Who would be on your invite list for your dream dinner party?
The most fabulous wine dinners I’ve been to have a combination of wine experts and wine lovers who are expert in something else. For wine experts I’d have Jancis Robinson MW and Hugh Johnson. Then I’d scatter guests who’ll entertain. Peter Cook for a combination of charm and slightly cruel humour. My fiancée Christina who knows more about Champagne than anyone I know and is a consummate host. Byron famously drank Burgundy from a human skull, so I’d ask him along. And Thomas Jefferson was a great wine lover and I’d hope he’d bring a decent bottle from his collection.
Tell us about your first impressions of our Celebrity ships?
I thought ‘this is a wine lover’s paradise’. On my first time on board we went straight to the wine tower and spent an age just looking through the bottles. I kept asking the sommeliers on board “and how many wines did you say there were?” “and how many producers?” The sommeliers are brilliant. We were sharing stories about favourite wines and things we would recommend within minutes.
What wine would you recommend to guests from our selection on board?
On several of the lists you’ll find Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch which is such a good wine and wonderfully versatile. I’ve loved it for years and it’s fantastic value. I’d recommend that to anyone. There are so many glorious wines in Blu and Luminae and Qsine but a real favourite of mine is Dry Creek Vineyard, ‘Old Vines’, Sonoma County, California. It’s fresher and brighter than many big boy Zinfandels you might have tried. And has real versatility with food. I’m a bit of Pinot Noir nut and all the lists have some glorious wines. But one that I think may get looked over is Bodega Chacra, Barda, Patagonia, Argentina on the Murano list. It’s from the south of Argentina, the place they call ‘The Land of Apples, Cherries, Pears, Grapes and Dinosaurs’.
When you're out for dinner with friends, who chooses the wine?
It’s usually a diplomatic dance where we end up deferring to the sommelier. I’m always happy to hand over the list to someone else. Choosing wine can be a bit of a busman’s holiday. But then our friends insist it comes back to me. So normally I ask lots of questions about what everyone enjoys and what they are going to eat and then turn to the sommelier for a chat. They know the list better than anyone and I’ll always happily take their better judgement.
What do you love most about your job?
Discovering interesting things about other people. Take today, I’ve done wine training with a young restaurant team from Serbia, The Philippines, France, India, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. I then had an intense discussion online about wine with someone from California and given travel advice to people in Nepal, Brazil and Tennessee. What other job would let you do that?
What advice would you give to people who are new to the world of wine?
Relax, it’s just a drink. It’s true it’s an infinitely varied drink, bringing joy at everything from a fiver to £15,000 or more a bottle, each one laden with history and culture and social significance as well as complex flavours and aromas. But it’s still just a drink. You won’t always have the opportunity you do on Celebrity ships to experiment and discover new wines. But when you do it’s magical.