The Wonderful Wisdom of Oz

by Chuck Hayward

The Wonderful Wisdom of Oz

Post by Chuck Hayward | December 2nd, 2010

Oz Clarke

I recently attended a dinner where Oz Clarke was the guest of honor. When it comes to wine writers, Oz has risen to the top of the heap, which is marked by an abundance of other British authors. For years, they easily filled a large chunk of the wine sections in book stores...maybe due to the fact that England had such a long head start on wine consumption or perhaps because in America, it was quite some time before we had any writers who could tell us about the world of wine.

Early on, writers such as Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent lent their authoritative voices to the British tradition of writing books about wine with a broad scope. However, many books printed today reflect the current inclinations of the American audience, who increasingly prefer more specific and focused topics in their wine publications. For instance, Robert Parker has gained much of his popularity by being one of the world's experts on Bordeaux, while pursuing his passion for California cabernets and Rhone varietals. At the same time, Alan Meadows of Burghound created his reputation through his single-minded pursuit of thoroughly understanding Burgundy.

Just a few of Oz's books

As today's wine writers become increasingly more specialized, it is a refreshing and eye-opening experience to catch up with Oz, one of the world’s most prolific and recognized wine writers. He continues the fine British tradition of writing about wine with a broader stroke and more general perspective. That is not to say Oz doesn’t know his stuff, as his publications are great overviews which can serve as classic introductions or reference books that appeal to both novices and connoisseurs.

I think two things separate Oz Clarke from many of his peers. For one thing, he writes a lot. Our dinner was to celebrate not one— but three— new books being released in the States. This is in addition to his various newspaper columns and excellent television shows. And in between all that, he travels a lot, jetting across the globe to attend conferences and visit wineries while giving anyone who is present stem-winding speeches that highlight both his background in theater (including a role in the first Superman movie), as well as an epic sense of humor.

Oz Clarke with fellow writer & baseball fanatic Harvey Steiman

In fact, it was his wide ranging travels that led Oz to be one of the first to recognize that New Zealand was crafting some world class wines and his fondness for their wines was one of the reasons for this little get-together. Our dinner at the Slanted Door brought together an assortment of sommeliers, writers and wine buyers to sample some new Kiwi wines and chat with Oz about all things wine. Before he headed off to more book signings and promotional appearances, we gave Oz a San Francisco Giants hat to commemorate his fondness for the Bay Area's wine and beer culture and to remind him that there is no World Series for cricket.

Oz Clarke's new publications include his Pocket Wine Guide 2011, Let Me Tell You About Wine, and Grapes and Wines. For a great introduction to his style and humor, you can check out sections of the oft times hilarious "Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure" on YouTube where he is joined by a car geek as they travel California's wine regions in an RV.