concession to search engine optimisation (an article entitled “Pergola – an agronomist’s view” isn’t going to trouble the first few pages of Google).

The site can seem bloggish: “too often Pinot Noir is crap…” Richard Hemming MW opines, while Walter Speller goes into unfettered detail on pergola systems (sparking off a lively exchange in the forum). What it lacks in slickness, though, it makes up for in reach and authority: Robinson is possibly the most awarded wine critic in the world, one of her latest gongs being the IWSC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. There are few great properties that wouldn’t open up their cellars to her.

Wine writing, even in the most avowedly revolutionary of publications, can be academic, pompous and clannish. Jancisrobinson.com could be forgiven for making all those mistakes. But it manages to be both grounded and inclusive: a fine resource for students, aficionados and professionals alike.

Scores

  • Topicality 8/10
  • Useability 7/10
  • Geek appeal 9/10
  • Popular appeal 6/10
  • Recommendations 8/10

Annual cost £85

  • Access to over 12,000 articles and nearly 2,000 wine reviews
  • Access to the entire Oxford Companion to Wine
  • Members’ Forum
  • Access to The World Atlas of Wine maps


Free

  • Free for all pages – selected articles including Robinson’s Financial Times column

 

www.jancisrobinson.com

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