Corkscrew or screwcap? Find out what Oz Clarke thinks

Oz Clarke wine critic

 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.

Oz Clarke wine critic
Oz Clarke wine critic

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.

Stilton

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 Pocket Wine A-Z 2015
Oz Clarke Pocket Wine A-Z 2015

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 

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Warm yourself with glugs of Spanish grenache wines

Honoro Vera wine review grenache

WELL, what a week of snow. You may have escaped it , but if you didn’t I bet you couldn’t wait to be tucked up at home in your onesie. Don’t worry, that will be our secret.

Once the door is locked fast against the cold, is there a more satisfying way of thumbing your nose to the snow and ice outside by tucking into winter warming casseroles and glugs of peppery, juicy red wines?

It wasn’t planned this way, but two wines I’ve enjoyed most with my comfort food in the past wintry days were both Spanish, with garnacha at their heart.

The grape is known as grenache in France and is mainly found in blends in the south of the country. In both countries it is seen at the heart of luscious reds, distinctive rosés and in the southern Rhone, as a key grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I’ve warmed to this grape, native to Aragon in Spain, over the past few months. It has matador strength alcohol and dances flavour flamencos. It makes tempting, gluggable, juicy wine; but its alcohol levels can easily lead you astray. This is no subtle cool climate grape.

Wine expert Tim Atkin – often seen on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen show – ran a masterclass at a recent Three Wine Men event I attended and he described grenache as “a very old grape which loves sunshine. If it could walk it would be the first to the sunbeds”.

My first winter warmer was Honoro Vera (£14.99, Morrisons, 14.5 abv). It’s a bold rustic red from the Calatayud wine region in Zaragoza.

The tannins were soft and it tickled and teased with sparky white pepper notes and stewed plums.

Apart from anything, it had the most beautiful artwork on the label. A mysterious eye tantalised as I sipped.

The previous vintage Honoro Vera 2010 (by producer Bodegas Ateca) won gold in the International Wine Challenge Awards. The 2011 I tried was one of the best 110 wines in the 2012 Wines from Spain Awards. Judges – coincidentally Honoro Vera wineheaded by Tim Atkin – described it as a “rich red colour, meaty, spicy, with explosive bright sweet strawberry fruit”.

(You can find a full list of the Wines from Spain 2012 awards at www.winesfromspain.com)

My second Spanish warmer: Taste the Difference Priorat (Sainsbury, £10.49, 14.5 abv) is 40% syrah, 40% garnacha and 20% carignan and has powerful black fruit on the nose, and cocoa-edged vanilla. It has concentrated fruit to taste with a juicy, sultry finish.

Priorat comes from Catalunya and alongside Rioja is one of only two wine regions in Spain to hold the prestigious classification Qualified Denomination of Origin (DOCa).

Grapes grow on old vines on steep, rugged terraces in red slatey, mineral soils known as llicorella. The soil keeps the vines warm, helping grapes to ripen. The vines fight hard to seek the nutrients they need, resulting in grapes with concentrated flavours. Together with oak aging, Taste the Difference Priorat is a rich, complex wine.

Drink garnacha with big meaty dishes; braised or roast beef; especially with big bowls of casseroled lamb. Even torn chunks of rustic bread and slithers of Spanish Manchengo cheese can make an indulgent winter wine wonderland.

This column first appeared in the Liverpool Post on  February 21 2013