We meet Master of Wine, Clive Barlow and discuss what it takes to become an ‘MW’ and get a few wine tips for our picnic hampers this summer.

With just over 400 Masters of Wine in the world, Clive Barlow is a rare breed. Having been an MW for over 20 years Clive is passionate about all things wine, especially our local variety.

To become an MW is no mean feat, each MW must endure the world’s toughest wine exam; where years of study come down to a few hours of essays and blind tastings, with only a tiny percentage passing each year.

WWC:  When was your ‘ah-ha’ wine moment?

CB:  I worked a harvest on an English vineyard in the late 1980s.  I was only a casual worker, but the final wine tasted great, and best of all, we had created it!

WWC:  What’s it like becoming an MW? 

CB:  It is the wine equivalent to climbing Mount Everest.  The challenge of studying about globally produced, sensual creations with like-minded, enthusiastic people at the very highest level was incredible.

WWC:  How long did it take you to become an MW?

CB:  It took four years of preparation with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and three years on the MW programme.  Learning how to synthesise the knowledge into true understanding took time.  The hardest part was spitting out the wines at tastings!

WWC:  Any wine memories you can share with us? 

CB:  One of my first trips as an MW was to Germany where we were treated to a tasting of German Pinot Noir.  I was with Liz Robertson MW, and we were enjoying the wines.  The table behind was occupied by several old school MWs who kept grumbling that the Pinot Noir’s were not like top quality Burgundy.  Liz told them to stop moaning, that of course the wines were not like Burgundy because they came from Germany, and that wine was meant to give pleasure and be enjoyed, not pontificated over.  The men went quiet and looked like scolded schoolboys …. I have always kept her words in my mind whenever I buy and select wine.

WWC:  Favourite wine book? 

CB:  Can I have two? ‘The Art and Science of Wine’ by Hugh Johnson and James Halliday, brilliantly written and so condensed.  ‘The New France’ by Andrew Jefford, is another masterpiece.

WWC:  What wine are you planning to drink tonight? 

CB:  The latest release from a local producer, Simpsons – Gravel Castle Chardonnay 2020, which I will compare alongside the Gravel Castle Chardonnay 2019, (purely from a professional viewpoint of course!)

WWC:  Which local wine producer should we be watching right now? 

CB:  The English wine industry is so dynamic and new growers and producers are starting up every year.  I am impressed by Flint in Norfolk and Fox and Fox in Sussex, both relatively small producers making great wines.  Not yet selling wine but destined for great things are Domaine Evremond, Taittinger’s UK estate, and Highweald Wine, a premium, Sussex-based operation.

WWC:  Where is a great place in the UK to stay amongst the vineyards?

CB:  Oxney Vineyard near Rye, they have a lovely organic vineyard near the south coast in East Sussex. Vineyard accommodation (oxneyestate.com)

WWC: One of our favourite summer dishes is smoked trout, what wine do you suggest we pair it with?

CB: Hidden Spring Bacchus Fumé, East Sussex 2019, a lightly oaked, aromatic white with enough weight and acidity to work with the density of the smoked trout.

WWC: Desert island wine?

CB: Robert Weil, Kiedrich Riesling Trocken, I am a sucker for fine German Riesling. From England, Gusbourne Barrel Select Pinot Noir 2018 or Nyetimber 1086 Prestige Cuvée.

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