I got to interview Oz Clarke recently because he was coming up to Yorkshire for the Love Cooking food festival. It was absolutely brilliant having the chance to talk to him about wine - and he clearly still has so much passion for the stuff. I got his views on a number of interesting subjects: the best cheap wines; Robert Parker; his Christmas wine recommendations; his views on rating wines out of 100. We chatted about so many interesting subjects that I'm going to split this up into a couple of blog posts, otherwise this one would end up being ridiculously long.
What absolutely shone through is his passion, and without any hint of snobbery. That's partly why he's become such a successful wine writer and TV personality, I think - as wine writers develop their expertise, it must be very easy to lose sight of the fact that their job is to speak to consumers, not to each other. Oz very much speaks to consumers - he obviously gets to taste the very best wines in the world, and yet he is still able to enjoy a good supermarket wine. He appreciates there's a time and a place for both.
One thing that also came through quite strongly as we chatted was his love of a good drink that's packed full of flavour. I think sauvignon blanc was the grape he happened to mention more often than any other, and he also spoke with great passion about the bold crunchy fruit of Spanish garnacha, especially in the context of Christmas. As Oz himself put it: "The kind of stuff you slap into a glass and say 'here fellas let's have a glass of this' as against sitting around quietly and pouring out the Bordeaux and thinking, hey, let's talk about this. The garnacha you don't talk about, you just say bloody hell that's good, basically, let's have some more!"
Having said that, he did say red Bordeaux probably provides his greatest pleasure in the world of wine, when the mood takes him: "If I was rather more contemplative, quiet, you know mellow, wintry kind of mood actually; in December I'll be in a red Bordeaux mood."
I couldn't resist asking Oz about the scoring of wines - be it on a 20-point or 100-point scale, say - because it's one aspect of wine criticism that I sometimes find a bit daft. As much as I have great respect for professional wine writers' knowledge, giving an experience as romantic and subjective as a glass of wine a rating out of 100 seems both unwanted and misleading. Can you really be so specific? What does Oz think about critics publicly rating wines? "If that's how they wanna do it, let them, I mean, I just think it's all… it's not bollocks, because… I can mark a wine 89 or 90 or 91, I just don't wanna publish it. I might do that to help me over a range of 50 wines, thinking is that one just a bit better than that one, but I don't wanna put that down in black and white for the audience, I wanna sort of try and tell them why I like the stuff. Engage them."
And surely context affects the rating given to a wine? "Yes. Absolutely right. The idea of the context - a couple of points up, a couple of points down, with context. You can taste differently. Are you happy, are you sad, are you in love, are you out of love, you know, have you had an argument with your girlfriend, did you get out of bed the wrong side, is your mum playing up? All of these things change, you know. Especially with red wine - if you're in a bad mood it's really tough to taste red wine. You know, your mouth can taste bitter and dry and the wine tastes bitter and dry."
So is it better to opt for a fresh white wine in that case? "Yeah... or basically give up for the day and go to the pub, have a beer. That'll calm you down and you can go and do some red wine tasting."
The original Leeds Guide piece can be read here.