Last week, searching randomly through my fiction bookshelves, I found, between the swathes of Simon Raven and Philip Roth, a pristine copy her 1997 autobiography, Confessions of a Wine Lover. It is a first edition. It must have been a gift that Christmas. But it was unread.
It is no longer. I read it over the weekend with delight and pleasure, regretting that I had not read it earlier and that it ends in 1997. And regretting also that I did not discover wine when I was at university and trying to find something about which I could write sensibly, because Ms Robinson and I are almost direct contemporaries. We have both drank our way through the profound changes in wine since the 70s, in my case with significantly less discrimination than she. We have both swilled our way through four hour lunches. We have both shared tables with people of gargantuan appetites – for wine, for food, for life. And we both now spend not enough time in the Languedoc.
The difference is, she made wine her life and, in doing so, gave to others a life-time passion. She wouldn’t and doesn’t claim to have transformed wine writing, although she did; nor to have taken on the pin-striped male world of the wine trade, although she did; nor to have approached each wine as a wine lover rather (as Parker terms himself) a wine critic, although she did.
In fact, the section about Parker and Parkerisation is one of the most interesting in the book. Although she is too polite – and she is always polite – to criticise Robert Parker for his influence on, especially, red Bordeaux, it is clear that she does not share his taste nor his tastes. She classifies one wine as ‘The Sort of Wine Parker Likes’. But she does acknowledge that, after visiting him in Maryland, he knows exactly “what wine is for: to convive with, to wallow in, sitting round a table in good company with good food”.
Which is very much my view, and why I enjoyed so much her stories of lunches and tastings and conversations with the great and the good, the raffish and the louche. Why I have only the slightest envy for the fact that she has led a life fulfilled with all objectives achieved. Why I don’t begrudge her the sense of contentment and satisfaction which is apparent on (almost) every page.
She is, currently, and we are – embarrassingly – discussing this 17 years after the publication of the book, probably the most respected wine writer around. And deservedly so. Because she is a true lover of wine.
And she is not a bad writer, either.
Here’s to you, Ms Robinson. May you long enjoy the fruits (and tannins) of your labours.
Today from the everysmith vaults: In my head, I am listening to American Spring, a lovely album from 1972 by Diane Rovell and Marylin Wilson, the latter briefly married to Brian Wilson who produced at least some of this album. I have it only on vinyl (which is in France while I am in the UK), and although it was once issued on CD, it is no longer available. If anyone has it, I’ll trade …