Tim Atkin | Master of Wine

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7th Jul 2014

Call me Jancis

by Ron Washam

 

Call me Jancis. Everyone does, even though it’s not my name. Well, it is when I’m conducting a wine seminar, or giving a speech at some God-forsaken outpost of weird wine that wants to pretend its wines are worthwhile, like the Jura. Many days I wake up and cannot recall my birth name. I think it’s Cameron, though it could be Mel. I’ve been Jancis for so long now, it doesn’t really matter. I look like her, I walk like her, I sound like her, I spit exactly like her — I was taught that the stream should most closely resemble that of the cherub’s as it urinates into a typical Italian fountain. So you may as well call me Jancis. I’ve been a Jancis double for the past ten years. I am Jancis, though she is not me.

You do not know that I exist, and yet you’ve long suspected that I must. Like God. If you’re like most people, you aren’t certain God exists, how can we ever be certain, but how else would you explain the existence of bloodsucking ticks? Similarly, like most people, you cannot name an important event in the wine world the past ten or fifteen years where Jancis hasn’t been present, and so you suspect that there must be more than one Jancis. I do not mean to equate Jancis with ticks. It’s the difference between lemons and Lyme’s. But you have long suspected that Jancis impersonators exist, and so my revelation that I am one such Jancis double doesn’t shock you, but instead makes you nod your head and think, “I knew it.” What else would explain the countless appearances all over the world, seemingly simultaneously, the innumerable books with her name on the cover, the reliably memorable clothes? There are many of us. There is only one Jancis. Though we’ve forgotten which one she is.

Though to be truthful, I’ve only rarely been in Jancis’ company. I was hired ten years ago when I was spotted by one of her people in a crowd of wine tasters. Jancis’ associate took me aside and asked, “Do you know you bear a striking resemblance to Jancis Robinson?” I had no idea to whom she was referring. I didn’t know Jancis Robinson from Jackie Robinson, though now I know that one endured incredible abuse and the disgust of peers in order to succeed, and the other played baseball. “Yes, about the eyes and mouth, and that exact same figure; with a little makeup and hair, a pair of glasses that look lifted from a ventriloquist’s dummy, you could be Jancis.” I thought this odd. Not least of all because I’m a man.

And so it began. I was offered a good sum of money, a lifestyle like Jancis’, the opportunity to be wined and dined all over the world, the admiration of millions  what would you do? I accepted, and my transformation began. In a few months I was Jancis. And then my life got extraordinarily busy.

You probably assume that the hardest part of my impersonation is speaking about wine extemporaneously. But you would be wrong. You’re forgetting that everyone in the audience thinks I’m Jancis Robinson MW. I can say any damned thing I like about a wine and everyone in the audience just nods their head in agreement. Think back. If you’re one of the many people who has paid an exorbitant amount of money to taste rare or deservedly obscure wines and listen to Jancis rhapsodize about them, you can probably recall a few instances where what she said seemed incoherent or outrageously peculiar. “Well, one has to admire this Coda di Volpe if only for its ability to pair perfectly with Margaret Court.” Something of a non sequitur, but that was me speaking, not the real Jancis. I was a bit stoned at that Italian wine seminar, as I recall. Wimbledon isn’t the only place where the doubles are on grass. But no one said a word. Not one participant questioned my rather meaningless statement. One doesn’t question the opinions of an MW when it comes to wine any more than one argues about meat seasonings with a cannibal. First, you’d have to ask the cannibal to “Please pass the balls” to have the courage to ask. And, trust me, that makes the cannibal a bit teste. Best, in every sense of the words, to keep your mouth shut.

My handlers found that I had a real knack for conducting wine tastings, and could mesmerize a crowd with my completely improvised wine knowledge, and so I became the go-to guy for being Jancis at her many paid wine seminars. Every new appellation, every new consortium of growers from the backwaters of the wine-growing world, every association of wine producers trying to succeed in the world wine market wants Jancis to give a speech extolling their vinous virtues. She’s sick of it. Wouldn’t you be? Just how many times a year can you get up in front of people and wax poetic about yet more obscure indigenous grape varieties? Well, now I do it so she doesn’t have to (though I have to wax something else before I wax poetic — but that’s another story, one for the cannibal perhaps). I can improvise tasting notes and facts about grape varieties I’ve never heard of like David Schildknecht on Quaaludes, which someone should slip him. And who in the crowd is going to question me? After all, Jancis wrote a ten-pound book about the DNA of wine grapes. Ten pounds of DNA? What is this, a party at Silvio Berlusconi’s house?

Despite the thrill of waking up and being Jancis every day, I’ve grown weary of the work. Frankly, I’m just sick to death of people who don’t know shit about modern wine always babbling about it. Have you been to an MW gathering lately? Of course you haven’t, you’re nobody. Believe me, those old dinosaurs only know about Bordeaux, and that’s it. That’s why Jancis makes me attend all those gatherings instead of going herself. I swear to God, if Michael Broadbent gropes me one more time I’m going to knock his teeth out, if I can find the glass they’re in. I don’t know why I bother to attend. I’m the most famous MW of them all, the world’s acknowledged top wine expert, advisor to the Queen of England! Even I’m impressed with me. I should be left alone.

I’m weary down to my hairy toes of being Jancis, but I shall continue onward. But do me a small favor. Next time you see Jancis at an event, sidle over to me and whisper in my ear, “I know you’re not really Jancis. Your secret is safe with me.” I promise I’ll give you a sly smile, perhaps a knowing nod, and you’ll know it’s me. That will make this Jancis very happy, indeed.

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