Robin Austin (Brown College ’04), who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in history, took an interesting career turn in 2008 when she left television news to pursue a passion for wine, food and travel. Today, she writes for regional, national and international publications and websites, and she works as a wine educator and consultant.
What brought you to Rice?
I grew up in Westchester County, New York, about 20 minutes north of Manhattan. When looking at colleges I wanted to go to a top school, but I also wanted to get out of the northeast and its cold winters. I applied to Rice on a whim — I didn’t know much about the school or anyone who had attended. My decision came down to Rice and Cornell, two schools that are opposite in just about every way. One week, after a chilly visit to Ithaca, I visited Rice. I still remember that first encounter with the beautiful campus, friendly students and, of course, the great weather. It was a pretty big culture shock that first semester, though, being a New Yorker in Texas.
How did you end up writing about wine? Tell us a little about your journey.
After becoming more knowledgeable about beer in college and during a semester abroad in London, I turned my focus to wine. I’ve also been a big Francophile since my first visit to France when I was six years old, and wine is a big part of their culture.
After graduating from Rice, I worked in television news as a producer. While working at NBC in West Palm Beach, Florida, I decided to start a blog, the Amateur Gastronomer (amateurgastronomer.com) to write about my adventures in wine, food and travel. Later, while producing a morning newscast at CBS in Miami and working midnight to noon, I decided to leave television news and try wine, food and travel writing full time. I got certified as a sommelier through the United States Sommelier Association and earned my Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification through the Society of Wine Educators. Since moving to Atlanta in 2010, I have written for local, regional and international print and online publications, and have had the opportunity to travel to foreign countries to report on and promote their wine.
What about wine journalism interests you? What are the challenges?
Writing about wine is fun. I feel so lucky that I have turned my interest into a career. Of course, most people focus on the tasting, but the majority of the time is spent writing, working with clients and wineries, and other endeavors more common with other media businesses.
The challenge is trying to differentiate myself from other wine writers, particularly the ones who have been writing about wine for much longer than I have. My goal is to make wine fun and approachable for all experience levels. And as someone on the leading edge of the millennial generation, I like to think I help set the trends.
Another challenge is keeping up with wine education. There are more wine regions than anyone could ever study in a lifetime, and a seemingly infinite number of wines to taste. But that’s part of the fun of it, too.
What’s your favorite wine? Why?
It’s hard to have a favorite wine, though I get asked that question a lot. I do love French wine, particularly from the Rhone region. A longtime favorite appellation is Bandol, in Provence. There you’ll find delicious reds and rosés made from the Mourvedre grape. I think the best rosé wine is made from Mourvedre. Another favorite region is Languedoc, also in south France, where you’ll find some great values.
Any suggestions on how to understand wine pairing and decide which wine goes with what food?
The old saying “white wine with fish, red wine with beef” has fallen out of fashion, and rightfully so. The easiest way to pair wine with food is to match the intensity of flavors in both. If you’re having a lighter dish, pair it with a light-bodied white or red wine — perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. If the food is heavier, go for a full-bodied wine, like a Napa-style Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. But most importantly, drink what you like. Or drink Champagne — Champagne goes with everything.