Interview with Oz Clarke
Your work has been very helpful and inspring for my wine studies, especially ‘Grapes &Wines’ was a great contribution to me personallly.
I’ve discovered you are also an Irish descend, considering your heredity why wine? I mean why not whiskey or beer?
I am Irish. The Irish do drink a lot of beer. I only drink one beer, which is that black beer, which I do not wish to say its name because it is not nearly as good as used to be. It is the black stuff. I do not want them to be in any publicity that they don’t deserve. I didn’t think about beer. There is an absolute beer revolution going on and there is wine revolution. I wanted to be a part of both of them. The wine revolution is going on at least 20 years now, probably even longer, 25 years. When I first go on television, it was the trying to make that wine revolution happen. When I have written my first books, it was trying to say there is new way. We tried to find new audience and we found very good new audience for wine now.
When we look at your country there is wine revolution going on since 3-4 years. It is one of the most recent wine revolutions certainly in Europe. Turkish wines and maybe Croatian wines going with it, there is tremendeous move. It is very exciting and your revolution is being based, at least half of it, on your own grape varieties. Not on Cabernet or Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Although around Izmir you make very nice ones but I got much more excited what is happening in Anatolia and further east.
The pronunciation of our own grape varieties are very hard.
Hopeless, absolutely hopeless!
What can we do about Turkish grapes?
There are two things you can do. You can regard them as niche. The first thing is not trying make them mass production wines at the moment. Appeal to people who want something different. Because Öküzgözü and Boğazkere those two grapes have very particular style, I would not want to see that style made into oaky and soft style. They are much more stern, proud and almost severe but they are beautiful in the way the wines are. It is a commentary on Eastern Turkey. It is commentary on that magnificient, wild, hard retained world that those grapes come from and you wanna see them in the wines.
I am an Irish man I want to be there when there is a revolution. Whenever there is a revolution going on I feel an urge to leap in. Irish guys always want to be in revolution, that is what I like to do.
It appears that British wine experts dominate the wine world as opposed to French wine experts that I would have expected. How do you reckon?
We are much more open minded, I mean there is excellent French wine experts but most of them are only interested in French wines. The lucky thing about being British is since we are only a marginally wine producing country, we have to be interested in everything else. The old guys used to be interested only in France but that was the last generation. The new generation is interested in absolutely everything which is any good. We are lucky because actually we can do this. Because all wines come through Britain. Some of them stay some don’t but we can find out about every sort of wine in Britain. You can’t do that in Paris. I am trying to do wine tasting in Paris in a month but I can’t get any Chilean wine or any Australian wine I want to show some of the people along with the French wines, I can’t get it. The biggest merchants have sort of four wines which are not from France. But in England wines are absolutely in everywhere. In Harrolds or Selfridges or Tesco or Sainsbury’s.
Also lucky that English is the most widely spoken language in wine. When you try to communicate to the World, English is the best language. Because so many people speak it. We are very lucky. If I was a French man, I don’t know what I would’ve done, whether work at wine at all. I used to be a singer and an actor that is what I might have done.
Your only book on a specific region is on Bordeaux. Is there a special reason for that or is it simply flow of life?
It is where I started with, it is what I know best. When people say why you do not write about Burgundy, I say I don’t know well enough. I could write a general book on Burgundy or I could write a general book on California. I wrote a book about Australia also but Bordeaux has specific styles, Australia is everything. I still get more pleasure from Bordeaux than from almost any other region. I also find more challenges in Bordeaux, more intellectual and emotional challenge is in Bordeaux. I think that I like the aged wines and Bordeaux wines age to me much more satisfactory than anyother wines. Including the Rhone, including Burgundy, including Rioja, including Chianti, including Piedmont. I don’t know any of them age in the interesting way that Bordeaux does.
Chinese are buying Chateaux in Bordeaux, do you think this will effect Bordeaux in some way?
No, it will effect those chateaux, that’s all. The Chinese will want the wines remade round away and probably soft away. They don’t like on whole too much bitterness. It is generalizing about their palate. In general when you go to a culture just starting the red wine as first time, as the Chinese Culture is. It is not the culture which goes with that food culture particulary. If it is gonna work over there, it is gonna have to be a quite an effort to make a red wine culture work in China. Even though red is the lucky colour.
Actually when it comes to the culture of the food that you eat going with the wine you drink, all the European countries started like that. They started from food cultures. The only peoples Americans and New Zealanders and may be modern Chilieans who done a little bit more, actually drink wines in their own rights. Most cultures and yours is for example, your wines are made to drink with food. There is very exciting food culture out there, one of the most exciting food cultures in whole Europe. Turkish food is even more excited than Greek food, do you think why? It shouldn’t be much different.
Because of the Ottoman Empire?
But Ottomans were in charge in Greece hundred of years.
Yes, but there are so many people living in our country who came from different cultural backgrounds.
Oh may be that, but I think it is just more easier, Turkey got more fertile land than Grece. You are lucky.
To what extent do you think do the “flying wine makers” and some joint ventures as seen in South America have an impact on the wine world? My question focuses on whether they are a treat to ‘authenticity’ and/or a standardization of wine?
They do both, for example you got an lovely guy in Turkey. Daniel O’Donnell. He’s done tremendous work with one of your big companies and he is not trying to make american wine.
One of the best things about flying winemakers, it is old fashion term now, they are doing this over 20 years,
They showed people simple things like how to keep a vat clean. How not to have a lunch break in the middle of some important winery work. They are important to show people the clean way of making wine. When they make a mistake is when they try to force a Turk, or a Greek or a Sicilian to make, say an Australian or Californian wine. But in terms of showing how to make modern attractive wines, I think they’ve done tremendously good job. And they are very important.
What normally happens is the young winemakers, the man or woman of country concerned, they learn from them, and they say, ok now we’re gonna do the Turkish way or do the Greek way.
Do not forget tradition of your country but learn the way, that the modern wine world has benefited massively from Australians particularly, New Zealanders and some English.
The Americans sometimes seem to be the one who impose themselves too much, and French are sometimes certainly more dangerous, they are trying to make French wines, and normally modern times French wines, lots of oak, lots of alcohol. I don’t know where this idea come from.
What they’ve done, flying winemakers, and again it is old fashion term, is terribly important. It is important to show a generation of a country’s winemakers the modern way and that’s up to them to decide. Do you do on the modern way or what your parents did. But you need to know what the modern way is.
Worlwide, Brazil is not the easy place to make wine. We don’t wanna see French type wines made in Brazil, why? Lets see what Brazilian wines can be. Brazil is a very particular place, humid, its warm, a lot of rain fall, you can’t just say we will make Bordeaux or Burgundy up there, it is not gonna work. Same as you can’t say I make Bordeaux or Burgundy in Eastern Anatolia and why would be? Some people will trybut completely unsuited to that kind of thing.
I like indigenous varieties, for example on the island I live during spring and summer times wineries make wines from the island’s own grapes, ok they are not outstanding but they are unique and you can’t find them anywhere else. And usually they are the cheapest.
Cheapest wine is often the best wine!
I love it, when I find some good wine in very reasonable prices. I have your book about wines under 10 pounds, and I really like the idea of value for money.
So, do I, if you go to local grape varieties, not may be lots of oak, not made too alcoholic, they are normally the cheapest wines. When I go travelling I am always saying, don’t show me your reserve, don’t show me your special wine, show me your basic wine. They often say you won’t like it. I say thats for me to decide. I want to see the basic stuff. It is the only through the see basic stuff, you understand the country. You don’t understand the country by seeing great, big rich, heavily oaked, high alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon from Izmir.
Most people in my country think that if prices are higher, if the reputation is higher, if its from renowned estate, the better the wine is.
That’s what everybody thinks, especially when people starting out. If the Turkish wine culture is developing, it seems to me when I was in Istanbul last time, they will often say expensive is better. If it is wealthy middle class, who are developing at wine culture. It will be partly about through developing image which will be about money. If that’s happening, it happened in Spain, it happened in Portugal, it definitely happened in California, it happened in many parts of France, it does happens.
Is a screw cap a good thing? People sometimes think that cheap and poor wines are in screw caps.
The most expensive wines come from New Zealand and some of the most expensive wines from Australia will be in screw cap. It is the case what kind of wine you are making, I think white wine will drunk young, the main thing is controlling sulfite.
In Turkey most people thinks crew cap is useless.
But they are just starting it, some good people have to put some of their wines on the screw cap. If they only put cheapest stuff on screw cap, then they are digging their own grave. That’s what the American did. They only put the cheapest wine on the screw cap. E&J Gallo went to cork, saying we are going to cork to show our wines are more expensive. Firstly, absolutely reck the balance in the cork forest, because it was far too much cork plying all of a sudden. Secondly they pushed screw caps down the rocks in America, most unfairly.
In this country we are very lucky, Tesco decided to go into screw cap in a big way, our biggest supermarket that was very very helpful, and you don’t often say thank you to big supermarket, we did this time. We are the biggest importer of New Zealand wines, and New Zealand went screw cap 11 years ago. We said we have had enough. I was judging down New Zealand 11 years ago and we were returning 30-35 percent of our wines because of bad corks. We just said we have had enough. We had big phone conversations. I think it was Tim Atkin or Charles Metcalfe with the New Zealand producers and the Clare Valley producers, all on the phone together saying: if you’ll do it we’ll do it. We were saying: come on fellows. Jeffrey Grosset, god bless him, stood up, (winemaker of the year award Australia) he said: I’ll do it. If Jeffrey Grosset can do it, top winemaker in Australia, anybody can do it. So, the New Zealand went, thank god and nearly all of them do it. Who didn’t, ‘Cloudy Bay’. Why because they are owned by Louis Vuitton. But even they are on screw cap now. They wouldn’t start with it though.Screw cap has its faults but every important move does.
Considering that on average you’re tasting 50 to 60 wines a day, does this distance you from wine? Sometimes up to 200 wines I guess
When you’ve done 200 hundred wines in a day, and anyone says lets go out and have a wine dinner, I say I don’t wanna have wine dinners, I wanna have a local beer when I finished. Because you’ve got so bored of it. I love music but if I listen all day music I want silence. I love reading literature but when I have read literature all they, I wanna go watch a film. I never wanna do the samething all the time. Some people do too much wine, and don’t talk about anything else. There is a wonderful phrase about our national game criket, which is, written by a west Indian writer, he said “what the those of criket know who only criket know” Just as the same in wine, “what the those of wine know who only wine know”. Wine is just one of the great things of being alive. It is no more important than music, no more important than writing, no more important than clothing and fashion, no more important than sun rising in the morning and wind blowing across the hill top, it is not more important than that, it is part of that. And that’s why, you know, when people ask what is your best wine, I said I have no idea. There isn’t the best wine. There is happiest moment. I always know, tomorrow I will be happier than even I was the day before, and I’ll find a wine I like even more than the one I like yesterday.
You said your favourite drink is Jersey Organic Milk in an interview…
Jersey Unpasteurized Organic Milk or really good hoppy pint of beer. Normally I will choose those over wine. Because those are kind of drink you just drink and say ‘that was good’ and you don’t normally do that with wine. Sometimes with wine, with a cheap wine normally, you drink and say ‘ Oh great, pour me some more’. And it is not normally a 100 pound bottle of wine, it is normally a bottle of Beaujolais, it is a bottle of Garnacha, it is bottle of something you found juicy and fresh. Think about a fancy person is pouring a glass for you, and you love the view and you’re happy with the sun came up in the right place and you say this is the perfect wine for me.
Now addressing you as an actor, with regard to three of wine films namely “Side Ways”, “Bottle Shock” and “A Good Year” to which performer do you feel close with personally? Side Ways: Paul Giamatti or Thomas Hadden Church, Bottle Shock: Alan Rickman, A Good Year: Albert Finney or Russel Crowe
I don’t really feel close to any of them although I know several of them. In Side Ways, I rather be closer to the girls, because the girls were fantastic. If you ask which one do you wanna be like, I think I would like to be Sandra Oh. I like to be her. Really good classy, attractive girl on a motorcycle who loves Pinot Noir. I rather be her than any other guy.
Many thanks for your time.
Lovely to see you again.