A conversation with: David Way, wine writer, researcher and WSET educator

A conversation with: David Way, wine writer, researcher and WSET educator

David Way started to write about wine in 2010 and since 2015 has been a researcher and writer of study materials for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). David initially specialised in the wines of the Tuscan Maremma before broadening his interests to the rest of Italy, and beyond. His articles are published on his website, www.winefriend.org. His first book, The wines of Piemonte, for the Classic Wine Library, was published in 2023. He says, ‘My instinct to know about a chosen subject in as much depth as possible is accompanied by the desire to help others find their own path towards understanding.’

How long have you been writing about wine? 

When I became seriously interested in Italian wine 20 years ago, a friend suggested that I should write about it. At that time, the extent of my knowledge about wine writing was as a subscriber to Decanter magazine. The same friend also mentioned the emerging field of blogging. As a result, I started to write in the simplest way on a Wordpress blog I set up. 

In time this became www.winefriend.org. I focus on countries and regions I have visited: mainly Italy and France plus occasional excursions to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It’s now approaching 700,000 words in total. All that writing, plus a lot of wine study, led to my current job. Since 2015, I have worked for WSET as one of the two main writers of the Level 4 Diploma textbooks.

What’s your very first memory of wine – how old were you, where, when and what?

My parents were not regular wine drinkers so I don’t have any childhood memories of wine. My first memory of wine was when they returned to the UK from India where, as doctors, they had run a village hospital. Back in the UK, they developed the ritual of going to a local Indian restaurant on a Sunday evening where they had a bottle of Liebfraumilch to go with their meal. I was about 20 years old at the time. Little did I know then that off-dry wines can be a good match for mildly spicy food. 

Which do you think is the most underrated wine region? 

Campania has three great white grape varieties, leafy Falanghina, the unctuous Greco and the refined, mineral Fiano. I love the fact that hot regions can produce great white wine especially if growers stick to native varieties adapted to the climate. With neighbouring Basilicata, Campania is home to Aglianico, one of Italy’s great, ageable and tannic red varieties. Because this wine region is underrated, there are real bargains to be found in terms of quality–price ratio. You should then factor in the wild and mountainous landscape of inland Campania, the volcano of Vesuvius, the extraordinary ancient Greek and Roman remains of the region, the beautiful islands of Capri and Ischia, and, if you like a challenging city, the cauldron of life that is Naples. 

If you had to drink wine from one region for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Piemonte. It is blessed with some of the world’s greatest red wines, made with Nebbiolo. I love both the conventional long-ageable style and the fantastic contemporary lighter versions, for example Langhe Nebbiolo. In the latter you get all the remarkable array of Nebbiolo aromatics – rose, savoury red cherry, spice – accompanied by racy acidity and moderate but integral tannins. The supporting cast of red wines, Barbera, Dolcetto and the minor varieties, especially Grignolino and Ruchè, provide a huge range of styles from light and quaffable to structured and ageable. 

Then there are the white wines that are increasingly interesting. To the classic Cortese in Gavi and Roero Arneis, can be added the substantial Timorasso and the delightful semi-aromatic Nascetta, not to mention the versatile Erbaluce that comes in three styles or even the re-emerging Baratuciat. Piemonte is no longer only a region of great red wines. 

Further, we can add the great range of sparkling wine in the region. Tank method is the perfect approach to get the best out of the fully aromatic variety Moscato but is also used locally for semi-sparkling or vivace red wines made with Barbera, Freisa and more, a style that goes well with the outstanding cuisine of the area. One of the most exciting developments of the last two decades has been the growth of Alta Langa DOCG, traditional method sparkling wine made with Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay and aged for a minimum of 30 months on the lees. This resumes Piemonte’s history as the first Italian region to make wines on the model of Champagne, dating back to Carlo Gancia’s time in Champagne in the early 1850s. 

Finally, there are excellent sweet wines made by the passito method. High acidity varieties such as Erbaluce, Cortese or Nascetta all make great examples and are overlooked because of Piemonte’s reputation for red wines. So, in short, Piemonte makes just about every major category of wine. And yes, there are the occasional examples of wine aged under flor, ice wine and of course the proud tradition of fortification in Vermouth and Barolo Chinato. The region’s secret has been to make the most of a wealth of local, highly distinctive varieties in a splendid range of styles. You need a lifetime to explore them all! 

Who is/was your mentor?

There has not really been one person. David Thomas, now at Bordeaux Index, was an important figure as my local wine merchant. Martin Hudson MW encouraged me to go deep into wine studies. I am inspired by the poetic wine writing of Andrew Jefford who perhaps gets closest to expressing in mere words the inexpressible subtleties of wine. Jancis Robinson MW should get a mention for a lifetime of valuing and communicating wine knowledge with as close to objectivity as we can manage. Finally, Ian d’Agata has been a great pioneer for Italian wine and especially for Italian grape varieties. 

Which of your achievements in wine and elsewhere are you most proud of?

It was a huge honour and challenge to create from scratch the five WSET Diploma in Wine textbooks with my colleague Victoria MacKenzie MW. We drew on the expertise of around 70 external authorities to produce these textbooks which run to 400,000 words. I was the Italian expert for this project but also wrote parts of Wine Production, all of Sparkling Wine and swathes of Wines of the World, focusing on Europe and South Africa. Many of the photos in the digital textbooks are mine from wine trips in the preceding years. 

Following that broad sweep, it has been wonderful to write in depth about one of the world’s great wine regions. My book, The Wines of Piemonte, aims to bring to the attention of wine lovers all the fascinating wines in Piemonte alongside Barolo and Barbaresco. 

What would you have done differently?

I am an Arts graduate and student, but it would have been invaluable to have had a scientific training. If I could start again, I would complement my love of history, literature, music and the visual arts with a good dose of soil and plant science, biology and chemistry

If a handbag can be worth £30,000, then so can a wine. Discuss

The price of something is only what someone is prepared to pay for it. For me, the important thing is that once you have bought the wine, it is just a bottle of wine to be drunk and to be shared with those who might appreciate it. At least, that is what I tell myself when I occasionally buy a crazily expensive mature bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco, or Burgundy en primeur. And it is important to be grateful that I can enjoy such luxuries. A large part of me really enjoys finding great everyday wines at affordable prices.

Which is more important in a wine, aroma or texture?

Aroma first and then texture.

What’s your motto?

As I said, my website is called winefriend. In line with this, here is a motto I’ve just adopted: Raise a glass to create – and share – memorable moments. 

Back to blog