All About the Wine

Catching up with independent wine consultant and presenter Anne McHale to pick her brain on all things wine…

Interview by Catherine Ferguson

Outstanding in her field, Anne McHale is one of an elite of just 370 Masters of Wine across the globe. With a host of titles to her name, Anne’s journey through the world of wine has seen her picking up awards ranging from The Madame Bollinger Medal, to the Circle of Wine Writers’ Young Wine Writer of the Year and the Wines of Austria and Institute of Masters of Wine Outstanding Achievement Award.

Having read French and Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Anne went on to cut her teeth in the Wine Trade in London before joining the Wine School team at the esteemed Berry Bros & Rudd, ultimately progressing to an ambassadorial position, which saw her representing them throughout the UK and Asia, including Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Having taken the plunge to go solo in 2016, Anne is now an independent wine consultant and presenter, based in London.  As a fellow Irishwoman and wine-lover, I was delighted to catch up with Anne and pick her brains on everything from English producers, top tips for 2018 and Desert Island Wines…

What first piqued your interest in wine?
Definitely my dad! He founded the very first student wine society at Queen’s University in Belfast (where I grew up) at a time when very few people in Northern Ireland drank wine, and it has remained a lifelong passion for him (although he doesn’t work in the industry). I hero-worshipped him, so it was a small step to developing the interest myself. When I went to Cambridge, the first society I joined was the wine society.

Have there been any stand-out highlights of your wine career to date?
Finding out that I had become a Master of Wine! It was an incredibly tough journey and the relief upon hearing that I had passed was something I will never forget. Aside from that, there have been so many other amazing highlights – mainly revolving around wonderful wines and trips to vineyards.

What are your thoughts on English Wines at the moment?
The wine industry in the UK is going from strength to strength, and predictions are that by 2040 production will have grown from 6 million to 40 million bottles – triple-digit growth!

Growth of the industry aside, though, the quality of wines in this country (particularly when it comes to sparkling wine) has been very high for a long time but it’s only in the last few years that they’ve received due recognition. Prices are premium but they deserve to be, and it’s special to be able to buy and drink local wine. In The Coral Room bar in Bloomsbury in London I’ve curated one of the largest selections of English sparkling wine in the country (30 listed by the bottle) and since they’re arranged by county, you can choose something from near to where you’re from. It’s proving very popular.

You’ve won an impressive array of awards during your career – which ones are particularly special to you?
It’s got to be the Bolly prize! Otherwise known as the Bollinger Medal, it’s awarded to the person with the highest marks in the Master of Wine tasting exams. It came with an all-expenses-paid guided tour and lunch at Bollinger for me and my family, and an impressive stash of Bolly (which is sadly mostly gone). What’s not to like?!

What advice would you give to someone dipping their toes into the world of Wine Education for the first time?
Find a local course and learn with other wine-lovers. And taste as many different wine styles as you can!

Do you have any favourite tipples other than wine?
It’s got to be gin! Either in a G&T or a dry, dry martini with a twist.

What’s been the biggest challenge of your wine career so far?
Definitely the MW qualification. After that, the biggest challenge has been transitioning from a secure job to becoming self-employed as a consultant. But I love it!

Do you have a ‘Desert Island Wine’ that you couldn’t live without?
For me, the main attraction of wine is its sheer diversity, so I find it hard to pick favourites. But if I really was stranded on a desert island and if someone else was paying (!), I’d probably have to go for a top-end Le Montrachet or other similarly amazing white Burgundy. At their best, those wines are sublime.

Do you have any top tips for the rest of 2018?
In the UK we still can’t get enough of our Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and Malbec – but my tip would be to explore beyond those classics. There are so many other cool and delicious wines out there, from nearly every corner of the globe. Visit a wine bar or get to your local independent merchant and ask their advice. Quite often you can try before you buy. A good start would be to check out what English wines they have, particularly the bubbles! riddle_stop 2

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