Monday, July 14

Profile: Tom Cannavan

When we first moved to the West End of Glasgow I used to joke that I felt compelled to be an interesting person in order to live in our neighborhood. I was struck by the number of fascinating and gifted people concentrated in such a small area. Wine expert Tom Cannavan is certainly one of those people who fits in well in the West End. Tom is the founder of the online site Wine-Pages, which features over 25,000 wine tastings notes, hundreds of in-depth features, comprehensive guides and resources covering all manner of food and travel and, of course, wine.

In addition to this Tom is also an experienced international wine judge who has participated in some of the word's most prestigious wine competitions across three continents, including competitions in Australia, Chile, Argentina, France, Germany and the UK.

How did you get your start in wine?
Wine has been a passion for just about as long as I can remember. I am a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, and whilst my student days of the late 1970s and early 80s saw their fare share of inebriated nights watching bands play at the Student Union, once a month a group of us would gather in each other’s houses on a Saturday evening to explore food and wine – cooking experimental stuff and clubbing together to buy the best bottles of wine we could afford.

The passion stayed with me, and in the early 1990s whilst teaching computing at the University of Glasgow, I got my first professional break into writing about wine, with a column in a now defunct lifestyle magazine. Within a few years I had started, one of the world’s pioneering wine web sites, and was picking up a lot of work writing for books, magazines and newspapers.

By the end of the decade I was being stretched more and more between my day-job and wine and food writing, and so I bit the bullet, jacked-in the University career and became a full-time writer. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted!

Do you have a favorite varietal?
I’m often asked for my favourite wine country, region, variety or producer, but it is a question that is genuinely impossible to answer. I’m lucky enough to taste an enormous variety of wines in my job, of all styles and quality levels, maybe tasting 5,000 to 6,000 wines per year. I’ve also travelled the world tasting wine and visiting the wine regions. The subject never ceases to fascinate and challenge me; there are always new things to learn and new wine experiences to enjoy.

It also matters so much on the context of where and when you are drinking a wine: with a fantastic gourmet dinner; in the garden with a barbecue; on its own in a bar with friends. If I’m really pressed, then Pinot Noir is endlessly fascinating for reds, and I love the Semillon grape for both dry and sweet whites.

What do you love most about your work?
The fact that the subject never stands still – new regions open up, new vintages come along, new winemakers burst onto the scene – which keeps this job always interesting. I guess the thing I love most must be the opportunities I have to travel to some of the world’s most interesting and beautiful countries and regions, either on press trips to get to know the winemakers, or to judge at wine competitions.

I don’t suppose there are many people who have the opportunities I do to travel regularly all over the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, all the time accompanied by tasting the finest wines they can produce, usually in the best restaurants and most beautiful places!

What is your favorite luxury in life?
The real answer is time I guess. I’m self-employed and work extremely hard, putting in very long days and huge amounts of work. To have a month without travel, or a few days off with no deadlines to meet, is truly luxurious for me.

What is your most prized possession?
Wine-wise probably a few cases of wine that I own from the famous Burgundy estate of Romanée-Conti. In terms of possessions, I have a beautiful pottery horse from the Han dynasty in China, which has been tested and certified as coming from around 200 BC. It’s not incredibly valuable, but it is a beautiful piece of sculpture that I fell in love when I bought it, and seeing it still gives me enormous pleasure and a sense of wonder every day.

Photo Jim Budd. All rights reserved.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
I lead a very hectic professional life that necessitates a lot of travel and a lot of meeting people in social situations, so my happiest moments tend to be very quiet ones: dinners with close friends and family over some great food and a few nice bottles. That makes me sound severely middle-aged, but of course I refuse to admit that!

What in your opinion is the perfect food and wine pairing?
Something like a slow-braised dish of beef en daube or venison casserole, with a really fine red Burgundy or Rhone wine is heaven. Then again, some crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño with a big plate of garlicky sautéed king prawns is hard to beat.

What is the only other occupation you would consider?
In the real world, I don’t suppose there’s anything I’d rather be doing than this. I know that for someone with my passion for the subject of wine and food I’m extremely lucky to make a living writing about it, and I am genuinely grateful for that. In a fantasy world where I had different skills or talents, I’d be a professional musician of some sort I think. Definitely something in the creative side, as after a voyage of discovery though short periods as a Civil Servant and computer programmer, I realise that’s where I’m happiest.

Profile by Ronda Carman


Anonymous said...

What a down to earth guy. Sounds like a wonderful way to earn a living.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the feature Ronda. I'm delighted to be doing what I do out of the West End of Glasgow, as almost all of my colleagues operate out of London of course...

BTW, where did you dig up that photo of me sitting in the cut-out wine barrel? I think it was taken by my friend and colleague wine writer Jim Budd, when we were together judging a wine competition in Chile in July 2006. That's the middle of winter over there and it was *freezing* - hence the many layers of clothing and grimace on my face!

Keep up the good work.

ALL THE BEST said...

Tom you are most welcome! I found the photo on Flickr.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes - Jim's a big fan of Flickr and has his own wine photography group going there I think.

LucyinStLou said...

Thank you for posting this interview! I love reading about the favorite bottles and grapes of talented wine writers.

ALL THE BEST said...

Me too Lucy!

Anonymous said...

Nice profile.

Suzy said...

What a lucky man!

Suzy said...

Also, I have passed the Brilliant Blog award to you!

Neutral Dwelling said...

Wonderful interview - What an interesting life!

pve design said...

Oh, I am nicknaming Tom, Tom Cana "vin"-
What a wonderfully inspiring person who followed his
nose. I could see my husband chucking his career for something like this. We say it nearly every week and after spending time in "Alsace" and drinking wonderfully simple Reislings and then touring the "Tattinger Cave" and tasting Champagne- gives all the more impetus to live the life you want to create.
People like Tom inspire to think it over, over a glass of something special.