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Celebrities of food and wine gather to celebrate launch of ‘colossal’ Robinson book

Jancis Robinson launched her magnum opus in a packed London restaurant on Wednesday night.

‘Illuminating and intriguing’: Jancis Robinson MW with husband Nick Lander

Robinson, whose Wine Grapes, an encyclopaedic guide to 1,368 grape varieties, has just been published, shared the billing with her husband Nicholas Lander, who launched his The Art of the Restaurateur at the same time.

Wine Grapes has had highly positive reviews: critics from the New York Times’ Eric Asimov to actor and Pinot producer Sam Neill have heaped praise on the book. Andrew Jefford on Decanter.com called it ‘colossally informative, illuminating and intriguing’.

‘Jancis writes a book every couple of years, whereas I’ve waited 60 years to write mine,’ Lander – the Financial Times restaurant critic – told an audience of London’s top chefs and restaurateurs such as St John’s Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, Rowley Leigh of Café Anglais, Russell Norman of the Polpo group, publishers, wine journalists and a smattering of celebrities such as the novelist (and wine lover) Julian Barnes.

Elena Bertaiola, whose Verona restaurant Antica Locanda Mincio is the only Italian restaurant featured in Lander’s book, said she had had many more British visitors as a result of the publicity around it.

Robinson was greeted with whoops and cheers as she paid tribute to her fellow authors Julia Harding MW and José Vouillamoz – and Lander, to whom she referred as ‘my saintly husband’.

The book took four years to complete and includes 300 grape varieties which have never before been published, Robinson said, adding, ‘We’re very proud of our seven-pound wonder.’

Harding said one of the interesting aspects of her research was the discovery that what were thought to be different varieties were in fact the same grape.

‘We had separate entries for Drupeggio, a white from central Italy, and Canaiolo Bianco, a name given, misleadingly, to several varieties in Tuscany. But as a result of DNA profiling, we were able to combine the two entries into one, with Canaiolo Bianco as a synonym for Drupeggio’

Vouillamoz, a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist, said that during his researches he frequently had to explode preconceptions.

‘For example Carole Meredith [of University of California, Davis] told me the grape Gouais Blanc was from Dalmatia, but I couldn’t find any documentation to back it up – everything pointed to northeast France and southwest Germany, so I had to change my ideas. I was glad to correct myself.’

Port expert Richard Mayson, who contributed to the sections on Portuguese varieties, said Wine Grapes was long overdue. ‘I think we’ve needed a book like this for many years.’

The launch took place at Caravan King’s Cross, a new restaurant in a converted granary in the regenerated hinterland around King’s Cross station.

The wines served – ‘the liquid stars of the book’ as Robinson put it – were all Swiss, supplied by Les Vins du Valais, and included such varieties as the whites Savagnin Blanc, Arvine, Humagne and Lafnetscha, and Rouge du Pays and Syrah.

Wine Grapes is published by Allen Lane (Penguin) in the UK and and Ecco in the US, priced around £75/US$110.

The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander is published by Phaidon at £24.95

[pic: Jon Bradley Photography]

Written by Adam Lechmere

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