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Oz Clarke: the man who sold the New World

Oz Clarke’s arrival on the UK’s wine writing and TV presenting scene in the mid-1980s coincided perfectly with New World wines exploding into the awareness of the British consumer – something he could well take quite a bit of the credit for. He explains why the wines of the New World made such an impact, on him and us.

I started drinking at the age of three. We were having a picnic on the banks of the river. My brother was drowning in the weir. My father was trying to rescue him. My mother was having hysterics. And there was this bottle of my mum’s damson wine. No one was looking, so I drank it. Delicious.

I’m reworking, reshaping, rewriting, revising my book Oz Clarke on Wine. That’s the first paragraph of the book. It goes on: ‘That put me off drinking till I was 18.’ Well, it was 19, actually. But why is this relevant? Because the world I grew up in was a wine-less world.

What happened during those 16 lost years? Nothing. Other people who end up in the wine industry may have had indulgent parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, with cellars full of wine and a desire to set a little fellow on the right path at an early age.

Not me. My parents didn’t really drink. My grandparents didn’t drink at all. So I didn’t.

And that was completely normal in those days. I read a report saying that during the 1960s only 5% of the British population drank wine. ‘Wine’s not for the likes of us’ could have been a mantra for us Brits. Wine drinking was a class thing. The professionals, the upper classes. Not many others. Labels were in foreign tongues, almost certainly incomprehensible to someone casually stopping by a wine merchant and wondering whether to take the plunge.

Read on for Oz and the New World plus the eight wines that mean the most to him…

Errazuriz La Escultura vineyard

In Casablanca Valley, the Errazuriz La Escultura vineyard provides the grapes for its Wild Ferment Chardonnay

Oz Clarke on Wine has just been published by Académie du Vin Library (£30)

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