By David Williams | November 15 2019
Here are a few scenes from the life of the actor, TV personality, journalist, author, and wine taster extraordinaire Oz Clarke, as revealed in—and plucked at random from—the pages of Red & White:
It’s the latter image that will be foremost in most people’s minds, certainly in Britain, when they hear the name Oz Clarke. As Clarke says in Red & White, when the show started, “Britain wasn’t a wine-drinking nation. Our vision was to transform it into one. Wine was class-ridden in Britain. We set out to democratize it.”
According to Clarke, the pair’s mission was greatly helped by the sudden availability of “exuberant, juicy, fruity wine” from the New World. And he and Goolden did indeed go on to become synonymous with wine’s—particularly that kind of wine’s—march to the mainstream. This brought something highly unusual for a wine expert: genuine stopped-in-the-street, talked-about-in- the-tabloids fame. But I do wonder if the combination of Clarke’s exuberant, occasionally fruity presentational style—the legacy of his previous career as an actor and singer in productions such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats— and his early focus on the wines of the New World might not have had another unintended effect. Did it typecast him for a generation as the thespy wine guy, the Aussie booze booster, the inexhaustible tipsy hedonist?
Well, that at any rate was my view of Clarke when I began working in wine magazines in the late 1990s, to the extent that I was genuinely surprised when my boss at the time, Tim Atkin MW, placed Clarke at the top of a list of wine writers I should aspire to emulate. I remember Atkin being almost affronted by my surprise. There’s a serious side to Clarke, he said, the side that means he’s happy to stand his ground on an issue of principle (such as climate change) or call out winemaking snobbery, cant, and fads. But in his newspaper work and his dozens of books, he was also just a “bloody good writer, one of the best in the business.”
All sides of Clarke come together while confirming Atkin’s conviction in the pleasingly eccentric Red & White, which is part anecdotal ride through Clarke’s life and times in wine, part perceptive and very current guide to his favorite wines, wine places, and wine people. The tone is deftly brisk, and the trademark sunny personality shines through the larky asides of drinking derring-do. But there’s serious thought alongside the wit, and flashes of lyricism with the lightly worn knowledge in a book that, rather like the man himself, manages to be a whole lot of fun without being at all superficial.
Published by Little, Brown; 656 pages; $30 / £25
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