Rose Murray Brown MW is one of Scotland’s leading wine writers and also hosts regular wine tastings and masterclasses. In this Meet the Member interview, Amanda Barnes learns how Italy was her first love in wine but how it was a rum tasting with sailors and sherry tasting with vicars that made a couple of her most memorable tastings.
How did you first get into wine?
I first discovered wine in Italy one summer during university holidays, when I signed up to learn Italian in Perugia. I met people there who were connected with wine, visited their own vineyards and other wineries with them. When I finished my uni course, I went to work out in Italy. Returning back to the UK, I worked at Sotheby’s in London, initially under the tutelage of the legendary Patrick Grubb MW, who taught me so much about wine – and Madeira of course. I remember tasting 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle in my first week at Sotheby’s, which was the most exciting wine I had ever tasted.
Your drinks column for The Scotsman must be one of the longest-standing drinks columns in the industry. How has your approach to planning and writing the columns changed over the years?
I have been writing a weekly column for The Scotsman, Scotland’s national newspaper, for 36 years. I remember I had just arrived to work in Scotland – and The Scotsman asked me to write a Christmas wine column. They must have liked it, as that was back in 1987. I have had numerous editors since then – but my most recent magazine editor has been there for at least 10 years and she is wonderful. She gives me complete freedom – some columns are spontaneous, if I have just enjoyed a selection of wines, visited a region or report on a recent incident in the wine world – whilst other columns are planned in advance. I try to vary the columns as much as possible, with different wine prices to suit all budgets – so one week I will be comparing Lidl & Aldi under £10 wines, to another week discussing the latest burgundy vintage and en primeur offers.
Do you feel that your readers’ appreciation of certain wine styles or regions has changed over the years? Can you give us an overview of the Scottish wine scene today?
The Scottish wine scene is really thriving, with so many excellent independent wine merchants, particularly in Edinburgh. In the past – when I started writing the column and hosting tastings – the focus was very much on the classics: claret and burgundy. This is understandable as there has been such a long, strong association between Scotland and Bordeaux – claret was an important part of traditional merchant’s lists. This has changed dramatically and some of Scotland’s top merchants/importers, like Raeburn Fine Wines, WoodWinters or Alliance Wine, have some of the best lists in the UK.
Are there any columns that have particularly stood out to you, or are particularly memorable for any reason?
The columns that I really remember were the fun tastings I set up for the paper. I organised a rum tasting for the navy onboard a naval ship in Rosyth docks, which happened to coincide with the captain’s party on deck. I also hosted a sherry tasting for vicars – only the Episcopalians turned up, but in force. Other columns I have enjoyed writing recently have been after wine trips abroad, such as to Georgia, Hungary or Germany.
You host frequent wine tastings in Scotland, and also run wine tours internationally. Which wine regions particularly enthuse you when organising a tasting or tour?
I host regular wine tastings in Scotland for both consumers and trade. I have also been organising and hosting my own wine tours abroad for the last 20 years. We have been to over 20 destinations – covering the globe, from New Zealand, South America, South Africa and Australia, to many regions across Europe. Last year, in 2022, my first group tour post-Covid was to Germany, where we managed to cover five wine regions.
In 2023, I am organising tours to Jerez, Georgia and Hungary – and in 2024 to South America, Rhône and Puglia. Interestingly, I have found that wineries are so much more receptive to consumer tours than they were 20 years ago; they have realised how important consumers are – particularly now through the power of social media. The most enjoyable tour I have organised was probably to California and Oregon, just before lockdown, in 2019, as both regions are so interesting and dynamic – it is also much easier and quicker to deal with coach companies, hotels, restaurants and wineries when they speak English.
What does Rose Murray Brown MW have lined up for 2023? Any exciting plans or news to share?
I have a busy programme of consumer tastings in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews – I often do comparative tastings which people enjoy: Argentina v Italy, Uruguay v France, Alsace v New Zealand, Calabria v Basilicata, Stellenbosch v Swartland, Tuscany v Puglia. My wine & charcuterie evenings are also always fun – focusing on Spain, Italy or France. I love talking about food and wine pairings, so I host twice-yearly fine wine dinners at Prestonfield in Edinburgh and The Peat Inn in Fife, which are always very popular.
I organise regular trade tastings and host masterclasses in Scotland – most recently with Sherry & Andalucian Fortified Wines; Vins de Chablis; Wines from Spain; Wines of Hungary; Washington State Wines. Coming up this spring – I will be lecturing on Hungarian wines, then heading on to the vineyards of Tokaj – before my wine tour to Jerez. I am also just updating my website to bring it more up to date – so watch this space.
You can visit Rose’s website here: https://www.rosemurraybrown.com/