Saturday, February 22, 2020

A Case of Questions with Mark Squires, Journalist, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

Imagine starting off your professional life as a lawyer and then giving it all up once those velvety tannins, that piercing acidity, the eternal caudalie and notes of [insert your favorite aromas] of a fine wine hit your palate like a teenager struck by wave upon wave of unadulterated lust.

Something like this seemingly happened to Mark Squires, one of Robert Parker Wine Advocate's main wine reviewers. In the late 1980s, following his discovery of fine wine during a series of visits to France, Mark Squires jump-started his second career, teaching wine classes and writing about his newfound love during his spare time as an attorney in Philadelphia. In 1995, he launched his own website, one that established him as a preeminent reviewer, being frequently featured in Food & Wine, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Enquirer and Business Week. A few years later, Mark Squires joined the Wine Advocate team, becoming the company's go-to guy on all-things Portugal (lucky man!), while also covering Eastern Europe, Virginia (Go Hoos!) and our beloved Rock, among others.

We've miraculously managed to snag an interview with Mark, who had plenty to say about Cypriot wines and his rise as a wine journalist from the ashes of the legal world. Whatever you do, read his embarrassing episode involving wine; it's one of the best we've featured so far. First growth "blend" anyone?

Why wine? 

I tried some. I liked some. I became obsessed. It's better than being a lawyer.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you? 

As a child I was introduced on occasion to hideous sweet wines largely for religious events. It's a wonder I ever tried wine again. But I eventually came to like things like Mouton Cadet in my early 20s. It didn't get serious for another few years though—when I started trying things like Mouton Rothschild, Mondavi Reserve Cabernet and Arnoux Vosne-RomanĂ©e.

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

Impossible to answer—depends on the mood, the occasion, the meal. I have never believed in "it has to be this one." I'm eclectic and I like many things. I can enjoy inexpensive but interesting wines just as much as fabulous trophies. In fact, these days I'm kind of sick of trophy wines. Too much money for too little thrill.

With Manuel Lobo of Quinta do Crasto in Douro

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

As suggested in the prior answer, I'm eclectic. I like some things more than others, to be sure, but I like diversity. Many things that aren't absolute favorites still have a place. It would be boring to drink the same things over and again, even if they were my absolute favorites. That said, I do especially like Bordeaux, Riesling from various places, and Port from Portugal. But a lot of times I'm reaching for Moschofilero or Loureiro or...well, there is no end to this answer in theory.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing? 

I think Cab'n'Cow—that is steak and Cabernet Sauvignon (or a blend). I have to say in white that Assyrtiko (maybe especially oaked Assyrtiko) goes very well with linguini and white clam sauce.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

Cyprus has some interesting grapes—which I feel is important in terms of creating an identity. But it sure is hard work promoting grapes like Morokanella, Promara and Maratheftiko. There needs to be more producers doing these wines AND educating people about them. First, you have to have a critical mass of good producers. Then, you have to work on getting the message out. No one is just going to beat down the door because you have good wines. Both parts matter. Honestly, I think selling wine is harder than making it these days.

With Assyrtiko magician Paris Sigalas at a London event

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

It's going to be a slow but (hopefully) steady course upwards. I think the days when there is a "big bang" and some region suddenly arrives—those days no longer exist. There is too much competition. Every region like Cyprus has to be prepared to be slow and steady. Take small victories every year. Keep plugging away. Keep educating on the grapes and terroir. Get a foot in the door in international markets. Keeping prying it open, a little at a time. Don't get discouraged.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world? 

I love being introduced to new things. I hate being the "same old, same old" guy. I mostly cover emerging regions, and that has given me the ability to see wines from Mantinia, Naoussa, Santorini and so on that I might never have seen. I understand everybody has a lot to choose from. It's hard finding the time to taste everything. This job leads me into interesting areas and makes me pay attention. I've acquired new favorites that I will drink for the rest of my life.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

It is probable that I will still be doing this, but I don't really have a five-year plan.

Collecting awards in Lisbon

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

Hard question. So many good choices, but how about Randall Graham (Bonny Doon Vineyard)? He's just so funny.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior? 

So many. So many are unprintable. With others, if I told you, I'd have to kill you. Here's a gentle one: I was a member of a group that was having a big night—we had all the first growths in Bordeaux, plus some things like Petrus and what not, from a particular year—1985 as I recall. We had so many wines that, alas, we were even spitting and dumping wines of that caliber a little. Yes, a travesty. (And honestly, that's why I don't like those crazy tastings any more.) The dump/spit bucket was kind of full. One of the guys, drunk, looked at some other clients in the restaurant who were kind of staring us, and decided to go around and offer them pours from the dump bucket. They didn't realize what it was. Everyone seemed happy. I tasted a little too—a blend of Margaux, Latour, Mouton, Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, etc—it was actually good. If you could ignore the sanitary aspects. Hey, the alcohol kills germs.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot wine? 

I'm a fan of Commandaria, but I always shy away from words like "favorite" and "best." They are too much a matter of taste and a matter of the moment. Let's concentrate on things off-the-beaten-track, and recent, since those are things I'm focusing on now. I really liked the Vouni Panayia 2017 Woman in the Wine Press I just reviewed recently.

You can reach Mark via email, Twitter and Instagram.