Thursday 9 March 2017

Preserved for posterity – Jancis v Sediment

The University of California has acquired the archive of Jancis Robinson; forty years of wine tasting notes, her travel notebooks, notes on Chateau Latour, invitations from the Queen, personal correspondence and published articles. A feature in the San Francisco Chronicle explained the acquisition  by saying that “Robinson invented ways to be a wine writer that had never existed before”,

This is clearly also true of Sediment, which similarly invented ways of being a wine writer which had never existed before, viz. while knowing little to nothing about wine.

So perhaps there is some former Poly, or one of the poorly supported council libraries, which would be interested in acquiring the Sediment archive?

At the heart of the Sediment archive is a treasure trove of crumpled supermarket receipts. These provide a fascinating glimpse into the authors’ wine-buying habits; they document the seesawing prices of discounted supermarket wines, and provide historians with precise documentation of the dates of “25% off six bottles” offers.

The receipts record the pitifully low sums which the authors regularly spent on their wines, illustrated further by a marked-up list from Majestic, a booklet from Lidl and some sort of leaflet which came through the door from Waitrose.

The archive pinpoints increasingly hard-to-find retailers such as Threshers, Nicolas and Oddbins, and tracks the relentless rise of CJ’s pricepoint from £5 to the heady heights of £6.99, while the sorry state of wine deliveries is recorded by a collection of “While you were out…” cards.

There are, sadly, no notes on Chateau Latour; if there were, they would probably be “Can’t afford it” from PK and, from CJ, “What?” But then, the Jancis Robinson archive probably lacks notes on Sainsbury’s Basic, “reminiscent of alcohol and wet carpet, like the aftermath of a student party”. 

And here are all of the other original Sediment tasting notes, in handwriting whose deteriorating legibility provides confirmation that the authors didn’t just consider wines; they consumed them.

There are fascinating similarities; Jancis’s notes on Latour employ the descriptive term “open”, which Sediment also use, having decided it was helpful to “open” most of their wines.

One can see in her notes on Latour comparisons like “red fruits”, “cheese” and “violets”. Sediment’s points of comparison reflect more of a quintessential Englishness, referring to such evocative national products as Airwick, Flash and Copydex, in notes such as “acrid, nasal – like crushed insects in Brasso”.

Sediment’s invitation from the Queen sadly seems to have gone astray. However, there is one from the Prime Minister, a moment at which PK believed he would achieve new status in wine drinking, only to be offered a glass of Campo Viejo. 

And, perhaps distinguishing itself from the Jancis archive yet again, the Sediment archive does contain an invitation from ASDA, to a tasting event at which CJ “sat bathed in mute and baffled dread.” Which could explain the absence from the archive of any other invitation from any other supermarket. 

Here finally is the original manuscript for the Sediment book. It makes fascinating reading, with particular reference to the amendments required by lawyers, including exchanges over the potentially libellous use of words such as “emetic”. The archive allows scholars to identify the retailers that the authors were not allowed to describe as “dreary” and “charmless”, and the producer whose wine could not be described as “rust remover”.

What will students find, asked the San Francisco Chronicle, when they encounter the Jancis documents? “I think it will be an interesting snapshot into where wine was,” Robinson says.

Sediment already know where wine was – it was in the bottle, then it was in the glass, then it was, somewhat briskly, gone –  but their archive offers an alternative snapshot of everyday wine drinking, and a record of its cost which will be of particular interest to their wives.



  1. Ha! Indeed, a most worthy archive that should be housed for posterity

  2. Thank you – your opinion will be passed on to Mrs K before the binmen are due.


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