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Philippa Carr: Asda master of wine


Philippa Carr, 45, is master of wine at Asda. She lives in York with her husband Peter, who is also a master of wine, and her teenage daughters Flora and Alexandra.

No matter where I am in the world, I wake up a minute before my alarm goes off at 6am. I head straight for the shower, so I can beat my two daughters to the bathroom. I’d love to wear a white shirt to work but I have to wear dark colours as I taste wine all day and there are inevitable spills. The tasting room is kept cool for the wine so I wear layers, with trousers and tops from Hobbs, Jigsaw and Reiss. I wear make-up but avoid perfume, as smell is such a key part of the tasting process. I eat a bowl of muesli with yoghurt and fruit then head to York station to catch the 7.40am train to the Asda offices in Leeds. I walk past York Minster – the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe – which always puts me in a good mood.

I start my day in the tasting room, which overlooks the river and is full of racks of wine. I lead the team responsible for all of Asda’s wine selection and I’m also in charge of developing and approving 400 own-label and exclusive blends.

I became a master of wine – one of around 300 in the world – in 1991. It’s the highest possible qualification in wine and took an intensive couple of years to achieve, as I was holding down a full-time job in the wine industry while studying winemaking in my spare time. My husband had already qualified, so he helped me develop the ability to identify wines from all over the world. We’re one of only three master-of-wine couples in the world and it means our lives are one big wine tasting – when I get home on a Friday evening he’ll give me a glass of wine and ask me to name what it is! It’s great having a shared interest and passion but we’re not competitive with each other and we don’t talk about wine all the time.

I taste 450 different wines over the course of a range change so I spit out rather than drink it

My colleague Katie and I taste the wines blind [without the labels] to decide what we’re going to include in the range and to rate it against our competitors. We taste 450 different wines over several months during a range change, so we spit out the wine rather than drink it! Wine is a seasonal agricultural product, so each vintage is different. Still, we aim for consistency from year to year so that our customers know what to expect from their favourite bottles.

I adore Japanese food so I have sushi from the Asda canteen for lunch at 12.30pm. I’ve visited Japan a couple of times, as the wines I’ve helped to develop are sold in Walmart stores there. I travel to countries such as New Zealand, South Africa and Italy most months, looking for new wines or working with winemakers to create exclusive blends. For example, I’ll travel to Australia to add a chardonnay to the range, which could sit anywhere on the spectrum from oaky and rich through to lean and lively. We blend various samples together to get the right balance, tasting anything from a couple of wines to several dozen a day.

I visit the Asda wine aisle to chat to customers – there’s no bigger buzz than seeing a customer pop a bottle of wine I’ve chosen into their shopping trolley – the result of up to a year’s worth of planning and tasting. As it’s summer, customers are currently interested in wines with a lower alcohol content as they want a more refreshing drink.

I finish work at 6pm and travel home to York. Peter is a great cook, so he’ll make a chicken stir-fry, which we match with an aromatic wine such as Asda marsanne from southern France, which has lovely peachy flavours and isn’t overpowered by the fresh ginger. Or there’s nothing better than a chilled glass of beaujolais with a barbecue – light and fruity, it’s perfect with summery dishes. Even though I taste wine as part of my job, I’m passionate about it when I’m at home too.

After dinner, I catch up with my family, do a bit of online shopping and wind down by watching The Big Bang Theory or listening to the radio. Last thing at night, I lay out my clothes for the next day, read my Kindle then fall asleep straight away.”



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