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Q&A with James Davis, Master of Wine

By Sarah Groves, also posted in News on

You're a Master of Wine (MW), what exactly does that mean?

The MW is a qualification issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine and is regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. It's nice to be a member of a small, quite prestigious ‘club’ of people who have attained the qualification. Having not particularly learnt the art of essay writing at school or university, the MW gave me the education I sorely needed. Studying for the MW has taught me how to manage lots of different, complex, things at one time. So, for example, I remember being in hospital with my new born son and wife, Tanya, writing practise MW essays a few weeks before the theory exams. Also, the research project (the third bit of the qualification) taught me a lot about how to use data and insight to achieve the right decisions and assessments. And I met some good people and tasted some good wines along the way.

How did you first get into wine?

I lived in Portugal in my early 20’s and got interested in European culture and products. I then joined Tesco as a graduate trainee. I knew that to stand out and make a career work within Tesco that I needed to be a product specialist. I wasn’t a retail operator, nor was I much good at thinking on my feet, and these were generally the people that got on well in Tesco and retail organisations back in that time. So studying wine, and combining a love of Europe and a love of product, seemed to be the right, albeit pragmatic, thing to do to. I carried on studying until I became an MW in 2014 and the equalisation has always added value to the organisations that I have worked for.

Do you have a favourite wine and why is it so special for you?

Madeira - because of the Portuguese connection and the fact that it is such a stunning and undervalued wine. It's best drunk chilled in the late morning. And, of course, vintage champagne.

Wine can sometimes feel like an intimidating subject - what advice would you give to someone who wanted to learn more about it?

Just find something you enjoy tasting and drinking and find an angle that appeals to you. The great thing is that wine is such a diverse, interesting topic that you can find your angle. I would also read a couple of the well-written, enjoyable books about wine, especially Jancis’s Robinson ‘Confessions of a Wine Lover’ or Michael Schuster’s 'Essential Wine Tasting'. Both are written by individuals who in their own way have been inspiring and engaging but generous with their knowledge. I always enjoy reading Jancis’s weekly column in the Financial Times also (which also appears free of charge on her website). These are generally well-written, insightful and engaging reads.

Some wines can cost thousands of pounds. Do you think that expensive wines are worth it?

Depends really. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to drink Haut Brion 2004 and after drinking too much (high quality) Beaujolais the lunchtime before, it was pretty restorative. But, equally, a couple of Christmas’s ago I was lucky enough to drink Bollinger Vieille Vignes Françaises 2002 which is probably about £1000 a bottle and Lanson '02 which probably cost me about £35. The Bollinger was good, but my goodness I would rather have 30 bottles of the Lanson. What is worth doing is paying a bit more for wine, i.e. £10 or so which is where Adnams really specialise. Something like our Pecorino, which is £7.99 is fantastic value for money.

If you were a wine style (like an Australian Chardonnay), what would you be, and why?

Cserszegi fűszeres. Only joking, but I like the name, as its probably the least pronouncable grape variety and I am a big fan of Hungary in general and Hungarian wines.

If you've got any questions about wine, feel free to ask via Adnams facebook, twitter, or instagram and we'll endeavour to answer them.    


Sarah Groves