Meet the Team
Contributors & Editors
Nearly twenty years experience as a wine consultant, wine buyer, writer and editorial director have provided David with the background to co-author and edit a wine guide of such breadth and scope.
During this period he has travelled widely and been exposed to hands-on winemaking and was one of three principal judges for the New York Times “Wine Today Europe” site of the early 2000s.
Today he focuses his research on his own areas of expertise. He travels extensively to both France and Spain, taking in visits to all the major fairs and exhibitions. Alimentaria in Barcelona and Fenavin in Ciudad Real are consistent dates on his calendar as are Vinisud in Montpelier, the bi-annual tastings organised by Inter-Rhône and the annual primeur tastings in Bordeaux.
Visiting winemakers in their cellars though remains a cornerstone of the work on Wine behind the label. As well as extensive visits in Europe, David visits the West Coast of the United States in most years. The vast majority of the most exciting hand-made wines Stateside can only be tasted in this way. As a part of this he has been invited to key local fairs and tastings.
Qualified as a chartered accountant in 1959 and became passionate about food and wine whilst working in Italy in the early sixties.
There he encountered not only his future wife, Sonia, but also 2 litre bottles of “Valpollicella” made in a cantina in the back streets of Milan. He soon began to appreciate better quality wines, particularly French, and returning to London began building up his knowledge of wine with the help of Hugh Johnson. Wine and food soirées at the Blech’s South Kensington home became a regular feature and the purchase of a run-down pub in Wales as a second home in 1971 prompted them to consider commercialising Sonia’s abilities as an accomplished amateur cook. “Sonia, darling – you can cook a bit – let’s open a restaurant”. The pub was converted into a smart restaurant avec chambres, and opened in 1974, and in 1976, Sonia became the first woman chef in the UK to obtain a Michelin star.
Returning to London to open the Mijanou restaurant in 1980, which became one of the fashionable restaurants of the decade, the innovative wine list resulted in many awards, and soon he was being asked to write a wine column for a magazine called “Restaurant Business” (now defunct – but not his fault!) and to help other restaurateurs with the composition of their wine lists, a function he still carries out today. The consultancy developed and in 1989, started his own wine importing company, The Wine Treasury, which specialises in wines from California, being one of the first in the UK to realise the quality potential of Californian wines, some of which are now truly world class players.
The tail began to wag the dog, so in 1996 the restaurant was sold to concentrate on the wine business and the soirées re-appeared in a much more professional fashion with regular visiting wine producers as special guests. He continued to write occasional articles for various wine publications and broadcasted on wine for Jazz FM in London (also now defunct but not his fault either!) in order to make the distinction between Brubeck and Brunello. He has been a member of the Grand Jury Européen wine tasting panel and served on tasting panels for Decanter, Wine Magazine and other leading wine publications.
In 2002 he sold The Wine Treasury to concentrate on wine writing and wine consultancy and his involvement with Wine behind the label. He is currently a member of the Circle of Wine Writers organisation and FIJEV (Fédération Internationale des Journalistes et Écrivans du Vin.)
is half-Italian and half-French and sometimes wonders how she got involved with l’albion perfide as well as a career as a chef. A university lecturer in linguistics specialising in medieval French, she was also renowned for her dinner parties with her very individualistic cuisine.
Well, she took the plunge with her husband Neville, and turned what was initially supposed to be a country cottage in the Wye Valley near Monmouth in to a universally renowned restaurant avec chambres in the short space of five years. Not without a lot of heartache. She originally engaged a French chef, who had previously worked for Pierre Koffmann at The Waterside Inn, and his wife to run the place and Sonia would fulfil the role of Executive Chef. He was a very good chef, but when, just before the August Bank Holiday weekend, they marched in and demanded a doubling of their salaries, Sonia decided that something had to be done. He thought that he was God but didn’t realise that Sonia was.
So when they threatened to leave, she said, “leave!” And so they left. So armed with a recipe book from Escoffier and assisted by an epileptic Scottish sous-chef, Sonia coped admirably with the weekend. Soon, her talents were recognised by Christopher Driver of The Good Food Guide and in 1976 she became the first woman in the UK to gain a Michelin star. Furthermore, this was the first restaurant in Wales ever to win a Michelin star, a feat so astonishing that they sent a reporter down from the New York Times to see if this really could be true. By this time she had already thrown away the Escoffier recipe book and had really begun to do her own thing. A number of dishes that she had created in the 1970’s (notably her prune and Armagnac ice cream, smoked salmon sushi and her ‘venison with elderberries’ dish) were copied by other, more famous chefs.
Not having been formally trained in catering allowed her to fully utilise her intellectual capacity for invention and remains to this day, a source of inspiration to others. In 1979 they sold the Crown Inn at Whitebrook (it is still going today under other ownership) and set up Restaurant Mijanou in Ebury Street London, which was a source of discrete and refined dining (which is possibly why it was so regularly frequented by MPs of all parties), until they were “made an offer they couldn’t refuse” by an Italian restaurateur in 1996. Sonia now contents herself with creating wine dinners and tastings when she is not travelling to far flung places such as Uruguay and Vietnam and visiting her grandchildren in Bordeaux, as well as providing the recipes and some of the travel articles for this website.
A transplanted New Yorker and former banker, Maggie Rosen covers wine and other subjects for French and English language media.
She has edited Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine and several books in Mitchell Beazley’s Classic Wine Library series, and was co-author of The Wine Box (Connections Publishing UK) and Wine: Wit and Wisdom (Think Publishing). She loves investigating new commercial and cultural trends, and interviewing producers about what motivates them — though she has trouble taking seriously those who take themselves too seriously.
Sarah Ahmed, The Wine Detective, is an independent, London-based wine writer and educator with a particular interest in the wines of Australia, the Loire, Portugal and South Africa. She is regularly invited to judge on tasting panels at home and abroad.
Sarah contributes to leading publications including The World of Fine Wine, Decanter, Harpers Wine & Spirit, The Drinks Business, Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book (Portugal) and Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book (the Loire). She also publishes www.thewinedetective.co.uk. In 2009, Sarah was awarded the Portuguese Annual Wine Awards “Wine Writer of the Year 2009” and was recently short-listed for the second year running for the “IWSC Communicator of the Year” for 2010.
She also presents public and private wine tastings for a range of clients, including the generic bodies for each of her specialist areas. She was short-listed for the International Wine & Spirit Competition Communicator of the Year 2009.
You can find out more about Sarah and her musings on the world of wine by visiting her website www.thewinedetective.co.uk
Professor Kathleen Burk
Kathleen grew up on a farm in California, and one of their crops was grapes, so she has driven a tractor, picked grapes, tied vines, and gone to the winery.
At Oxford, she was a member of the SCR wine committee, which meant that she got to
go to a lot of tastings. With her husband she began to buy en primeur in the 1980s, so they now have a reasonably-sized, unbalanced cellar – lots from France , Germany and California, but very little from any part of the Southern Hemisphere.
From 1998-2001 she sat three years of wine exams at the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London, and now holds their Diploma in Wine and Spirits. Since then she has been a free-lance wine writer (her main occupation is as the Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at UCL), first writing a wine column for ‘Prospect’ magazine for a couple of years and for the past several years writing commissioned articles for The World of Fine Wine’ and, latterly, for the ‘Wayward Tendrils Quarterly’, a journal for wine book collectors. For a number of years she has been a judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition. She also gives a significant number of wine tastings in London, and wine courses for students.
She is the co-author (with Michael Bywater) of Is this bottle corked? – a humorous and anecdotal essay on the world of wine and will be commenting on the more academic side of wine appreciation
Stuart George is a freelance writer in London. He studied English and European Literature at the University of Warwick and then worked as a wine merchant, travelling extensively through the world’s wine regions, before turning to wine writing. In 2003 he was the UK Young Wine Writer of the Year. He has judged at wine competitions in Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Spain and Italy and worked harvests in France, Italy and Australia.
Gary White is from London and currently lives in Fulham. He is founder and Chair of the Chelsea and Fulham Wine Society and writes a popular wine tasting blog. He describes himself as a ‘passionate amateur’, coming from an academic lecturing background in Geography and Earth Science and has diversified into several wine interests including wine education, wine tasting, writing and presentations. He is a specialist in Portuguese and Chilean wines, partly as he has family connections in Portugal (his wife, Sara, is Portuguese) and partly as he says ‘fewer people got there first’. He is passionate about the developments in these countries and regularly gives tastings around London and the Home Counties. Gary divides his time between London and Portugal. He is currently researching new wine producers in Dão and Alentejo.
After working in education in South East London for a number of years Jim changed course in 1988 and started writing about wine. Over the years he has contributed to a number of magazines – Decanter being the best known.
He is currently the chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers and edited Circle Update, the newsletter of the Circle of Wine Writers, from 1991 to 2015.
The Loire Valley is his special wine interest. He spends at least three months in the Loire every year. His first article in 1989 for Decanter was on Muscadet.
His blog, Jim’s Loire, which he started in 2008, concentrates on this lovely region, its wine producers and their wines. As well as being the Loire’s Regional Chair for the Decanter World Wine Awards he also looks after the Loire for the Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book. He is a founder member of Les 5 du Vin – a co-operative wine blog.
In 2000 he launched the investdrinks website and then the investdrinks blog (http://investdrinks-blog.blogspot.co.uk/) in 2010. He has twice – in 1999 and 2001 – won a Champagne Lanson Award for his investigative work and in 2012 a Born Digital Wine Awards for the best investigative wine story.
He is a keen photographer and enjoys a wide range of music.
After reading for the Bar at Gray’s Inn, Michael became a wine broker in the 1970s whilst living in France, representing top domaines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. He was also an associate and restaurant critic for Egon Ronay for forty years till 2005. Michael is now an author and journalist specialising in Champagne, Burgundy and Northern Italy. Winner of the Louis Roederer international book of 2010 for his “Finest Wines of Champagne” ( University of California Press), Michael is a regular correspondent for The World of Fine Wine, Decanter and The Drinks Business.
Ilona Thompson is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful business ventures under her belt. Awestruck by the majesty of California wine countries, she moved to San Francisco Bay Area to pursue her passion for food and wine. She divides her time between visiting wine regions worldwide, attending a diverse variety of tastings, taking professional development courses and judging at wine competitions. She studied at the Culinary Institute of America, (CIA) and holds a California Wine Appellation Specialist certification, (CWAS).
As part of her journalistic endeavor, Ilona covers high-profile lifestyle wine and food events, such as Auction Napa Valley, Aspen Food and Wine Classic, Cayman Cookout, Naples Winter Wine Festival, New York City Food & Wine, Pebble Beach Food and Wine and many more. She has interviewed numerous elusive, fascinating, highly notable chefs, vintners, winemakers and varied taste-makers. She is Editor-in-Chief for PalateXposure and has contributed to several publications, such as Broadside News, DrinkMe Magazine, Glass of Bubbly, Preiser Key, Snooth, etc. She is a wine and spirits reviewer, a storyteller as well as an avid photographer.