I’ve been to a few events recently where I find myself apologising for not keeping up with the Wine Blog, so what better reason can there be to dust off the writing cobwebs than a rare visit to the North East by a bona-fide wine celebrity?
My muse in this instance is Oz Clarke; Thespian, writer and T.V. presenter who was in town thanks to Ruth and Kelvyn of Guest Wines, who had organised a Friday evening wine dinner and Saturday afternoon Masterclass at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle.
Oz is well known outside the wine world thanks to his almost 20 years as wine expert on the original BBC Food and Drink programme (alongside the eccentrically lyrical Jilly Goolden) and more recently after his multiple adventures with James May and Hugh Dennis on the BBC.
Whilst I will go out of my way to avoid the cult of celebrity that has grown up around reality T.V. participants, I am not averse to meeting famous people who actually have an obvious passion and knowledge of their subject, especially when that subject is my own personal obsession. I also like a good feed, so the evening dinner was much more my scene.
Arriving late due to horrendous traffic in the Toon (Go North East, my choice of public transport, did not live up to their name) I was met at the door by Ruth (proffering a welcome glass of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée) and Oz deep in a conversation he was trying (unsuccessfully) to extricate himself from to go to the loo!
Joining the other diners in the room I was pleased to recognise a few friendly faces with fellow NEWT Greig Wilson, manager of Majestic Wines Gosforth branch (one of the sponsors) and Suzanne Locke and Bill Oswald of AdVintage Wine.
I was seated at the same table as Suzanne and Bill which made for a comfortable and familiar evening, as Id last seen them as hosts of my recent wine holiday to Ronda in Andalucia and at the very least will meet up with them next year in Croatia. Also at our table were 4 others and between us I’d like to think we had a lovely evening of food, drink and sensible conversation!
The meal came in 5 parts which, along with the Nyetimber, were accompanied by a wine selected to tie-in with Oz’s themed talks focussed around his new book “The History of Wine in 100 Bottles” (of which I now have a signed copy).
- Nyetimber 2010 Classic Cuvée, provided by Nyetimber. Retail £27-£36.
Oz used this to discuss the changing wine world, with global warming threatening to make Champagne too warm for its classic style yet turning England’s south coast into the new promised land.
- Brancott Estate 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, provided by Majestic. Retail £7 – £10.50.
The wine (as Montana) that started New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc revolution.
- Yering Station 2013 The Elms Chardonnay, provided by Majestic. Retail £9 – £12.
Used as an example of how Australia kick-started varietal labelling and providing what the consumer wanted to drink, such as “sunshine in a bottle”.
- Marqués de Riscal 2011 Rioja Reserva, provided by Majestic. Retail £10 – £15.
Rioja was the example used on making wines people enjoyed drinking, linked to the use of American oak and reactions to phylloxera hitting France in the 1860s and 70s.
- Penfolds 2013 Bin28 Kalimna Shiraz, provided by Treasury Wine Estates. Retail £22 – £25.
Oz talked about Penfolds wines in the mid-80s giving us reliable, rich, ripe fruit with side-stories on the spread of the Shiraz/Syrah and the settling of German Lutherians in South Australia in the mid 1800s (it was that type of evening!).
- Waitrose (Symington) Reserve Tawny Port, provided by Waitrose. Retail £13.
Oz talked of The Treaty of Windsor, Phoenician traders, weird and wonderful grape varieties (including little red Bastard) and a drunken Abbott accidentally fortifying partially fermented wine and creating Port as we know and love it!
More to my taste was the Yering Station Chardonnay with its caramel-sweet oak mid-palate and smooth texture (although disliked as too oaky by others).
The Marqués de Riscal was a vanilla-oak infused delight; smooth and spicy with a dry core of red-fruit and relatively young tannins.
Although drinking well now it will last several years in bottle.
The Bin28 was the polar opposite; youthful, ripe fruit on the nose with a touch of spice and menthol, smooth tannins, sweet fruit and a touch of heat on the finish. A very popular wine.
The Waitrose Reserve Tawny was delicious, still a hint of youthful colour (I’d have guessed a 10 year old – the back label says 7 years average age) with warming, sweet alcohol and the start of those nutty flavours coming through.
The food from The Assembly Rooms was all good apart from a red wine risotto that, while flavoursome, was too crunchingly al-dente. Most enjoyable was the main course of lamb-shank which was a good foil for the fruity exuberance of the Penfolds Shiraz.
Oz’s short soliloquies in-between the courses were insightful and personal tales of how wines have changed over the years and why – along with a few ideas of his own on where this is leading us. Oz is a well-known New World fan, but with a delicious Rioja Reserva and warming Tawny Port on the table – not to mention the crisp, complex Nyetimber as an aperitif – there was a great contrast in wines and styles for everyone to enjoy.
Also in the room were local Magician Chris Cross, whose slight-of hand tricks had me easily fooled (I’m not a fan of magicians as I hate not to know how these things are done!); Matt Scouler of Beyond the Wall Vin-Garden (growing grapes in Northumberland); and, representing Nyetimber, Julian Kirk.
It was good to chat to Julian about how there’s still a struggle getting the public to realise that English sparkling is the equal to, and in many cases better than, most Champagne.
Before and after the meal Oz played perfect host, mingling and talking with those who expressed interest. Unsurprisingly I tried to monopolise his time, learning a little bit more about the man and obtaining a photo to add to the one I have with Tim Atkin, one of his partners in the Three Wine Men venture which I hope will one day come to Newcastle – only Olly Smith to get now!
Thanks to Oz, Ruth and Kelvyn for putting on a great night; a wonderful way to start the weekend!