WINE expert Oz Clarke is keeping an eye on Dorset – because he reckons that in a few years time, thanks to global warming, it could be producing significant quantities of his favourite drink.
“All these great limestone banks, which come to an end at Portland Bill, have the same soil as Chablis and Sancerre,” he explained. “There’s no question that you will see vineyards here. I would have thought there was the potential for hundreds of acres of very fine vineyards between here and Weymouth.”
The talkative television personality was in Bournemouth to sign copies of his latest book, about Bordeaux, and to advise customers at the new Wine Rack store in the Westover Retail Park, Castle Lane East, what to drink with their turkey and Christmas pudding.
He has fond memories of this area: visiting his aunt, who ran the sub-post office at West Moors; playing cricket; and of drinking at the Dormy Hotel and New Forest pubs.
Oz first became interested in wine while studying at Oxford. “I only had £4 a week to spend and used to save up all term to take one girl to lunch. The university wine society was subsidised. It was £2 a term. You got four tastings and could take a guest, so I thought: ‘Four dates’.
“I got involved in music, theatre and sport, but the wine thing stuck with me. I realised I really liked the flavours and got into the university wine tasting team.”
Oz used to be a full time actor and singer, appearing in West End shows including Evita and Sweeney Todd and touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His film appearances include playing a thief in the 1978 Superman movie.
He became a full-time writer in 1984 and was appointed wine correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. More widespread recognition followed through television, especially his pairing with fellow wine buff Jilly Goolden on BBC’s Food and Drink.
More recently, Oz has been on televised road trips with Top Gear presenter James May. He calls the most recent series, which starts on January 6, Oz and James Drink for Britain (it should be to Britain).
“I wanted to film at the Royal Oak at Fritham, out in the Forest. It’s an old-fashioned wonderful pub, but we just ran out of time. The weather was so bad that everything took longer,” he said.
His enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and he soon has me tasting (and buying) a delicious French white wine from a surprising source.
“Bordeaux is always regarded as the pinnacle of red wine, although a lot of the vineyards are better at making white wine,” he explained. “The French have a great desire not to make it easy for people to choose their wines. I persuaded them to put sauvignon blanc on the label.”