Michael Hill Smith MW is a force to be reckon with, and one of the most vocal champions of Australian wines today. In 1988, Smith became the first Australian to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination. The following year, he united with his winemaking cousin Martin Shaw and established Shaw + Smith in Adelaide Hills, which has grown to be a leading winery in crafting cool climate wines in South Australia. In 2008 his years of tireless advocacy for Australian wines has earned him an Order of Australia (AM). He is also Joint Chair of both the Decanter World Wine Awards and Decanter Asian Wine Awards. In the interview, Smith talked about his disdain for wine pretension, his wine recommendation to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the legendary 1978 DRC La Tache.
How many years have you been aged so far?
I was born November 1954 – a poor vintage in almost all parts of the world. I prefer to claim the better and more highly rated 1955 as my year as I had not yet turned 1 when the grapes were harvested!
What led you to wine?
My family has made wine in Australia for six generations. You would have thought I could have found something less predictable to do after all of this time but not so. More significantly I came into the orbit of wine after the great Len Evans showed me just how fascinating and global a life in wine could be.
What’s your pet peeves about wine?
Pretension. Whilst I love discussing wine in depth my eyes glaze over when cornered by wine boors who are more interested in telling me about the size of their cellars than actually focusing on what is in the glass.
Describe what’s an alcohol-free day like for you?
A what? Sorry but I am not familiar with this concept.
What’s your secret passion?
Not so secret – great wine, good cooking and skiing with friends and family.
What kind of wines are in your wine fridge?
My serious cellar is a predominately Bordeaux, Burgundy, Northern Rhone, Piedmont plus Australian classics – traditional and modern. At the moment my small “working” fridge at home contains Roederer and Charles Heidsieck Champagne, a few bottles of our Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay, Riesling from J.J. Prum and a top Fino from Lustau.
What’s the weirdest wine you’ve tasted so far that you actually liked?
Not wine but in my 20’s I drank some authentic but illegal absinthe made with the banned additive artemisia absinthium aka wormwood known for its narcotic properties.
I liked its aniseed character and whilst I did not see the famous little green fairy the absinthe did made my lips go numb. An odd experience all round.
If you can recommend one wine to any leader in the world, who would it be and what would you recommend?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is a wine enthusiast, he is also a fan of Australia so I would show him our 2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir from Tasmania. I expect he would be as effusive about this wine as I am.
If you can drink any wine in the world, which wine would you like to have?
Predictably 1978 DRC La Tache. I have been lucky enough to drink it on a number of occasions – perfection in a glass.
If you are a wine, how would you imagine your tasting note would be like?
Appearance: no longer youthful but in reasonable condition for a wine of this age.
Bouquet: complex and interesting showing bottle development with some youthful vigor still in evidence.
Palate: Generous mid-palate with a somewhat tart finish. A wine of personality and interest that still has the capacity to surprise.
What makes you happy?
Roast chicken and a good bottle with my wife Stacey, customers ordering Shaw + Smith in restaurants, my children doing well, people laughing at my jokes and Champagne.
If you can only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Burgundy – both red and white.