A Day In The Life Of A Wine Critic

Jane P tasting

Having sampled very little wine while growing up, Jane Parkinson’s life was upturned during her third year university placement in the wine-producing mecca of Burgundy. Suddenly surrounded by some of the best wines in the world, and tasked with learning about them as part of her final dissertation for her degree in French, she became immersed in vine growers and their produce. Fast-forward a few years and Jane is one of the most respected wine experts in England. Known as the ‘Nigella of Wine’ she appears on TV, online and in print, recommending wines from across the world, and has been praised for bringing knowledge of the grape to the masses. Forget your stuffy old men talking gobbledegook about drinks you could never afford, Jane is intent on ensuring everyone can enjoy the right tipple, and talks about this delicious drink in a language we can all understand!

Here, Jane talks us through a typical day as a one-woman wine tasting whirlwind….

“I usually wake up around 6am, I always have. I think it’s to do with growing up in the countryside, although now I live in London because it’s the best place in the world for a wine taster. There’s literally a world of wines on your doorstep in this city.

I like to start the day with a hot Bikram Yoga class at my local gym. I won’t pretend it’s enjoyable while you’re doing it, but about 20 minutes after I get a massive burst of energy which really sets me up for the day.

I am one of the resident wine experts on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen so on my way back from yoga I will stop at a supermarket and pick up the ingredients for the dishes being cooked that week. I like to cook all the recipes from scratch so I get a real feel for the flavours and can recommend the best wines to accompany the food. Sometimes a simple supermarket shop will do, but other times I find myself wandering through specialist markets for foodstuffs I’ve never even heard of! The recipes are always interesting and sometimes use some very unusual ingredients, but it makes finding a perfect wine even more fulfilling in the end.

Once home I tend to catch up on my emails. I write a regular column for Restaurant magazine so might have to finish that off before a deadline, and respond to other requests for columns and articles. I also do ’60 Second Reviews’ on wines for a new app, so I will have to plan what products we will feature in the coming weeks.

September is one of the busiest months of the year for a wine taster, with producers from across the globe coming to London to show off their wares. It’s not unusual to go to three or four tastings a day at this time of year because everybody wants to exhibit their products ahead of Christmas. London really is the centre of the wine world and everybody wants to exhibit here. We import from every part of the world you can imagine, and I feel so lucky to be based right in the midst of it. People ask ‘don’t you ever get bored of tasting wine?’ but the answer is no, I really don’t. And although I may taste wine every day, I don’t drink it every day – that would be exhausting! Tasting is very different. You have to make notes, keep track of the story behind the producer, explore how they’ve come to making this particular product. You can’t get drunk while tasting wine or you’d never remember what anything tasted like!

While I’m in the centre of town at the tastings I try to make time for a meeting or two. This could be with my publisher, or a planner for an event being held in the next month or so. I appear at lots of exhibitions and festivals, giving talks and hosting tastings, and am currently enjoying planning a huge event in November with The Wine Gang – we’re a group of five wine critics who run a club for wine fans everywhere. We will be putting on three shows this Autumn, in Edinburgh, Bath and, of course, London, featuring more than 700 exhibitors of wine. We will also be appearing and giving talks and tours, tailored to the tastes and wants of the ticket buyers. There’s a lot to plan but it’s all very exciting.

Once my meetings and tasting are over I will usually wind up my working day and head home to put my feet up, not with a glass of wine – that might be a bit of a busman’s holiday! – but maybe with a nice cold beer. Or if I’m not completely worn out I will meet up with friends for dinner – I love eating out and am trying to work my way through all the restaurants in London! I’m a very social person and love catching up with friends, as well as other wine critics. The wine world is a small one and everyone seems to know everyone, but they’re a good bunch and there’s always something interesting to talk about, it doesn’t always have to be work!

Jane P

Jane’s top tips for becoming a wine connoiseur!

– If you like Sauvignon Blanc but don’t want to blow the budget, have a look at the ones coming out of Chile, they can be fantastic value for money.

– If you’re stuck for a red wine to choose in a restaurant, go for Pinot Noir. It’s really versatile grape and works well with lots of different dishes.

– Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio is the same grape. Gris is fatter and richer, Grigio is pear drop-y and light.

– Support English wines! Not just to be patriotic but because they have never been in better shape. The sparkling wines are de-li-cious and there are some really red and white tables wines being made these days too, especially from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

– Be wary of wines you see on offer ALL THE TIME, these wines will often have been created just to be discounted (and therefore probably not worth the suggested full price in the first place).

Jane’s current favourites:

White – Chateau Dereszla Prince Tamas Dry Furmint 2011. It’s fruity, funky and delicious. £14 Borough Wines

Pink – La Vie en Rose Cinsault Rosé 2013. Dry but bursting with raspberry and pomegranate flavours. £10.99 Selfridges

Red – M&S Etna Rosso. Very aromatic, smooth and seductive. £9.99 M&S

Find out more about Jane, where she will be appearing and where you can read her recommendations at www.janeparkinson.com .

Emily Cleary

Emily Cleary

After almost a decade chasing ambulances, and celebrities, for Fleet Street’s finest, Emily has taken it down a gear and settled for a (slightly!) slower pace of life in the suburbs. With a love of cheese and fine wine, Emily is more likely to be found chasing her toddlers round Kew Gardens than sipping champagne at a showbiz launch nowadays, or grabbing an hour out of her hectic freelancer’s life to chill out in a spa while hubby holds the babies. If only!


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