Peter McCombie

INTERVIEW WITH A MASTER OF WINE

ONE OF *395 MASTERS OF WINE

We’ve interviewed Peter McCombie, one of only 395 brilliant Masters of Wine who helps our events strike the perfect balance between serious business and serious wine business. We’ve rooted around in Peter’s brain to find out about his path to becoming a wine professional, the best wine facts to impress your friends with, and who would make the guest list at his dream dinner party.  

Tell us a little about your background – how did you first become interested in wine?

My love of wine was a slow burn. Growing up in New Zealand we drank cheap stuff – sometimes a bit of dry, sometimes fizzy, sometimes spirits. I only came to wine later, when I was working in hospitality. I worked with a charismatic sommelier in a fantastic small restaurant in New Zealand, before I went off to pursue something else that I thought was my chosen calling. It turned out it wasn’t, and I was invited back to the restaurant to take over as sommelier. It all took off from there.

When did you first think, “I want to become a Master of Wine”?

By sheer fluke I had dinner with friends of friends, one of whom worked in wine. I was waffling on about my dream of making wine, and she suggested I should go back to London and “do some exams”. She was talking about a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Diploma, but I quickly realised I wanted to go to the next level. I fancied the challenge, although I probably didn’t realise how hard it would be at the time!

What’s the best thing about your job?

The short answer would be drinking great wine, but the truth Is that most of it isn’t drinking, but tasting, which is not the same thing! I am lucky enough to taste – and drink – some great wines.

Thinking about it further, the best thing is helping people understand their own taste. It’s not about having “great” taste, it’s about understanding what you like and why. Turning people on to wines they really enjoy is a great part of the job, and a nice thing to note is that they’re not always the most expensive wines.

The Champagne method of getting bubbles in wine was not ‘invented’ by the French, but probably discovered by an English cider maker called Christopher Merrett.

What wine do you think people should appreciate but don’t?

There are a few actually. I think good quality Cru Beaujolais can be a great drink, but maybe people remember Beaujolais Nouveau and think it’s the same thing. Italian white wines tend to be underrated – top quality Soave Classico is just one example.

What is your favourite expensive wine, and your favourite affordable wine?

It’s a cliché but I’ve got a soft spot for Château Cheval Blanc. It’s elegant and alluring, and very satisfying to drink. But it’s so hard to keep to just one favourite. I love top notch Champagne, like Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaire 2000, or Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. I love the complexity and layering, the savouriness and freshness.

Favourite affordable wine? In Roussillon (in the southern tip of France) there is an appellation called Minervois which has a sub-zone called La Livinière. I’ve never had a bad wine from there. Château Eulalie is a great example.

What wine fact can you share with our readers so they can impress their friends?

The Champagne method of getting bubbles in wine was not ‘invented’ by the French, but probably discovered by an English cider maker called Christopher Merrett.

If you were hosting a dinner party, who would you invite (from anytime, anywhere)?

Gerard Basset, all-round great guy and perhaps the greatest sommelier of recent times; Miriam Margoyles, actor and good sport; Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, a Maori leader in 19th century New Zealand, who pretty much invented non-violent resistance; Paolo di Marche, owner and winemaker at the inimitable Isole e Olena in Tuscany and all round lovely guy; and finally Christine Saahs, winemaker at the outstanding Nikolaihof estate in Austria.

What is your wine guilty pleasure?

Moscato d’Asti is frothy, heady and sweet, but also refreshing and low in alcohol. It’s not a serious wine but it can be delicious.

The best thing is helping people understand their own taste. It’s not about having “great” taste, it’s about understanding what you like and why.

MEET PETER AT OUR NEXT EVENT

Now that you know a little more about Peter, you’ll be happy to find out that he’s hosting the first of our new and exclusive CWO : DIGITAL events! You can get in on his vast wine knowledge, as well as industry-leading business discussions, by signing up to our new B2B virtual tasting experience here.