Where are you from originally and how did you get into the wine business?
I'm from Essex in the UK, so I studied languages to get out as soon as I could! (Sorry, Mum and Dad). I got into wine when I spent a year teaching English in a village in Navarra as part of my university degree in French and Spanish, my flat overlooked a winery and I became fascinated by the trucks of grapes rolling up at harvest. After finishing my studies and spending a year in France, I applied to do work experience in the marketing department of a London wine merchant and ended up working for eight years at a PR and communications agency that specialized in food and drink. I took professional qualifications in wine and spirit tasting and became account director of the Wines from Rioja marketing campaign.
What brought you to Spain?
In 2011, I was headhunted for a role in the marketing department of a major Spanish winery group in Madrid. I had always wanted to return to Spain, my husband and I were looking for a change and it seemed like a good opportunity.
What particularly drew you to Spanish wines and food?
As someone who grew up in a food-crazy family - my father is a butcher, my mum makes cakes, my grandparents made homemade wine, jam, even smoked salmon in a old fridge - it was great to go to a place where it wasn't weird to have an in-depth conversation about food; I've heard people arguing about the best water to use for cooking paella!
I love the passion that people have for their local produce, admire the artisanal skills that have been passed through the generations and I think Spanish wines offer the best value for money in the world.
Photo: Heather Mobley Photography
Tell us about your company, Taste Exchange, what kinds of events do you run?
I host corporate team building events in which teams blind taste or even 'launch' their own wine, and tastings in English for visitors and expats who want to learn more about wine, or even Spaniards who want to practice their English doing something fun. I offer regular public events in Madrid and also bespoke private events in homes and restaurants. I also do marketing - websites, copywriting, social media management and media relations - for wineries and spirits producers.
Do you have any favourite events?
I love them all but the introduction to wine tasting is a popular one, I use aromas found in wines and different tasting exercises to help people understand how to describe what they are tasting. It's really great when someone who has only smelt "wine" before is suddenly able to identify specific aromas or flavours, it's like a whole new world opens up! I'm currently planning a sparkling wine event comparing Cava with Champagne and even English sparkling wine, which should be fun!
Can you give us any expert tips on wine tasting?
Wine tasters are no different to anyone else, they've just had more training in identifying tastes and smells, so the good news is that anyone can become a wine taster with a little practice. The key thing is to take your time, rather than gulping it down, take some time to smell the wine and think about what it reminds you of; swirling the glass may look pretentious but you'll find it really helps those important aroma molecules reach your nose.
When tasting, look out for acidity at the sides of your mouth, sweetness on your tongue, tannins as a furriness and alcohol as a warm sensation in your throat. In a good quality wine, all these elements should be in balance, you should be left with a pleasant, long-lasting aftertaste rather than just a burn of alcohol or sharpness. But remember, if you like it, then it's a great wine!
Lots of people come to Spain to take a tour of a winery. How do you recommend people make the most of a visit to a Spanish vineyard?
Check out reviews beforehand or ask a specialist company to arrange the visit for you as wineries vary greatly in their facilities and tours. And while you are there don't be afraid to ask questions if there's something you don't understand.
And pace yourself! It can be tempting to try to fit lots in but make sure you drink enough water and hold back on the wine, especially if you are driving.
Photo: Heather Mobley Photography.
Do you have a favourite kind of Spanish wine?
The thing I love about wine is that there is always something different to taste, so I could never name just one! There are lots of smaller producers making exciting wines from native grape varieties all over Spain: Garnachas from the Sierra de Gredos just west of Madrid with incredibly complex aromas, and I've tried some amazing natural wines made from Verdejo and Albillo from old vines in Castilla y León.
But I still appreciate the classic Riojas from traditional producers such as López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta and Marqués de Murrieta - I served their white Capellania at my wedding. I also adore the salty tang of Sherry with tapas.
From the north, the fresher Mencías and Godellos from Bierzo and the Ribeira Sacra are really fantastic with lighter dishes and seafood. Aged Reserva Cavas when I'm celebrating. Full-bodied reds from Toro for warming up in the winter. Oh, and the smoky, mineral wines from the volcanic soils of Tenerife are pretty unique!
If people are new to Spanish wine, where would you recommend they start?
The essentials to try are a dry white Verdejo from Rueda, a fresh and almost saline Albariño from Rías Baíxas, a dry Fino Sherry. In reds, a classic Rioja Crianza or Reserva, a more full bodied Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero or Toro and then something local - if you are in Catalonia, then a Cava, in Valencia, a Bobal, for example. Go to a specialist wine shop or bar and ask for their advice, many host tastings and would be only to happy to suggest wines to try.
What are your plans for the future? (Maybe your own vineyard one day…!?)
I've seen the money and effort that goes into making wine so don't hold any romantic notions about being a winemaker- I do have a sort of vague dream to buy an abandoned village in countryside and create a hotel-restaurant with an amazing wine bar, maybe there'd be a bit of space for some vines in the grounds!
In the shorter term, I'd like Taste Exchange to become a leader in specialist wine events and marketing in Madrid. I'd like to help smaller producers market their wines for the export market and I'd like to ensure that people appreciate the true quality of Spanish wines and don't just think of it of a source of cheap plonk!