What I’ve Learned…Oz Clarke

One third of the Three Wine Men with Olly Smith and Tim Atkin, the wine expert, author and charismatic television presenter, Oz Clarke, reflects on his enduring love of Bordeaux, the influence of the New World and what it was like to be arrested by Christopher Reeve’s Superman…

I started drinking wine when I was three. My brother had fallen into the River Ouse and whilst my father was trying to rescue him and my mother was in complete hysterics, I drank a whole bottle of unmanned damson wine. My brother survived but I bloody nearly didn’t. Ever since then I have absolutely loved wine that tastes of damson, so if you want to get a 20 out of 20 from me, make it taste of damson!

The university wine club and my desperation for a girlfriend ignited my passion for wine. I thought if I became good at wine, women would find me irresistible. I took four different girls in my first term and not one of them gave me a second date. They thought it was the most boring event they ever endured. I realised that my social life wasn’t going to improve but it really ignited my passion for wine and its beautifully varied flavours.

A bottle of 1962 Château Léoville-Barton finished the very first tasting and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a revelation. I remember the amazing flavours of cedar and dry blackcurrants and all the aromas and characters that mark out a great claret.

I still hold a great fondness for Bordeaux. I’m often asked what my favourite region is, and I have a few, but despite all their shenanigans, Bordeaux is still really where my heart is.

BBC Food and Drink was the Top Gear of its age. It was the most successful show on BBC2 and we had comparable viewing figures and that kind of relentless following. We tried to create a modern world of wine through television.

The work I did with Jilly Goolden set out to democratise wine in Britain. There was no way we could do that with regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, so we set out with Australia as our hero, followed by New Zealand, Chile, California and South Africa. Without those regions we simply couldn’t have done it.

The New World make things that much more transparent. In the Old World if you suggested a wine was Chardonnay that would elicit a response like, ‘no it’s a Puligny-Montrachet’ whereas an Aussie winemaker would say, ‘My name is Smith, the grape is called Chardonnay, and I come from Australia, mate’. It makes it a far easier and more accessible point of entry from an educational point of view.

The New World has the same sense of place as the Old World it’s just that they have been doing it for a few hundred less years. The New World is really good at finding somewhere or something new and making the most of it.

We have an issue in this country about feeling socially awkward and this is because of the longstanding class system. It’s not pernicious anymore but it’s still there. What we tried to do is make wine more popular and more digestible, and the New World played a hugely prominent role in allowing us to try and remove some of the perceived pretentiousness surrounding wine.

Try and have fun with wine. It’s accessible in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and many other places and people from every level of society drink it there. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t do the same in this country.

Wine should be fun and accessible.

The Balkans is beginning to wake up. Croatia is really beginning to show what it can do. There are flickers of light again in Hungary and Bulgaria, which is terribly important because they have some very fine vineyards over there. Romania is the same, in that they have amazing vineyards where previously no one was making the best of them.

Every single year you are going to find more stuff coming out of England.

Portugal is really coming to the boil again. The Douro, so long as they give up on the over-oaking and over-ripening, has a real chance to position itself as one of the real classic red wines of Europe.

The unoaked aromatics around the north west of Spain and Portugal, is exciting. And again, some of the over-ripening of the Albariño seems to be creeping back in again, partly because they have had some crap vintages, but thank god for crap vintages because it stops them making Californian chardonnay when they should be making twelve and half percent Albariño.

Germany may come back into the reckoning but the thing about Germany is that the good wines are really quite expensive and people are fairly unwilling to approach them; there is still a bit of a stigma there.

Sicily is a country in its own right with a very strong identity. I think Nero D’Avola is a fantastic grape but don’t over-oak it and don’t over-ripen it; let it express itself.

Areas or grapes associated with bulk wine can easily transform themselves; it’s just a state of mind. Cataratto, Trebbiano and Colombard are great examples. They can be used to make innocuous stuff, or you can try and enable modern winemaking to transform them into something else entirely. Colombard has been absolutely transformed and you can really make lovely wine, yet everyone says it’s a junk grape. Well it’s not and it doesn’t have to be. Would anyone call Picpoul a junk grape in the south of France? I hope not.

More haste, less speed is a fantastic piece of advice. Don’t put off until tomorrow anything you can do today, because it just gets worse, is another.

I was arrested by Superman in the 1978 original film. Superman grabs a robber by the scruff of the neck, about an hour in, and dumps him outside City Hall. That was me.

Christopher Reeve was a fantastic bloke. I said to him it must have been wonderful looking like he did because he knew he was going to get the job. He said, “Listen, that’s what I thought but I walked into the final auditions and there twenty people in that room looking exactly like Clark Kent.” But really, Christopher was absolutely the only Clark Kent.

If I was stuck on a desert island my wine of choice would probably be a great big jug of really fresh, new vintage and never bottled Cabernet Franc from Gignon, or a huge jug of never-bottled Fleurie from the latest vintage. I would probably share it with my mum. She would be great company.
CellarVie Wines will be presenting 24 wines at the Three Wine Men tasting event in London on December 6th & 7th at the Church House, Westminster. For details about tickets visit threewinemen.co.uk 

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Autumn Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on www.cellarviewines.com 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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