Belfast Telegraph

This time it's personal...

Q. Do you prefer the town or country - and why?

A. Definitely country, wide open spaces - particularly the plains of northern Portugal with those never ending forests of cork trees.

Q. The world of wine has changed immeasurably in the last 20 or 30 years - what do you think brought the most significant shift?

A. Wine is now an everyday beverage, while 20 years ago we opened a bottle for a special occasion, any excuse will do to pop a cork.

Q. Was it more travel, better sourcing by supermarkets, or the contribution of merchants like you?

A. Supermarkets made it easy with names people could pronounce, topped up with plenty of residual sugar. The general public are much more widely travelled and a lot more adventurous today.

Q. The film Sideways mocked the world of wine, and the hero's motto was 'anything but the merlot' when it came to choosing wine. Have you any no-go areas when it comes to the grape?

A. In our job, we have to taste as much as we can and its not always best to stick to personal favourites. Having a commercial palate is a great advantage. I draw the line at really poor Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc that resembles alcoholic lemonade.

Q. What are the most memorable wines you've ever had - both memorable in a good way and a bad way?

A. The last great memory was a bottle of Krug Champagne that I shared with the late great chef and friend Robbie Millar. We spent the afternoon hunting for truffles in the Rhone valley with a very talented golden Labrador.

Q. Have you any career advice for anyone setting off in the field you're in?

A. Take a year out, travel to as many wine regions as you can and work in as many wineries as you can get employment in, that will beat five years' study. If you don't love the wine business do something else. If you are not passionate it's unlikely that you will succeed.

Q. What was the last book you read, and what was it like?

A. I rarely sit long enough to read a book. Invariably, like an anorak it's the latest wine book, which at the moment is about Barolo and Barbaresco. I have also just finished The Byerley Turk, the True Story of the First Thoroughbred, by Jeremy James. Byerley Turk was a horse that travelled from the East, fought in the battle of the Boyne, won the King's Plate at Down Royal and became one of the great foundation sires.

Q. What was your last holiday - and what will your next holiday be?

A. I don't really take holidays as I travel to so many wine regions, I am really lucky as it still always feels like a break every time I am away. I spent three days, two weeks ago in Burgundy, it was stunning. I go to Portugal quite a lot, but wine making there has improved enormously over the last 10 years and I have given up the beach for the vineyards.

Q. What is your favourite band/album or your favourite piece of music, and why?

A. I am currently listening to the Hot Sardines, a brilliant New York jazz band but, while I listen to absolutely everything, I draw the line at country and western.

Belfast Telegraph