Introducing Alistair Cooper: Master of Wine
Alistair Cooper joins cheesegeek
As of April 2021 there are only 418 Masters of Wine in the world, 210 of which are based in the UK (go Britain)! It takes at least three years to complete and you have to have at least three years’ experience in the wine trade and a preexisting wine qualification to even apply, sounds pretty easy right? Essentially it’s the ultimate accolade in the wine world and we are very lucky to be working with Alistair Cooper, class of 2017, wine extraordinaire and all round great guy. Ali will be overseeing our wines going forward, helping to curate pairings, tasting notes and presenting at our hosted tastings.
Besides being a Master of Wine, Alistair is an independent British wine writer, judge, consultant and educator with over 20 years of experience in the industry. We sat down with him to chat about all things wine and cheese, and to find out what makes him tick.
Q:What is your favourite wine in the world and why? A: Hmm - now that is a tricky one to answer! Probably the finest wines I have ever tasted were a 1959 Gevrey Chambertin from Domaine Rousseau and an 1877 Madeira. But some of my most memorable wines have been far more about the environment, experience and company than the wines themselves. Most recently, a simple glass of Provençal Rosé with my family at Easter in the sunshine after so much time in lockdown was just amazing.
Q: Have you got a favourite English wine? A: What we do best in England is fizz - and there are so many to choose from. Gusbourne, Nyetimber, Wiston Estate and Harrow and Hope to name but a few.
Q: What is your top cheese and wine pairing? A: Pairing Cornish Kern with a slightly oaky Chilean Chardonnay is stunning, together they create this popping pineapple party in my mouth.
Q: Why do you think cheese and wine is such a celebrated pairing? A: Quite possibly because they are the two finest foodstuffs known to man. Behind both wine and cheese individually there is always an element of balance to consider, and when put together they can (when correctly paired) elevate each other to new, even higher levels. Often wine will play a cleansing role for your palate, allowing you to have another mouthful of delicious cheese without it becoming too weighty or fatty.
Q: How did your beginnings in the wine industry start? A: My interest in flavours comes from my mum for sure. She’s a great home cook, and growing up around amazing smells and food was a big part of growing up. Family meals were always important in our household, and I think wine is an extension from that. Languages have definitely helped me in my wine journey [Ali studied Modern Languages at University], spending lots of time in France when younger meant being around food and wine. And then many years in South America it was the same. But it was more of a happy accident, in fact it was my dad who suggested it after university as he saw my fledgling interest in wine and thought it dovetailed well with languages. I didn’t think a career in wine in the UK was a thing, but I’m very grateful to him that he did!
Q: Any advice for people who want to become an MW? A: Be prepared to lose all forms of a social life for several years. If you have a partner, ensure that they are understanding that you will not be around to help much. Be prepared to fail, as you will certainly fall at points along the study process. It is a very humbling process!
Q: Is there anything unexpected about being a MW? A: Well it wasn’t really unexpected, but it seems to make you a target to being asked to identify wines blind. People love catching you out! People also seem to suddenly get very scared about serving you wine and apologising in advance - I am not a wine snob at all, so they needn’t worry!
Q: What’s the frame of mind you get in when tasting a wine? A: It’s important actually to make sure you eat neutral foods (including the night before) wherever possible. It is also important to judge wines objectively and remove your own preferences/prejudices etc. I have certain nemesis grape varieties but still have to taste and score them objectively. Wines that I wouldn’t choose to drink but that are still really great examples of their type…!
Q: Do you have a top wine tip? A: Don’t serve whites too cold or reds too warm! If you have a white wine, take it out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before opening. And pop your red IN the fridge for 20 minutes before drinking if it is stored at room temperature. Also - experiment with wines! Try different wines and get out of your comfort zone, an easy (and cheap) way to do this is through wine tastings or visiting your local independent wine shop. It’s easy to reach for the same bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon or Rioja each time, but you might find wines that you love even more.
Finally, are there any wine trends that you think will happen over the next few years? A: Canned wines are really taking off, and I think that’s a good thing. Also more high quality bag in box wines, I think they are great and far more environmentally friendly than bottles.
A note from our founder, Edward Hancock
The importance of great wine when it comes to great cheese cannot be understated! Wine remains, and will continue to remain, the second pea in the cheese pod, and is the product most of our customers seek out and expect from us, all the way from discerning cheese and wine lovers to complete beginners equipped only with enthusiasm.
Our wine products must stand out, not just in their own right as world class, but also when they interact with our mind-bendingly good cheese. When we get this right, as evidenced by the incredible success of The Ultimate last year, it provides our customers with something truly spectacular. With this in mind, it is with huge pleasure that I welcome with open arms, and the promise of as much cheese as his dreams desire, Alistair Cooper MW.
Ali will not only improve our wine offering immeasurably (and our long term pipeline of wines), he will also provide that stamp of authority that every single wine our customers drink will have passed the most vigilant (and qualified!) scrutiny. Expect to see commentary from him on our cheese and wine boxes, blogs, and there will even be opportunities for him to present alongside me at Cheese and Wine tastings as well.
Ali is not only hugely knowledgeable, he is also very approachable, personable and brings a real accessibility to wine that is so in line with our culture at CG