To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Decanter World Wine Awards, we're profiling a number of this year's judges, who are some of the world's most renowned wine experts. Our 'Meet the Judges' interview series offers a rare insight into the world of wine and judging from the key industry experts choosing this year's best wines.
Thierry Meyer is passionate about Alsace wines new and old, and as well as running Oenoalsace.com, he organises dinners pairing fine food with wines from the region. Find out more about Decanter’s new Regional Chair for Alsace in this interview…
Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?
I live in Strasbourg with my wife and four children, but since I work for an international management consulting company, I spend most of my week working abroad in other parts of Europe, and sometimes beyond.
Tell us a bit about your expertise and how you got into wine?
I started getting interested in wine in the early 90s when I lived in the US. I had frequent business meals, and my partners often asked me to choose the wine since I was the ‘French man’. I decided one day to write down what I was drinking and whether I liked it or not, and nearly 20 years later I am still doing the same. I noticed that wine was becoming a serious interest of mine when I skipped my summer holiday in 1998, and instead spent the whole vacation budget on attending the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in November: tasting, masterclasses, vintage dinner – I did everything.
After moving closer to my home region, Alsace, I started to focus a bit more on the local growers, spending a lot of time visiting vineyards, and in 2001 I began organising dinners and tasting sessions to explore the complexity and diversity of Alsace wines.
I then studied wine tasting, and in 2007 I did long blind tasting sessions while covering several French regions for the Bettane & Desseauve guide. Since then I’ve had the chance to taste thousands of Alsace wines, from young and also older vintages.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working in the wine industry?
Focusing on high-end wine when being an amateur gives a somewhat skewed vision of the wine industry. To cover the whole industry, we should consider the great diversity of consumers and their expectations. £15 for a bottle of wine is pretty expensive for the majority of wine drinkers, and as a result, writing about wines above this level limits the audience. Sometimes writing simple and clear ideas about wine helps many more people.
Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?
I was truly inspired by oenologist Max Leglise’s essays about wine tasting – they transformed tasting sessions from a cultural experience into a more rigorous approach.
What are your most memorable wine moments from the last ten years?
There have been rare vertical tastings of Alsace wines (for example, the vertical tasting of Clos Zisser from 1976 back to 1942 at Klipfel in Barr. This was a wonderful way to learn about the legendary vintages of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70, and also discover the true personality of the Kirchberg de Barr Grand Cru.), but most memorable moments have been at events where food and wine has been paired. (I remember one dinner dedicated to the wines of Clos Windsbuhl, a monopoly terroir owned by Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace – they produce deep and mineral wines of various styles, from dry to liqueur-like.)
Which kinds of wines do you think should be given more attention in 2013?
Overall, I believe that simple, straightforward wines with character should represent the core of everyone’s consumption. Expectations should not only be high when choosing wine for celebrations, but also when choosing everyday wines. There are a lot of quality differences among entry level wines, and picking up the best value bottles can be very nice.
In Alsace, Sylvaner wines currently offer the best price-to-quality ratio. The size of the land planted with Sylvaner has shrunk significantly over the past 20 years, and the remaining parcels are usually old vines with great terroir. 2009 and 2007 have produced truly great wines which will age well.
Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment and what food are you matching them with?
Winter is usually the time when I drink old Alsace wines from marly-limestone terroirs – these are deep wines with a lot of complexity. Alsace Rieslings and Gewurztraminers from 1967 to 1983 are a good match with shellfish and fish dishes prepared with creamy sauces and winter vegetable sides (pumpkin, potato).
I also drink Jura tradition wines – blends of Savagnin and Chardonnay.
What single piece of advice do you have for new people just starting out in wine?
Don’t try to taste the best appellations your money can buy. Try first the best wines from generic appellations, and then climb up the appellation scale staying at the same quality level. Many qualities found in a great wine can also be found in cuvées produced from modest terroirs. Rushing into the best appellations is the best way to be disappointed.
When judging, what are you looking for in great wine?
Coherence between all aspects (colour, nose, mouth) is very important to me. After this, purity of aromas and taste, and lastly, character distinguishes the best wines from the rest.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?
I am looking forward to tasting a great variety of wines, showing that balance can be found in many different styles. I am also looking forward to the second stage of the competition, when regional champions are brought together and all wines are compared regardless of their origin. This is truly showing how great wines from various regions can be.
Written by Decanter.com