Wine-Searcher is delighted to introduce its new Wine Director, who has three decades of experience in the wine trade.
How did you get into wine?
I spent a summer working at an unlicensed business before going to college – it was across the street from my family’s house. It was an old school chain called Gough Brothers. When I returned home at Christmas to look for work, the store had become a Oddbins. The year was 1988 and Oddbins was the most exciting place to work in the wine business then. I had a wonderful manager, Susan Hodge, who made sure we tasted fabulous wines. I loved the diversity of great wines and quickly became hooked. After university this was what I wanted to do and within a year I was running my own branch and passing the WSET exams. I have worked with many great people, selling a brilliant range of wines. I managed the Oddbins stores for 10 years, it was a very special period.
How does a south London boy start on the road to MW?
I have always believed that you should aim to excel in your career and the MW is seen as the pinnacle of the wine world. After graduating and being invited to an assessment day for the Master of Wine course, I had to give it a go: to my great surprise, they accepted me. In fact, in the 1990s, being from South London was the most practical place to live if you were studying for the MW. The UK study program was based in London, near Victoria, and the variety of tastings available in London as well as the proximity to many of my mentors were distinct advantages.
Tell us a little more about your journey in the profession.
My career in the wine trade has spanned almost 30 years, so far always based in London. I have been lucky enough to work for some fabulous companies. First Oddbins, back in their glory days – championing the sale of Australian, Chilean and even Greek wines in the UK. A brief stint at pioneering online wine exchange Uvine.com was followed by an exciting time at small specialist distributor Top Selection. Most recently, I spent five years as fine wine manager at Coe Winemakerswhere I supported a superb sales team and had the privilege of dealing with some of the best restaurants in the UK.
So, what does the role at Wine-Searcher involve?
Wine-Searcher is internationally respected as a price search vehicle. As wine director, I would like it to be recognized as much as an essential source of quality information on wine and the wine industry. We have an experienced team and I believe my role is to ensure that we always strive for excellence, while continuing to engage and entertain users of the site.
In your opinion, what are the current challenges for producers and retailers?
The challenges producers and retailers continue to face are to innovate and excite consumers while remaining true to a set of core values.
In more specific terms, I don’t think you need a crystal ball to understand that relationships between producers and distributors are likely to be strained by the repercussions of recent fairly radical political changes. There has been political upheaval in the UK after the Brexit vote, in America after the election of Donald Trump, in Italy and perhaps in France and/or Germany with the 2017 elections. We can glimpse the possibility of trade agreements being rejected or abandoned. This upheaval makes monetary instability likely. Maintaining relationships and continuing to innovate will be challenging in an environment characterized by high price volatility.
So, do you have a favorite producer, region or wine?
I’m pleased to say that these are questions that are impossible to answer with anything other than a set of lists. My favorite wines are full of character and zesty, usually with bright acidity and often individualistic. I like Riesling, which I think presents a fascinating diversity of styles, which I will spend the rest of my life exploring. If I have to choose one, I favor the low alcohol and piercing acidity of wines from Moselle, Saar and Ruwer. I also like a good dry Stealth Mint, Hunter Sémillon and Assyrtiko mature. In red, I’m as likely to drink a big, old-fashioned Australian Syrah as I am a Bordeaux or Burgundian classic. I also have a passion for high quality Zinfandel, with bright fruit and superb freshness.
The regions I love are equally diverse: Bordeaux is unparalleled for the volume of brilliant winemaking that takes place there; I love the rugged beauty of the Moselle and have wonderful memories of exploring the timeless Omala Valley (the center of Robola which stretches Kefalonia).
I’ve been so lucky to meet so many brilliant producers that it’s impossible to have just one favorite. People I respect – who are my heroes – have vision, perspective and technical ability and refuse to compromise with their winemaking, people like Egon Müller, István Szepsy, Olivier Humbrecht, Michael Brajkovich, Paul Draper, Angelo Gaja – producers who continually strive for excellence. We can’t choose a favorite from such a lineup, we just think of the other people we should add, Jean Bertrand-Delmas, Olivier Bernard, the late Denis Dubourdieu…
Can you tell us what was your most memorable wine?
Again difficult, I can narrow it down to about 10… Many things make a wine memorable, it could be a great wine, a great occasion or possibly a conjunction of place, people and flavors.
The 1959 Haut-Brion was breathtaking, István Szepsy’s Eszencia was phenomenal, the barrel tasting of the 2005 Grands Crus from DRC is etched in my memory. The 1995 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel that I ordered the night I had the courage to ask out the wonderful woman who is now my wife was very special. However, I also remember very well, during a visit to Italy, drinking a wine bought in a Rocco di Pappa tavern. It was an orange-tinged white wine that, served chilled and enjoyed with a local roast pork sandwich while sitting with friends by Lake Nemi, was perfect. It came in an old plastic mineral water bottle and we couldn’t pay more than about 30 cents for it, but drinking it in its region of production, with local cuisine, in good company created a sublime experience .
Have you ever come across the immortal Irish comedian of the same name?
Fortunately no, although when I worked at Coe Vintners there were two of us in the company called David Allen, sometimes we went to see clients together, the risk of confusion was enormous.
What do you think about your move to Wine-Searcher headquarters in New Zealand?
Very excited, my wife is from New Zealand and we have been working on this project for about 10 years now. I can’t wait to reunite with the good friends we have here and explore more of this beautiful country as a family, maybe even visit some wineries!
To join the conversation, comment on our social media.