Oz Clarke is one of the most popular wine critics in this country. He is one of those people you instinctively “trust” when he shares his thoughts either through his books or his fun approach on our TV screens.
He has a busy schedule as the festive season beckons, with the release of his latest book Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z 2015 and some tasting dates with Three Wine Men. But he has taken time out to answer some questions from me and to share some wine tips with you.
When did you first begin to appreciate wine; can you remember the wine that gave you the “stop and think” moment.
When I was 3. I drank rather too much of my mother’s damson wine. The next lightbulb wine was at university – my first taste of old Bordeaux – Chateau Leoville-Barton 1962.
Advice to someone who wants to step out of their wine-drinking comfort zone but doesn’t know where to begin.
If your comfort centres on a single grape – like chardonnay or shiraz – check out different countries and how they use the grape. If your comfort zone centres on a country, check out that country’s different grape varieties.
Wine fashions change; or do they.
Fashions do change – in wine as in everything else. In the 1980s everyone drank German & liebfraumilch, in the 90s it was Aussie chardonnay and shiraz, in the noughties it was New Zealand sauvignon and Chilean merlot. Bring on the next fashion – it won’t hurt us.
Which, in your opinion is the most under-appreciated grape.
Cabernet Franc. It is thought of as an also-ran grape in most of Bordeaux, but an increasing number of New World countries – especially really new kids on the block like Brazil, Virginia, Canada, Uruguay – are showing it to be a wonderful, raspberry-soaked star.
Old World or New World.
Both. New World is not so much a place as a state of mind. Have a vision of flavour, try to make the consumer happy not confused, relaxed about the price not threatened.
Corkscrew or screwcap.
Screwcap is tremendous for a lot of wines, especially those like sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot grigio. It’s also great for lighter reds like pinot noir, beaujolais and valpolicella. For heavier reds like cabernet, shiraz, Bordeaux or Hermitage I still prefer the corkscrew. And I like the palava of getting the cork out.
Red, white or rosé.
Where am I? Who am I with? Am I happy or sad? Is it sunny or stormy? All of these things – and many more will affect whether I crave red, white or rosé.
Dessert wines: Is it time for them to come down from the dusty top shelves.
Not really. There are some wonderful sweet wines and they’re often quite expensive rather than very expensive – but they’re sipping wines, not gulping wines. A half bottle will probably do four, whereas a whole bottle of red or white will probably only do two. They’re still a special occasion theat.
The rise of Prosecco. Will it fizzle out.
Certainly not. Prosecco is a wonderful party fizz, bright & breezy, tasting of apples & pears. Keep cracking open the bottles. And they’re not that cheap, which shows we are prepared to pay for them.
I’m still a port guy, rather than a red wine guy. But it’s well worth trying a sweet dessert wine too. And I’d also go for big – vintage style beers – like Fullers Vintage Ale, or a Trippel from Belgium.
Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z 2015 (£9.99). This is the 23rd edition of Oz’s bible for wine lovers and it’s a phenomenal facts’ feast. There’s details on the world of wine by country, plus detailed sections on producers, regions, and what to expect from different grapes and their styles. For under a tenner, it’s a great buy for all wine lovers.
Oz is one of the Three Wine Men alongside Tim Atkin and Olly Smith. For details of events and much more, go to threewinemen.co.uk
This was first published in the saturday extra magazine November 8th 2014