Getting to Know Richard Jennings

The man behind RJonWine


Wine writers are not a homogeneous lot. We come in all shapes and sizes, and styles of course. Some prefer to dwell on a single wine at a time, others are more prolific. None are more prolific than my friend Richard Jennings. A veritable tasting machine, Richard, the man behing is constantly tasting wines and diligently recording his take on wines as varied as Salon Champagn, now featured on his site to some of the lesser known wines of Santa Barbara, a regionnear and dear to Richard.

This ongoing series of wine writer profiles has been a blast to read, and even a jaded wine writer like myself has recaptured some of the joy and the excitement that each of our interviewees possesses. Wine has been, is and will continue to be a pursuit of passion and fun, and these interviews teach us that that that is one of the threads that binds us all together.!
Snooth: How did you get involved in wine? 
RJ: I first started drinking wine my sophomore year at Stanford, when I was at the overseas campus in Britain and we made a field trip to Florence. It was just a simple Chianti, but I loved how it worked with the meal. Then in my senior year at Stanford, I lived in the French Theme House. We had a French chef  there, Babette, and wine with dinner every night. I quickly got used to that—it seemed like a very civilized way to live. That same year I made my first visit to Napa wine country. I didn’t get heavily into European wine, though, until 2000, when I started regularly tasting at a wine store in Glendale, California (Red Carpet), that featured two or three flights every weekend including library wines. Some of the older Bordeaux, Burgundies, Baroli and Sauternes they served amazed me for their complexity and layers of flavor. After that I was really hooked, and started taking classes and reading dozens of books on wine.
Snooth: How did you get involved in wine writing?
RJ: I started writing about wine in 2003, penning tasting notes and summaries of tastings of older wines. I wrote mainly to try to make sense of these experiences and as a way to summarize my research regarding the producers. I started putting these reports up on the Squires Board on, and got a bit of a following there. I also started to attend large scale events, like the annual UGC Bordeaux tasting, and to write those up. I ultimately became the most prolific tasting note writer on CellarTracker by 2007 or so, and put reports up on most tastings I attended there. I launched my blog,, in April 2010, mainly because I had an idea for a wine book and knew you needed a blog and other means of publicizing such projects. The blog started taking on a life of its own, though, when it was a finalist for Best Writing and Best Overall Blog at the 2011 Wine Blog Awards, and when the blog posts for a more general audience I was doing for Palo Alto Patch got picked up by Huffington Post on a weekly basis.
Snooth:Do you have any professional background in wine?
RJ: I have not gone for a professional certification, but I have attended lots of classes, do several focused tastings a week and have read extensively (I am now writing wine book reviews for the New York Journal of Books). I have participated in lots of blindtastings and WSET practice tests with friends studying for certification, and find that I do as well or better than buddies who are going for those certifications. I have traveled to wine country around the globe, and learn a tremendous amount on those trips. I think I have developed a lot of expertise on regions I’ve visited and written regularly about, like Champagne, Rioja and Madeira, as well as Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa. As a lawyer, I learned to become a quick study on a particular area—by knowing how to focus and analyze. If I was a couple decades younger, I think I would go for an MW, but at this point I don’t think it would serve to improve my writing more than the intensive study and tasting I already do.
Snooth:What is your favorite wine region and why?
RJ: Ouch! It is truly painful to have to choose among so many fabulous wine regions. The world is blessed with many sites that not only make wonderful wines, but that are also spectacularly scenic and steeped in fascinating history. I’m talking about places like the Douro, Piedmont, South Africa, Rioja, the island of Madeira, Corsica, and many more. How can you pick only one?
As a critic, however, I am regularly called upon to set some criteria and pick a top choice. That’s the nature of the job. So if I have to pick only one favorite wine region it has to be Champagne. Not only is it full of history, but the past decades have seen it leading other regions in refining and constantly improving what they do. There is, of course, a strong drive for higher quality and improvements in viticulture and winemaking throughout the world. Nonetheless, it is hard to think of any wine region where this has been more of a constant drive since 1950, and where the financial benefits of such a laser focus on quality have been better demonstrated than in Champagne. The average quality now is quite high, and the best wines are truly amazing and delightful--arguably among the world's greatest. It’s also a tremendously fun place to visit.

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