An Interview with Jamie Oliver's Wine Whiz Matt Skinner
This month I got to chat with Aussie Matt Skinner. Matt oversees wine operations for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant group worldwide, as well as consulting, writing and educating on the juicy topic. He has just released his second book Heard It Through the Grapevine (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99).
Sommeliers and wine books, despite the topic, can be dry affairs – long, drawn out and tough going, even for a chef that has committed to expanding his wine knowledge. Matt’s latest title, however, is a real winner; probably the best beginner wine book I ever laid eyes on.
His writing style is super relaxed, and the book’s 176 pages completely cover the topic of viticulture –from purchasing and drinking to pairing and properly storing wine. In most cases, only a page of text covers the subtopics, making the book an easy read – the kind of book where you can read a few pages each day and still remember what you read the day before.
The photographs would have what I describe as “magazine style,” meaning they don’t just add gloss; they add depth to the book and help explain the topic on hand.
In short, Matt’s book is well put together, looks good and reads great – so, go grab it, read it and get smarter on wine. You and your sommelier might just end up friends!
Q&A with Super Wine Guy Matt Skinner
G.C - You have just published an excellent new book Heard It Through the Grapevine (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99). What do you hope the chefs out there are going to learn from it?
M.S –I would love for it to act as a starting point for chefs to understand wine. It’s pretty short and sweet. The pairing chapter would be a great section to read first as flavors, textures and what goes together make sense to a chef.
G.C – Regarding chefs and their wine knowledge – not always their strong point – what do you see as a common shortfall?
M.S – I am not sure why but it’s globally quite common. It may have a lot to do with the fact that chefs are always busy and this leaves little time for really focusing on wine. And that many sommeliers are more eager to impress than to communicate and teach on a chef friendly level. My suggestion would be that a chef who really wants to achieve some wine knowledge needs to invest some time in learning. I know this is hard when you have a million things to do and you are working long hours, but if a chef makes it a priority they will prosper, a restaurant is really good when the food and wine work in partnership
G.C - Chefs and sommeliers—not always the best of relationships –what can a chef do to build that relationship?
M.S – (Matt laughs) that’s a pretty fair point but when a chef and sommelier can work together it really adds to the food. I think; show mutual respect, discuss and taste the food and taste the wine with it, pick your moment so you both have the opportunity to give the process a little bit of time, work with the sommelier so he or she is part of the process.
G.C - What else should we (the chefs) be reading – books, websites, magazines?
M.S – Most chefs don’t have time to read wine books as they are often so large, but magazines can be great as they are concise. After working on Jamie Oliver’s magazine I have had a good insight into the process. Which magazine you read really depends on where in the world you are living; a couple I enjoy are Australian Vogue Entertaining + Travel, and (British) Waitrose Food Illustrated.
G.C - Who is making the best new-new world wine?
M.S – Hard one as times are tough, but there are some great wines coming out of Chile and Argentina. What’s exciting is the exploration, new regions north and south, some amazing stuff with low production cost. Australia has had its back against the wall for a while after a couple decades as the world’s new wine darling. The guys from South America have dethroned them. But I do see an Aussie resurgence, more regionality, less about style. The Australian wine makers have also started working with Spanish, Austrian and Greek varietals so there is some interesting stuff on the way.
G.C – What about celebrity wine makers, (like Francis Coppola or Mick Fleetwood)? Are there any of those kind of guys you are digging right now?
M.S - Coppola is OK, I have not had it in a while, I am always a bit skeptical, a lot of branding, and many of the wines you can probably find under another label for less money.
G.C—Stainless or Oak?
M.S – Stainless.
G.C – Cork, screw top or synthetic?
M.S – Screw top! The industry has not given up with cork and the best wines I have ever drunk came out of a bottle with a cork, but so have the worst. Wine makers that use screw tops will pretty much guarantee that the wine will taste as it was intended, and it is not only inexpensive wines. Cullen make great wines screw top. There is an argument regarding aging but it will happen, just at a slower rate and there are new technologies on the way.
G.C – What is your first wine memory?
M.S –It must have been when I was about five years old. My mum and dad were keen weekenders. My first memory was when we traveled to North East Victoria to Rutherglen , I remember visiting the winery, smelling the oak and red wine, the oppressive heat of the region and the cool of the winery.
G.C – Your last day on earth, what would you drink?
M.S – 1990 Crystal (out of magnum), Chardonnay from Burgundy Coche-Dury Meursault, Sassicaia and Rutherglen Muscat.
G.C - Who would you drink it with?
M.S – My closest friends and family, just a few people, nobody famous.
G.C – What would you eat with it?
M.S – A dozen oysters and I would shuck them myself, gravlax with toast points, shallots and crème fraiche and an enormous charred-rare steak, no dessert the muscat would be sweet enough!
G.C – Who would you have cook it?
M.S – I would cook it myself, I have cooked from an early age, taught by my mum. I do the cooking at home and I love it.
G.C - Organic or conventional?
M.S - Organic! Whether you are doing it for fashion or because you believe in it - It’s good for the grape, soil, vine and vineyard. Sulphur dioxide is the only sticking point as it is the antioxidant that protects the wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation, but when something is produced with a minimum of pesticides we are heading in the right direction.
Buy Matt’s Skinner’s book Heard It Through the Grapevine (Mitchell Beazley ,$24.99) online at Amazon.com
Read our review of Heard It Through the Grapevine
By: Jeremy Emmerson
Jeremy is a British born, Texas living, professional chef of twenty-something years. He is the founder/publisher of GlobalChefs.com, kinda cheeky, somewhat dyslexic and a big Matt Skinner fan!