Why are podcasts one of the best ways to learn about wine? How do English sparkling wines compare to Champagne, and should you seek them out? Why is the Master of Wine qualification valuable beyond the studies? What’s behind the low pass rate for the Master of Wine qualification?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Susie Barrie and Peter Richards, Masters of Wine for part two of our two-part conversation.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
Join me for the debut Watch Party of the video of this conversation that I’ll be live-streaming for the very first time on Instagram Live Video, Facebook Live Video or YouTube Live Video on Wednesday, March 10th at 7 pm eastern.
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Just pick your favourite social media channel from below and post a wine you love before March 10th:
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- Why does Winchester make a great location for a wine festival?
- How did Susie and Peter adapt their Wine Festival Winchester during the pandemic?
- How can you get a taste of 2020’s Wine Festival Winchester masterclasses?
- What beautiful experience did Susie have when judging the 2020 WineGB awards?
- When did Susie and Peter launch their podcast, Wine Blast?
- What was it like launching their podcast during the pandemic?
- Why are podcasts such a good match for wine?
- Which aspects of podcasting are we most interested in?
- Why are Susie and Peter so excited about English wine?
- Can you find English wines in North America?
- What taste profile can you expect from English sparkling wine?
- Which types of English wine should you look out for?
- How are climate extremes impacting wine?
- How do English sparkling wines compare with Champagne?
- Why is the Master of Wine qualification valuable beyond the studies?
- What’s behind the low pass rate for the Master of Wine qualification?
- I love how Susie and Peter pivoted with Covid and hosted their popular wine festival online. You can watch the video recordings of the sessions they hosted.
- I so agree with them that podcasts are one of the best ways to learn about wine. I’m biased, of course, but it’s such an intimate medium that lends itself to more in-depth learning.
- I found their discussion about English sparkling wines helpful, and I’m determined to taste them when I can find them going forward.
- Susie and Peter made some excellent points on why the Master of Wine qualification is valuable beyond the studies to achieve the credential. Love that probative skill of asking the question beyond the question and challenging received wisdom.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
As wine communicators, there’s nothing like the buzz of a live crowd and having fun with wine. - Peter Richards Click to tweet
English sparkling wines have an incredible acidity to them but it’s a very specific style of really beautifully tangy acidity and then I always think they have a kind of an orchard character. - Susie Barrie Click to tweet
There is often edgy energy to a lot of English wines, which you can just slightly pick out. Champagne will often have the edges smoothed over. It will be much more self-assured and polished. - Peter Richards Click to tweet
About Susie Barrie and Peter Richards
- Connect with Susie and Peter
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 93: Master of Wine vs Master Sommelier? Jane Masters Reveals the Difference
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Peter Richards 0:00
When you do TV, you definitely feel like you’re on one side of the screen and your audience is on the other; with podcasting, that sort of division blurs, doesn’t it? And the feedback. It’s a wonderful conversation. It’s like being in this big extended community and family, where you’re all sharing stuff with wine. You need that because there is never that sort of set hard and fast;this is it; gone, done. It’s always, wine is a conversation and podcasts tap into that beautifully, and brilliantly, and I think that’s why it’s so exciting.
Natalie MacLean 0:33
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey, as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 118. Why are podcasts one of the best ways to learn about wine? How do English or British sparkling wines compare to champagne? And why should you seek them out? Why is the Master of Wine qualification valuable beyond the studies required and what’s behind the exceptionally low pass rate for the Master of Wine exam? This week, on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, our guests Susie Barrie and Peter Richards are back for Part Two of this lively conversation that we started last week. And they have more colourful stories to share with you from their brilliant careers. I’ve got a bonus for you. In addition to this podcast, I’d love for you to join me for the première watch party of the video of this conversation that I’ll be live streaming for the very first time on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube on Wednesday, March 10 at 7pm Eastern. The video will show you the pictures and other visual elements that we discuss in this podcast. And in fact, we jump right into a screen sharing of different photos from their career at the beginning of the podcast. It’s like the Netflix version of the podcast. Plus, you can talk to me and ask me questions in real time as we watch it together. You can also see what other people thought of this conversation and the answers to their questions.
Now before I introduce Susie and Peter, I want to let you know that you can win a prize pack that includes a personally signed copy of their book on English wine, a lovely, lovely linen polishing cloth for your wine stemware and a very cheeky chefs’ apron that says on the front, “Like it Fresh and Racy”. I’ll select the winner from those of you who participate before March 10. I’ll also reshare your stories and posts with my followers. I will share your stories and posts with my followers so whether or not you win, you get to connect with more wine lovers. All you have to do is pick your favourite social media channel; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and post a wine that you love and tag me before March 10. I’ll post all of this in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/118. In the show notes, you’ll also find a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube live every Wednesday evening at 7pm. Eastern, including this evening, and next week, and that’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/118.
And now, on a personal note before we dive into the show, I can always tell when the effect of the second glass of wine has kicked in. That’s when I start fashion surfing on the web, if I’m still on the computer versus socialising with humans. I’ve bookmarked the websites of my favourite designers, Olivia and Alice, Judith and Charles, Marc Cain and Michael Kors. They sound like dinner party guests that I should be socialising with, but what are you going to do during a lockdown? But even pre-COVID I used to surf these sites, not so much to buy, but to look. I love beautiful things. Whether it’s a blouse, a sunset or a great glass of wine. I don’t think the pursuit of beauty is frivolous. I think it’s essential to living fully and being happy. Okay, on with the show.
This is the Winchester festival that we’re looking at now. I love the little tattoos or whatever that you’ve put on your face and definitely the fun atmosphere. Now you had to move this online due to COVID this year. How did that work?
Peter Richards 5:09
Yeah, so the wine festival, we started in 2014. It’s an annual festival that takes place at the end of November, and Winchester is lovey; Winchester is the historic capital of England. It’s a very, very ancient city; it’s beautiful, lovely to visit at Christmas. We have the most wonderful Christmas market and ice rink and the cathedrals. It’s magical. One of the buildings we have is the Guild Hall, and the photo that you’ve got up now is at the Guildhall, where we have these wonderful large spaces, historic, beautiful, perfect place to have a wine festival, especially in winter, you need it to be indoors in a nice place. The photo before you showed was actually a Summer Festival which we did, which was a bit of a spin off.
Susie Barrie 5:42
That was another festival in Winchester that we took a bar for, it was a wine festival bar.
Peter Richards 5:48
But it’s always the same; the idea is to have fun
Susie Barrie 5:49
The big one is the festival in November. And yet last year, we just couldn’t believe that we couldn’t do it. It’s one of those strange feelings, isn’t it, you think we’re not going to be able to do this. And we’ve done it for five or six years now; every year. And we’ve built up this lovely following of people who almost feel like they own it. Now going back to what we were saying before, about people walking in the first time we ever did it and not having a clue what to do. Now they all walk in and they’ve done it and they know what they’re doing.
Peter Richards 6:21
And they’re bringing a mini bus with their friends and family
Susie Barrie 6:22
But then we couldn’t do it. So we thought we personally had the choice, either we do nothing. Or we try and make something happen that gives people something to look forward to and have a bit of fun. And we knew it wasn’t going to be the same. It’s never going to be the same as getting everybody together for the festival. But we were determined that we would do something and we did you know, so we took online. It was successful. So that was lovely and we got lots of people joining in on it. And I mean, essentially what we did was we asked all our exhibitors, if they wanted to do their own master class. They videoed a master class and then we played it all out live on the day, we had one big day. And we had sort of people doing all sorts of different things. So they videoed themselves all over the country, whether it’s Bristol or Oxford, or wherever, you know, and obviously the people watching, they could have ordered the wines in advance to taste along.
Peter Richards 7:11
So yeah, it was something completely different, a completely different model. But you know, we’re all getting used to slightly different things now, aren’t we? And what’s interesting is how many of these will stick. Obviously, some of these are really positive things, they’re great things, the fact we can probably travel a bit less and talk to wine makers in New Zealand and have a tasting with them; it’s fantastic. There’s still nothing though, that substitutes, that really replaces the joy of getting together. As Suzie was saying; the people at the festival almost feels like family now, it’s a kind of a two thousand strong family. So it’s not the same. Equally, there’s a value in being positive and making things happen and bringing a smile to people’s faces, and helping, frankly, also our exhibitors to sell some wine. So you know, we had everything from Quinta do Noval Port, to Louis Jadot of Burgundy to Errázuriz of Chile, lots of English wines, and people could taste along and you know, we actually had more participation that we could have had at the real event. Because obviously that’s limited by numbers and venue capacity. We had more people logging on which is fantastic. And obviously the videos are still up online.
Natalie MacLean 8:10
They can still watch them; people can still go to
Peter Richards 8:12
Yeah, it’s on the website; https://www.thewinefestival.co.uk/. Still got the new ones up. The online masterclasses; they are sort of 25 minute master classes, they’re still up there. So you can go and check them out. They’re quite fun. But yeah, who knows where this will go. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon. If not, you know, maybe there’s a hybrid model that we can follow but
Susie Barrie 8:31
Yeah, I think everybodys learning all the time aren’t they with the whole situation
Natalie MacLean 8:35
I think, you know, COVID has been an accelerant that has, in particular, moved the wine industry ahead a decade in terms of technology and online. So in some ways, it’s been good, but of course, we don’t wish for all the negatives and so on. So I love this little photo album that I have here. Okay, so you’re both speakers. Is that Oz?
Susie Barrie 8:56
Yes, that’s Oz Clarke. This is one of the lunches for the wine GB awards. I’m Chair of the wine GB awards, and Oz is the co chair. So this was a lunch in Wimbledon at Cannizaro House where we were announcing all the award winning wines. So it’s a fantastic competition. I absolutely love it. Going back though to the whole situation last year and that continues. We normally would judge this in London with probably a dozen tasters. And it’s all you know, sort of 300 English wines whether sparkling, still, whatever. And this year, obviously we couldn’t do that, because we couldn’t get people together in London, and that number of people. So it ended up, and this was one of my positives from last year, that we did it at a winery in Sussex called Ashling Park, which is beautiful. And it was just three judges, Oz, myself and our colleague and friend Rebecca Palmer from Corney-Barrow. And we had a week of all just judging wines in what was effective like an aircraft hangar, but open fronted one, and the weather was stunning.
Peter Richards 9:57
She sold it to me as a hard working group but basically it was like a holiday on the Riveria; she even had her own personalised portaloo
Natalie MacLean 10:06
You had your own toilet! I’m going to translate for North America here but
Peter Richards 10:11
It was mobile, like the builders have, but it had Susie Barrie MW on it and a little star as well.
Natalie MacLean 10:24
Peter, you’ve also been a speaker at various events, leading tastings
Peter Richards 10:31
You do the same Natalie, I think that that buzz we all get as wine communicators from being with people and talking with them and enjoying wine and raising a glass together and hearing people’s questions and trying to help them, hearing people’s concerns hearing when they don’t like wines and their complaints. You know, it’s what makes wine human. It’s what I think gets us most excited as wine communicators. There’s nothing like the buzz of a live crowd and having fun with wine is there?
Natalie MacLean 10:56
No, exactly. And the wine, it’s fun because all your jokes start to land near the end of the evening, or maybe midway through, depending on how much they’re consuming
Peter Richards 11:05
You can force people to laugh at your jokes. But that one was actually filling up on Riviera; we’ve done a little consultancy for various different people; that was on the Riviera wine cruise. So you’re cruising I think from memory serves along the Rhine. And you’ve got those amazing, as you know, the steep terraces of the Rhine with the vineyards on, and you’re tasting the wine that’s coming from these vineyards as you cruise along in a boat. It doesn’t get more magical.
Natalie MacLean 11:28
Beautiful! Oh my goodness. This is Wine Blast. Here we go. Let’s get the title up there. Yeah, that’s great. I love the photos of you two; you guys really interact with each other. But yeah, you’ve done so well, when did you launch your podcast?
Susie Barrie 11:42
So it had been about two years in the thinking Natalie. I don’t know how long you took, it takes a lot to get to that point, doesn’t it, of actually launching. Oh, you know what it takes. And I think often people don’t quite understand what goes into a proper podcast. But anyway, so we’ve been thinking about it for about two years. And we’ve got to the point, I think it was when lockdown happened in March last year, we were sort of ready to launch in about May, we knew what we were going to be doing. We had sort of six episodes planned, we’d recorded a couple of them. And we were ready to launch in May. And as soon as lockdown happened, we just kind of went, this is crazy. We just need to get launched, get on with it, while people are at home, while we’ve got time to actually put towards it. And so we did it in April last year. And a lot of the first episodes of Wine Blast were to do with talking to people in all sorts of parts of the world, but about their situation given lockdown and given virus. So whether it was a winemaker or a wine retailer, or whoever, so we did these little shorts of those kind of people. And then we kind of put the real Wine Blast slightly on hold. And obviously we’re back with that now.
Peter Richards 12:50
Yeah, we’ve kind of launched in tandem with the pandemic, I’m afraid. But it was fun, because you know, you would again, try to make something positive happen. Although it was funny, wasn’t it? Because you know, we’re positive newbies compared to you Natalie. You’ve been going since 2018, I think, is that right?
Natalie MacLean 13:04
Oh, yeah, I’m ancient,
Peter Richards 13:06
You’re not ancient; you do a brilliant job
Natalie MacLean 13:08
Peter Richards 13:09
You know, it is definitely it was something that, you know, we’ve been lucky enough to do lots of broadcasting work like you have. So we’ve been lucky enough to do lots of television, and filming and radio as well. But we definitely, for us, you know, when we finished Saturday Kitchen, after 12 years of doing lots of TV, we thought actually, let’s try and use this time to explore things that we’re passionate about. And we definitely felt that radio, or podcasting was a medium that suited wine so well. As you’ve said, it’s a very intimate medium, where you need trust, you need to use your imagination. And I think TV can be a bit passive, you sit there and you receive the images. And it’s therefore hard to make winecome across. Whereas with podcasting and radio, you’re already using those mental powers of imagination, being such an intimate medium to kind of be there with the host. So we thought this is something we’ve wanted to do for a while. So yes, Susie said, we took a while to sort of build up to it. But in the end, it kind of went and then suddenly we you know, it’s been the most wild crazy ride and it’s been so fun. And it’s you know, you know, we’re doing this, this podcasting we find so collaborative, and wine is collaborative. And you put that together with podcasting. It feels like
Susie Barrie 14:11
Podcasting is collaborative in a way that I’ve never experienced before, though, you know, you people come to you, like you come to us and saying, we go on your show, you’d like to come on our show, which is fantastic. I’ve never experienced that, not even just in wine, but in any thing I’ve ever worked in, people genuinely want each other’s podcasts to do well. And that’s the spirit you do it in and you think that’s so refreshing and really lovely.
Natalie MacLean 14:34
That’s right. It’s not a zero sum game. The rising tide lifts all the boats because the more we can make wine lovers aware that podcasts are a great way to learn about wine, the better for all of us, because as you know, we were talking earlier, just before we hit record, people listen to more than one podcast. So they’ve got a playlist. So collaboration makes so much sense.
Susie Barrie 14:54
Make it all about wine.
Peter Richards 14:56
Yeah. And then because it’s so intimate, it’s so personal, that each of us has our own style of talking about wine. And there’s so many different ways to learn about wine, to communicate about wine, to listen to wine, to enjoy wine, there’s room for those different styles. And I think that it seems like early days as well in podcasting doesn’t it ? Podcasting is growing massively.
Natalie MacLean 15:11
Absolutely. Oh yes. I don’t know what the stats are. But there’s, I don’t know, 30 million or billion blogs, but there’s less than a million podcasts, all subjects. But if you look at those that are still active, it’s more like maybe two or 300,000. It’s in its infancy still. And if you look at other stats, most people finish, either, like 75% or more of a podcast that can be 30 minutes to an hour. The engagement is unlike anything you see on social media.
Peter Richards 15:43
So yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s an interesting because podcasting almost feels like an extension of social media in a funny way. It’s true. At the same time, the rules are very different. And it feels much more wholesome, it feels more positive, it feels more supportive and collaborative. There’s a sense of community, isn’t it, between you as a presenter, and your audience. Of course, you’re recording this and we were lucky, we got both of us in the house. So we’re doing that, but you know, you feel, you can feel a bit isolated. Then when you do TV, you definitely feel like you’re on one side of the screen and your audience on the other. With podcasting, that sort of division blurs, doesn’t it, and the feedback; it’s a wonderful conversation. It’s like being in this big, extended community and family where you’re all sharing stuff. And sometimes people might disagree with what you’re saying. And they’ll say it or they might do the opposite and say something nice, but either way, it just feels like this ongoing conversation, which is so lovely. And with wine, you need that because there is never that sort of set hard and fast; this is it; gone, done. It’s always wine is a conversation and podcasts tap into that beautifully, and brilliantly. And I think that’s why it’s so exciting.
Natalie MacLean 16:43
Absolutely. I think the last picture. Oh, yes. So I want to mention this right. Now again, here’s your wonderful book on English Wine that our viewers and listeners can win. So we have the book on English Wine, we have the polishing cloth, the linen polishing cloth, and of course, that cheeky apron; “Do you like it fresh and racy?” So whether you’re listening to this on the podcast, or live on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, basically just tag us and tell us what wine you’re enjoying lately. Bonus points if you tag some wine loving friends, and tag us and use the hashtags “wineblast” and “natdecants”. So let’s talk just a little bit about English wine. Because we’re not as familiar with it here in North America. Give us a sense of the scope or the size of English wine and what’s happening lately.
Peter Richards 17:35
Well, I mean, I should let you handle this. But I have boned up on a few figures. But the key thing says it’s so exciting. Things really happen fast in the world of wine don’t they. So to see the category of English and Welsh wine emerge, like it has done over the past decade, not much more, with the quality it has and the excitement and the diversity has been thrilling, you know, because this, for wine is a world which moves slowly, as one harvest a year, it’s hard to really have an entire category emerge from virtually nothing and take the wine world by storm, which I think is what English and Welsh wines is doing. So the vineyards quadrupled since the year 2000. It’s now about three and a half thousand hectares, which is in the global scheme of things is nothing; it is as high as 0.1% of the global vineyard. It’s about 10% of Champagnes vineyard, for example, it’s two thirds sparkling wine. Sparkling wines, is the main thing that we do and production has averaged in the last five years, about seven and a half million bottles
Susie Barrie 18:28
It’s sort of funny when you say it, average is because we went from something like five-ish million to 14 million in 2018. And then you go back down a bit. So I mean, it’s extreme because we have such a kind of marginal climate, you know, if you get a great vintage, it’s a whopper. But mostly, you know, it’s not. So actually that seven is a strange average, if you know what I mean, because most years are not that average at all. I think probably we’ll end up in the next few years, depending on how good the harvests are, I mean, around about 10 probably, won’t we, 10 million bottles.
Peter Richards 19:04
Yes. And, you know, again, you say Champagne is, what 300 million, isn’t it?
Susie Barrie 19:07
Well, this year it’s a bit less.
Peter Richards 19:09
Production or releases. So it’s a very, very small category still, but essentially, because you know, exports are really starting to grow. And I think that producers see this is a really good target. It’s about 10% of production at the moment is exported, which is not very much, but it’s a lot more than what it was. And interestingly enough, top market I think is Denmark. But beyond that the second and third markets tied in second place, are the US and Canada. So a lot of the stuff that does get exported, does come your way. So you know you can find these things.
Susie Barrie 19:40
And what people might look out for are traditional method, sparkling wines, definitely. And they tend, there’s a terribly broad generalisation, they have an incredible acidity to them, but it’s a very specific style of really beautifully, tangy acidity. And then I always think they have a kind of an orchard character, sort of an apples and pears and the summer afternoon kind of feel that seems very English. And they are very high quality. I mean obviously then within that, you’ve got your blanc de blancs, you’ve got Blanc de noirs, you’ve got nonvintage, you’ve got prestige cuvée and there’s Rosé obviously. So there’s everything. I think that that is still where we do the best job. There are then people entering the market with more kind of Charmat methods of sparkling wines and very intriguing packaging, but then also the area that is really coming to the fore and seeing some real interest are the still wines, because we’ve had some good harvests. So if England is hot enough, then we’ve got some great opportunities to make still wines in every colour.
Peter Richards 20:42
Certainly the Chardonnays are looking world class, Pinot Noir is starting to really shine as well. So there’s lovely Rosé and some even some sweets. I mean, funnily enough, there are parallels you could draw between some areas of Canada as well.
Susie Barrie 20:56
They will never beat Canadas’ sweet wines.
Peter Richards 20:57
We’re not we’re not doing particularly well yet.
Natalie MacLean 20:58
We won’t send you all our cold. It’s a trade off
Peter Richards 21:01
In all these areas where I think we’re pushing the climatic extremes; cool climate winemaking is so exciting.
Natalie MacLean 21:14
You know it is it’s edgy. It’s nervy and edgy.
Peter Richards 21:16
Yeah, you get that extended growing season, there’s often an intensity to the wines. And because of that extended growing season that is really, really interesting. And I think that these days we’re looking for wines that are more refreshing and more gastronomic and lower in alcohol and these kind of areas like England, like Canada, certain areas of Canada, it’s hard to generalise isn’t it? Is what can be delivered by these, these these kind of wines. And that’s exciting.
Natalie MacLean 21:36
Absolutely. And I loved Susie’s description of English sparkling wines. How would you differentiate them from champagne because people make comparisons all the time because you’re so close, but also the limestone soils, that sort of thing, the dominance of sparkling but how would you differentiate them for consumers?
Susie Barrie 21:53
It’s very difficult to generalise a differentiation. And I think particularly now, I mean, there may have been in the recent past, it might have been easier to differentiate them. But I think the quality of English wines now, sparkling wines, is on such a par with champagne. It kind of depends who makes them. Like we might know somebody who makes an incredible sort of barrel aged and top quality grapes and leaves ageing for ages, so they’ve got a very rich style of fizz. We might know somebody else in England, who is making the crispest, most aperitif style, and in a very lean and taut kind of way. So I think it is hard to say there’s a definite, I know that’s English, and I know that’s champagne, but I would come back to the style of the acidity; that would be the big thing for me, it’s spine tingling, in a great English sparkling wine, it almost verges on too much. But when they’re just at the right side of too much and they’re not too much, it’s really thrilling. Having said that, a great champagne is something that you just relax into, they’re so self assured you know, that experience is there to make something, that you feel so confident about drinking.
Peter Richards 23:09
There can be an element of a sort of rusticity, it’s is going to sound wrong, but it has an element of unbridled intensity, sometimes to English foods, which can be good and bad. And I think it’s partly, as we’ve said, you know, that the intensity of acidity, which is like biting into a beautiful Cox’s apple or something, you know, from a cool climate, but allied to this very, very long growing season because it’s cooler, and also very low yield. So I think if you look at the average yield in the UK, it’s much, much lower than Champagne. The combination of all of those factors means you get an intensity in the wines, and sometimes that can be too much. But there is often that kind of edgy energy to a lot of English wines, which you can just slightly pick out. Champagne will often have, the edges will be smoothed over, it’ll be much more self assured and polished. Whereas the English way will often just be that that kind of unruly child, which is not misbehaving but also just really interesting.
Natalie MacLean 23:58
Yeah, yeah. Oh, my goodness, there’s so much more I want to cover, but let’s just touch briefly on the Master of Wine programme, because you’re both masters of wine the first time you passed it on the first try, which most people don’t. Talk to us a bit about what it is for people who don’t know what this programme is and why the pass rate is so low. You’ve said yourself more people have been to outer space than who are MWs, which I love; that comparison.
Susie Barrie 24:23
Slightly crazy, isn’t it?
Peter Richards 24:25
Yeah. Well, space is pretty crowded.
Natalie MacLean 24:29
And it’s true. Well, with Elon Musk, he’ll be wanting to do an MW.
Susie Barrie 24:32
I hope he gets his way.
Peter Richards 24:34
Yes, it’s a low pass rate. I think the institute is trying really hard to get that pass rate up without compromising standards, you know. And I think that the value of the MW is I think, not just what you learn, even though that’s massive, because I think in wine, it’s quite easy to think, you know, I get it, I understand it. But there’s always more things to learn. So I think what the MW teaches you is to be humble, and to sort of say I’m never going to know it all. And to be aware of the limitations of what you know.
Susie Barrie 25:00
It teaches us to question everything. Ask questions, questions, questions, which I definitely learned from doing it. You know, just ask. If somebody says, Well, we use clone so and so, and so and so. Why? Because it gives us a better yield. Why does it give you a better yield? You know, there’s a keep asking the questions, which I always used to take an answer and go, “Okay, great, lovely” and wrote it down. But now, you know, I wouldn’t do that, I would go “ No, I don’t, I don’t understand.” I need to know a bit more and a bit more, it makes you really question everything.
Peter Richards 25:26
Also just an analytical mindset to everything, quantifying and qualitative as well. It’s a way of thinking. And I think that often you don’t know that that kind of instruction is going to help you, but it really, really does. I think that it’s a way of thinking about yourself and about wine, which is tremendously healthy and positive. It’s a life changing experience. And I think that it’s difficult to sum it up in one package as to why it helps.
Susie Barrie 25:49
I mean, going back to why it’s so difficult to pass. I mean, I think it’s a lot of study. And if people are working full time, that’s really hard to give enough time to the study. And it’s not only a lot of study, it’s a lot of study of lots of different areas. So for anybody listening, who who’s not familiar, you have to sit a paper on viticulture, and vinification and business of wine, and contemporary issues, you have to take three tasting papers, one on white wines, one on red wines, one on whatever the you know, it could be a mixed bag, and those are all blind. You then have to pass, but I think it’s a research paper now isn’t it, used to be a dissertation? It’s a research paper. So there’s so many elements to it, that you have to invest an awful lot of money, time, energy, and sacrifice family life, perhaps. I think this makes it all very difficult. It’s not just that what you’re doing is difficult, it’s everything around it, that makes it very hard. And I think therefore, getting a high pass rate is unlikely to ever happen. I think it will go up. But it’s never going to be really high.
Peter Richards 26:54
I think, I think it’s, as we said, it’s not about saying I know everything about wine, it’s quite the opposite. It’s realising your limitations and saying I’m open to that. But how do I learn effectively and how, more importantly, can I help others because a lot of the MW programme is about altruism, is about helping other people. This code of conduct you sign up to is I will do this properly, and I have a responsibility, and we will take that very seriously. So you mentor other people through the programme, and help them if they have difficulties. It is a distance learning programme, you’re not sort of super hands on. But there is that wonderful feeling of being able to help other people. For 10 years after we finished, we ran a Master of Wine student boot camp. So we sort of cheated, people came to Winchester, it wasn’t us that called it a boot camp, it was christened that by some of the students. We were just, we were asked to do it by some students we’ve studied with who hadn’t got through. And it was terrifying, it because we had to stand up in front of probably some of the best tasters in the world, and supposedly tutor them. And it wasn’t really us tutoring them, it was us, working with them, to work out the best strategies to help them get the best out of themselves. And that we found tremendously rewarding. And that’s what we try to keep going with. That’s what we feel a responsibility beholden on us, as MWs, is to help other people. And that can be you know, helping a Master of Wine student, to helping the person on the street who just wants your help; he doesn’t really care about; just wants a recommendation of something they can enjoy that’s really simple.
Susie Barrie 28:14
Actually, that’s something we should they say; when we were studying the Master of Wine we were given so much help by people. And you think that is incredible, you know, people’s time and energy and I was blown away really by the generosity of certain people that helped us pass; really
Peter Richards 28:31
I think that’s one of the things we talked about, not being afraid to make mistakes earlier, as being a good teaching method. Well it’s the same; doing the MW forces you to learn to ask for help. And that really puts you in good stead, I think in the wine world, because we all need to help each other. You can’t just be doing stuff by yourself. This is a collaborative endeavour and that really helps cement the understanding.
Unknown Speaker 28:52
Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that
Peter Richards 28:54
If anyone listening is thinking of doing the MW, we would recommend it from the rooftops. It is the most fantastic journey of discovery about yourself, about wine, and we would absolutely recommend one thing you have to do is to just make sure you have enough time to devote to it. But it’s just one of the magical ways of really discovering wine. And we were on the course with quite a few people who weren’t in the wine trade at all. Lawyers, architects, and they were just doing it for the love of wine. It’s just, you know, so if anyone’s out there thinking of doing it, get in touch if they want to. But if not, come on. Just think you know, this is an opportunity; it’s great fun.
Natalie MacLean 29:29
That’s great, great encouragement. And so just a couple last questions. If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone in the world living or dead, who would that be? I don’t know if it’d be the same or different for each of you. But who would be at the table.
Peter Richards 29:42
Definitely be different for each of us
Susie Barrie 29:47
You should see the kind of books that he reads and I read Natalie. , just think a little bit about this. And you know, this is a really random choice, but I’d love to sit down and share a bottle of wine with Kristin Scott Thomas, because I just think she’s the most beautiful and intriguing. I think, I imagine very intelligent and she’s a fantastic actress. She sort of flies under the radar and I just think she’s amazing.
Natalie MacLean 30:15
I loved her in the English Patient. It’s brilliant.
Susie Barrie 30:19
Yeah. Yeah. You know, just sitting and being able to ask her things, it would be amazing. And I know it’s, it’s not an obvious choice, but yes, I think she’s fabulous.
Natalie MacLean 30:28
Peter Richards 30:29
So I’m going to have to do something to contrast with that. But I’m just reading the final instalment in the Hilary Mantel trilogy, actually. So Henry the Eighth, what an option for a man from history, if I’m thinking in history, but talking about people from history who liked their wine, we’d have something to talk about. Alexander the Great, how cool would that be? He definitely liked his drink. Thomas Jefferson, you know, some of these people from history, you know, who took an interest in food and drink. He would be just fascinating to talk to you. I don’t know, someone like that. But it’s an endless question. Because there’d be so many people really when you start to think about it.
Natalie MacLean 31:00
That’d be quite a rowdy dinner table party.
Peter Richards 31:04
Henry the Eighth and Kristin Scott Thomas,
Susie Barrie 31:06
Kristin and I would be quietly in the corner enjoying a glass of Sancerre
Natalie Maclean 31:10
Henry eyeing her as a new wife.
Peter Richards 31:11
Yes, exactly. How would she end up? Who knows? We’d have to keep Alexander the Great and Henry the Eighth apart, I think. The seating plan would have to carefully monitored. This would be a difficult one.
Natalie MacLean 31:22
Now Kristin Scott Thomas, she’d never lose her head though. Anyway, last one. If you could be any type of wine, what would you choose?
Susie Barrie 31:31
Oh, my goodness me. I’d have to be Irish champagne. I really would
Peter Richards 31:34
Susie Barrie 31:36
Yeah. Bubbles make me happy. I feel like I’d want to be overflowing with happy bubbles in my life, if I could do that every day, and I don’t. There’s a lesson to myself, as a note to myself. Be more effervescent, be happier, be more bubbly. And because you know why not? Life’s short.
Natalie MacLean 31:53
It is, it is and we’re not promised tomorrow. How about you Peter?
Peter Richards 31:56
I will be an increasingly full bodied red. That’s the way my life seems to be going Natalie. So I’d like to think I could carry off being something like a Brunello, which I know is a special kind of wine for you.
Natalie MacLean 32:10
Peter Richards 32:11
Your first amazing wine epiphany was Brunello, wasn’t it? So I’ve been thinking about that or either a Barbaresco or a Barolo. But I’d probably be more a kind of Shiraz, that’s kind of going a little bit loose around the edges. A little bit, a little bit, you know, over mature now, a bit tired.
Natalie Maclean 32:25
Sounds like something you could watch with the Simpsons?
Peter Richards 32:29
Yeah, that’s all I need to be.
Natalie MacLean 32:31
Yeah, that’s great. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention as we wrap up?
Susie Barrie 32:37
I don’t think so. You’ve been so lovely, asking us so many lovely questions.
Natalie MacLean 32:41
Oh, you guys, I could go on for another couple hours. But anyway, it’s terrific talking with you. Now, tell us where we can get in touch with you online.
Peter Richards 32:49
I think probably social media is probably the best place. So on Instagram, we’re susieandpeter. On Twitter I’m wineschools and she’s SusieBarrie. They’re probably the best places to get hold of us.
Susie Barrie 32:59
But other than that, we have our website, which is susieandpeter.com.
Peter Richards 33:01
Yeah, or the podcast. You know, if you listen to Wine Blast, then you can get in touch with us through that as well. We’ve even got that wonderful, the magic of SpeakPipe, that little button you can press, for people to get their message across, which we recently discovered and got very excited by, so if anyone wants to send us voice messages, hopefully nothing too angry.
Susie Barrie 33:17
SpeakPipe is on the podcast page of our website. There’s a little orange button (https://susieandpeter.com/podcast/), you can just send us a message which is what we love to get.
Natalie MacLean 33:25
Yeah, that is great. I’m going to post all of these contacts and your websites in the show notes for the podcast so people will know how to connect with you.
Susie Barrie 33:35
Fantastic. Thank you.
Natalie MacLean 33:35
Well, thank you Susie and Peter; this was a great conversation. I just loved it. I love your energy and your passion I’m so pleased that more people will know about what you do, who you are, and get to connect with you now.
Peter Richards 33:48
You’re very kind. Thank you so much indeed for all of this. It’s been such fun.
Natalie MacLean 33:52
Oh, absolutely. Okay, take care of Bye for now.
Peter Richards 33:55
Natalie MacLean 34:01
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Susie and Peter. Here are my takeaways.
Number one, I love how Susie and Peter pivoted with COVID and hosted their popular Wine Festival online. You can watch those video recordings of the sessions they hosted. I’ll link to that in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/118.
Two, I so agree with them that podcasts are one of the best ways to learn about wine. I’m biased, of course. But it’s such an intimate medium that lends itself to more in depth learning.
Three, I found their discussion about English sparkling wines helpful and I’m determined to taste more of them when I can find them going forward.
And four, Susie and Peter make some excellent points on why the Master of Wine qualification is valuable beyond the studies required to achieve the credential. I love that probative skill of asking the question beyond the first question, and challenging received wisdom.
In the show notes, you’ll find how you can win a prize pack that includes a personally signed copy of their book on English wine, a lovely linen polishing cloth for your wine stemware and a cheeky chef’s apron, if you post on your favourite social media channel before March 10, and tag me, a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube live every Wednesday at 7pm including this evening. And that’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/118.
You won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Vanessa Conlin and Amanda McCrossin. Amanda was formerly a wine director at several popular Napa Valley restaurants where she worked with the world’s largest restaurant collection of Napa Valley wines. Vanessa is Head of Wine for Wine Access wine club, and formerly worked for several of Napas’ most prestigious luxury wine estates. She became a Master of Wine in 2020. Prior to falling in love with wine, they both were musical performers in New York City before they moved across the country to Napa Valley. They have great stories and tasting tips to share with you next week.
In the meantime, if you missed Episode 93, go back and take a listen. I chat with another Brit, who’s also a Master of Wine, Jane Masters, about her journey through the programme and her insider tasting tips. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Jane Masters 36:43
I think schools are important, but I don’t think they’re the be all and end all. I think what is very important is that people find the wines that they enjoy. And that the description of the wines, what they taste like and what they go with, is more beneficial of more use, of more value, to our members. So I like to focus on those descriptions and people can find that if they enjoy a Sauvignon from a particular region, that we’ve got alternative things that they might enjoy of a similar style. Maybe Sauvignons from other regions or maybe other grape varieties which fall into that sort of category. So I do score wines, I score them out of 20 for my own benefit. And again, you know, if you’re looking at scores that anyone has written, you have to understand the context in which they’ve done it and my scores are not absolute scores. They’re scored in terms of the price of the wine and the value for money that it offers so I prefer to actually concentrate on what the wines actually taste like than publishing scores.
Natalie MacLean 37:47
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the tips that Susie and Peter shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week; post on social media about it, and you could win their prize pack.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers