Wine wit and wisdom from the country’s favourite oenophile
OZ CLARKE is well-known for his appearances on television drinking, discussing and living wine, often with James May in tow. Needless to say, the tickets for his wine tasting event where he was partnered with Kate Goodman sold like hot cakes.
The event was held within The Vaults in Bolton’s Market Place Shopping Centre; a stone and mortar food haven complete with stone arches, cavernous rooms and mood lighting. I honestly thought the entirety of The Vaults was incredibly cool and a fantastic step forward for the shopping centre.
The only fault I could find was voiced by a mother in the bathrooms who couldn’t find a baby changing station. Solve that and Bolton is laughing with its newest trendy refuge.
The tasting got off to an interesting start when Kate Goodman entrusted her introduction to Oz who began to tease her mercilessly. She won’t make that mistake again.
Soon the helpers were scurrying around to pour out the first of our six wines, a Philippe Michel Crémant du Jura. Oz and Kate educated us on smelling the wines and how to pick up the subtler aromas.
They actively encouraged us to shout out what we could smell, assuring us that there was no wrong answer and so the first wine seemed to smell of anything from peaches to grapefruit at which the sages nodded, sniffed and spouted what seemed to be the entire history of the wine, region and production method, punctuated with plenty of anecdotes.
So it continued until the room had happily drunk their way through the six wines: A Uco Valley Malbec; a Shiraz; a Limoux Chardonnay; my favourite – the Pinot Noir Rosé Marlborough; a Lot 05 Leyda Sauvignon Blanc. Needless to say, we were a very happy bunch before we were even halfway through.
I soon discovered that the audience ranged from seasoned tasters who know their Malbec from their Shiraz to complete novices like me who usually just buy the wine equivalent of paint stripper. However, we all nodded along wisely with our glasses of vino as we were educated on the differences between Champagne and Prosecco, the impending Prosecco shortage and just how they get the bubbles into the bottle – they add a fermented sugar syrup, if you’re interested.
It was all rather fascinating but so fast-paced that my slightly wine-addled brain struggled to keep up which is why there are very few nuggets of wine wisdom in this piece.
I did, however, manage to secure a small chat with Oz who was an open book throughout both the tasting and our talk. Given a willing ear, he could regale you with stories long into the night.
What was your reason for hosting an event at Bolton Food And Drink Festival?
Well, they asked me. I like doing festivals around the country, I like getting to meet the people and if I don’t get to meet the people, I’ll never know what they like and if I don’t know what they like, then how can I try and be a promoter of good stuff, a persuader of people to enjoy the excitement of the world of eating and drinking.
Where did your interest in wine start?
University. Trying to get some sex and girlfriends, just desperately looking around me thinking, ‘how on earth do I get a girlfriend?’ I didn’t have any money and I thought ‘If I become a wine expert, I would be regarded as sophisticated an elegant.’ It was a complete flop. It did get me going on admiring the flavours of wines but it took me about two years to get a girlfriend.
What advice would you give someone starting to get into wine tasting?
New World wines are easier than Old World wines so Australian or Chilean. Chilean are the best or maybe Argentinian because they’re softer, they’re fruitier and they haven’t got as much acid or bitterness so when you get into them you either stick with them or move on. Lots of people quite like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir from New Zealand or Chile.
Don’t buy the most expensive stuff, buy fairly cheap stuff. What I would do is not buy the absolute cheapest, spend a quid or two more but never feel like you have to spend more money than you’re happy with.
Wine is meant to make you happy. It’s about fun and pleasure. It’s about being prettier than you thought and wittier than you thought and everyone’s going to laugh at your jokes and find you attractive.
So don’t spend too much money but definitely New World. Just open it with your friends, don’t worry about which glasses you put it in and always drink it in the kitchen rather than the dining room. And don’t spit it out.
Finally, what is the cheapest wine you’ve tasted and enjoyed?
I’ve had some I didn’t pay for at all. I’ve had stuff my brother made in the South of France that caused us to erupt, about tuppence a litre. It was pretty filthy but I enjoyed it.
I remember one time I eloped with a girl and we walked down a block in Florence, deliriously happy and excited, and walked into a tiny little backstreet shop and asked ‘Can we have some red wine?’ We didn’t have a bottle but he got a litre bottle from the back of the shop, wiped the dust off, squirted some sour pink frothy wine into it and gave it to us for something like 10p. We went and drank it in a meadow at the side of the road just above the village in the Florence Hills. 10p’s worth of bliss.
So not only did I discover I could easily develop a taste for white wines, I learnt to always drink wine in the kitchen and that I’m allowed to enjoy the cheaper brands of wine. So thank you, Oz Clarke for filling our heads with knowledge and our bellies with wine.
Photo credit: Emily Redding