1. You've been advising people about wine and writing about wine for a long time now. How did you first get drawn in to it?
My mother taught at Leith's Cookery School in the 80s and she introduced wine into the cookery courses. I attended a class one evening after Uni (I was reading Physics at QMC) and I never looked back. I got a job in a wine shop the very next week.
2. You have been a great champion for Australian wine. Does that mean you have a 'New World' palate?
Far from it - I have what I call a 'classical palate'. I overlay my own old school knowledge on to all of the world's wines looking for harmony and balance in all shapes and sizes.
3. What do you look for when selecting wine for restaurants and what constitutes a 'reasonable' mark up?
I need a very interesting core to a wine list around the £30 - £60 mark to keep my attention. I usually work on a sales mix that results in a 70% GP (give or take depending on the owner's requirements). This means that there can be low marks ups higher up the list which are balanced by stronger margins gained from very well-chosen entry level wines.
4. Can you tell us an interesting food and wine pairing from your travels?
I was hosting a charity dinner last autumn where one of the dishes was an amazing venison tartare which had beetroot involved, too, served by chef Jimmy 'Squid' at The Lane Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. It had the most elemental, earthy, bloody flavour I have ever encountered. The Lane's own 2012 Reunion Shiraz was initially an awesome match, but when I poured 2012 Cornas Les Arènes Chapoutier it was utterly sublime.
5. You are a prolific and rapid wine taster. Is that down to nature or nurture?
It is down to one thing only - my taste mentor 30 years ago was the finest palate I have ever met - James Rogers. He said inspirational things like "it's all on the nose", "don't waste time on wines you hate", "make notes on only the wines you love", "there are only a few great wines at any tasting - your job is to find them", "a wine tasting is not a social gathering or place to have lunch - it is work. Get your work done and then go and have lunch!" And on and on, loads of advice, bons mots and encouragement. I think of him every time I taste. It's the reason why I don't like to talk at tastings - it breaks my concentration.
6. Are the cellars at 'Jukesy Towers' full of blockbuster Shiraz or is it more eclectic than that?
There are a few bottles of Shiraz, but many more Chardonnays, Pinots, Rieslings and Cabernets. Our cellar is French dominant followed by Australia and Italy close on its heels. Sherry and Port feature heavily, too.
7. Is there a style or type of wine that you don't 'get' or don't get on with?
We drink very little South or North American wine. There is none in the cellar and I cannot remember the last time we opened a bottle at home. Also, Koshu - it doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever.
8. You got a big birthday coming up. Is there anything special you will be broaching for that?
Some very large bottles indeed from my favourite wineries on the planet.
9. Where might we spot you propping up the bar in any free time and what would be in your glass?
67 Pall Mall with a glass of La Grande Côte Chavignol Cotat (an inexplicable bargain!); Andrew Edmunds in Soho with a chilled glass of Fleurie La Roilette Coudert (ditto); Barrafina with an ice cold La Gitana or River Café with a Bellini.
10. You've enjoyed a multi-faceted career in wine. What advice would you give to a college leaver hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Try to find a unique voice, stick to your passions and 'say what you see in the glass'. All of this must be underpinned by tasting as widely and as often as possible. You need to work hard (i.e. taste a lot of wine) to have the vocabulary and taste memory to give credence to your opinions. Most wine tastings are free to attend so there is every opportunity to build a huge mental database of flavour and then you can do any job you like in the wine trade.