LONDON — Australian sommelier Matt Skinner wants to draw wine drinkers out of their comfort zone. “It’s about not sticking to the same old, same old,” says Skinner, whose book, “Thirsty Work” (Running Press), was recently released in the U.S. “Why always buy the same bottle of Pinot Grigio, when there are three or four other varieties you haven’t heard of before, all at the same price?”

He may sound gruff, but with his long hair, blue jeans and broad Australian accent, Skinner is far from an intimidating figure. Rather, his irreverent approach and casual style are similar to that of his mentor, Jamie Oliver, whose latest cookbook, “Jamie’s Italy,” is at the top of the charts here.

The two met six years ago when Oliver was touring Australia to promote his second cookbook, “Return of the Naked Chef.” The Londoner was so impressed with Skinner that he asked him to move to England and work at his restaurant, Fifteen, a favorite of celebrities including Bill Clinton and Robert De Niro.

De Niro, in fact, reminds Skinner of a wine varietal and he says so in the book. The actor and Sangiovese are both “classically Italian and definitely stylish.” Skinner also draws up crib sheets for well-known wines such as Chardonnay (“The Coca-Cola of the wine world,” he says) and guides his audience through the basics of wine production in “Thirsty Work.”

“I wrote it with my friends in mind,” says Skinner, adding that he’s included a glossary in a bid to demystify wine-tasting terms. “I want people to know what wine they like, but knowing why they like it is even better.”

As it turns out, Skinner’s path to wine was something of an accident. He was faced with an ultimatum of either learning about wine or losing his job in a Melbourne liquor store after his boss caught him reading magazines rather than working.

“I only agreed to it as I needed the money to go surfing,” laughs Skinner, who found it was the first subject he’d been inspired by, and says that wine continues to surprise him today. “It’s not just about the classics. Wines from Asia, Greece, the south of Italy and Hungary are what make the wine business interesting.” The wine list that Skinner has compiled for Fifteen features a red wine from India, and he’s mulling adding a wine from Thailand.

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And for Skinner, it’s more about studying a wine than immediate first impressions, especially in a trade known for its stuffiness.

“I remember one of my first trade tastings, I walked up in trainers and a denim jacket into a room full of pinstripe suits,” Skinner says. “But that snobbish attitude is disappearing really quickly. I’m a firm believer that passion and knowledge count for a lot more than what you’re wearing.”

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