Find out more about the world-renowned names that make up the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards judging line-up in this Q&A series.
☆ Which year or decade do you wish you’d been born in and why?
I’m quite happy with my birth decade (the 80’s), though would have preferred ‘82, ’83, ’85, ’88 or ’89… 80 was pretty grim for wine. Port was alright though!
☆ How old were you when you had your first wine ‘moment’ and what was it?
It was quite late, as I had already been working in the wine trade for about three years. My ‘moment’ happened during a WSET diploma class on Burgundy when we were given three reds to taste blind to determine whether they were village, premier cru or grand cru. One of the three was Armand Rousseau’s Charmes Chambertin 1999. I felt like I’d been given front seats at the ballet, the wine was so perfectly balanced, and yet there was tension. It was en pointe, poised, thrilllingly so, and the flavours were as delicate as tulle. I was in the most sterile of settings, sipping from an ISO glass, and yet this wine still got to me.
☆ How many bottles do you have in your cellar and what is your most recent addition?
Embarrassingly, I have about five bottles as I find it very hard not to drink everything I buy. My most recent addition was a bottle of 1999 Sassicaia that a customer brought in for me because I had looked a bit sad the week before when he had visited for dinner. I told him I was going to keep working that look if it meant gifts of top Tuscan red!
☆ How many years have you been working in the wine industry and what was your first job?
About ten years. My first job was opening bottles for the tours at Vinopolis.
☆ Which vintage and region (or wine) do you wish you’d bought a whole case of wine from?
Anything Italian from 1999. I really enjoy the wines from that vintage.
☆ In the last 12 months, which grape have you drunk the most of?
☆ In the last 12 months, what’s the most exciting region you’ve discovered or re-discovered and why?
I am re-discovering the reds from Alto Piemonte – some are beginning to reclaim their status as rivals to Barolo and Barbaresco. And some of the reds from Etna, in the far south.
☆ Who’s your wine idol (who has inspired you the most in the wine world)?
Paolo de Marchi, the owner and winemaker of Isole e Olena. He speaks so passionately and poetically, and works so hard to elevate quality levels in Chianti. Every time I visit him, I learn so much.
☆ What’s your most memorable wine and food moment?
I have so many, but the one that comes to mind is a Cabernet Franc and fish lunch at Nobu. I confess that I was brutally hungover and really upset with myself as I had been so excited about eating at Nobu. The Loire reds served, however, turned it around for me – they were as cool and as restorative as green tea, and they worked exceptionally well with the Japanese food served.
☆ If you could taste/drink any wine in the world what would it be and who would you drink it with?
Sassicaia 2010. I recently tasted it at a Decanter tasting and it is FABULOUS – it is such a dark wine, deeply flavoursome, hypnotic – it’s like looking into the eyes of that snake out of The Jungle Book. It gives me the spooks, and it feels like the kind of wine that should be drunk under moonlight, with werewolves prowling about in the background. I should really drink it with someone I felt romantic about, but with so much going on in my glass I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on them. Fine wine needs simple food and simple company (by which I mean old friends).
☆ What’s the highest number of wines you’d had on one of your wine lists?
☆ What is the oldest bottle of wine you’ve served?
The 1989 Granbussia Barolo Riserva DOCG by Aldo Conterno. It’s a brilliant, brilliant Barolo, and still so together.
☆ What do you enjoy most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?
Finding like-minded palates.