Book Review – Witty Wisdom by Oz Clarke
Wine by the Glass – Oz Clarke (Pavilion Books, 2018) – R155
Dr Peter Rating – Book: 4/5
It is a little-known fact that Oz Clarke and I went to the same school – The King’s School, Canterbury in England – and just 8 years before me. Better known perhaps is that the name Oz was given to him ‘in the school showers’ as he played cricket like an Australian, whose team was touring at the time. From there, the parallels diverge as I went up to Cambridge and he went to the other place. He has written almost 50 books. I enjoy my website writing but have yet to write my first book.
I came across ‘Wine by the Glass’ in a Cape Town bookshop and it immediately appealed. The hard, cloth blue cover and thick paper pages give an air of durability that would readily survive any wine spillage whilst reading with glass in hand. The book is small enough to fit in a holiday bag or for the pool or beach. Indeed, there remains a bookmark from Rick’s Café in Casablanca as a reminder of happier days when we could freely travel the world unencumbered by restriction or a mask. There is also a torn Tasting Menu from Oldenburg Vineyards with my notes written on it.
‘Wine by the Glass’ easily divides into 3 sections: the Basics, Practical Stuff and Becoming a Geek. The first section begins with ‘Wine at a Glance’ in which Oz Clarke brings his wisdom of wine down to 12 words, 6 grape varieties and 6 countries. Sadly, South Africa does not make the list. Sections that describe the grape varieties (Pinotage does get a mention here), wine styles, vine-growing and winemaking, together with a full list of countries and their wine regions – those that you would see ‘in a wine bar or stood facing a wall of wines in a supermarket’ – complete the section. The middle part is the practical how to? of wine. It covers essential tips such as how to read a wine label and wine classification, how to buy and order wine, glasses and openers, food pairing, how to keep wine and vintages. The final section is for the geeks who – like me – want to ‘taste like a pro’, have all the right word descriptors to hand, identify wine faults, build a cellar, and find out more. The back of the book has a handy aide memoire of the key wine countries and their regions together with a glossary of wine terms (aka jargon).
The book is a friendly read. The sections are short and so easy to dip into in any order. There is no Index but the Contents and chapter introductions well sign post the reader. One could read from cover to over in under 4 hours without difficulty. Throughout, Oz Clarke’s pacey yet humourous writing makes the book a pleasure to read. Pinotage, for example, is described as ‘the grape that doesn’t do what it says on the tin’ which is a fair comment that the Pinot Noir x Cinsault (Hermitage) cross of 1925 did not produce an elegant Burgundy grape that was high yielding. ‘At best it tastes of mulberries and marshmallows toasted on a November bonfire’, he goes on to write, ‘at its worst …..’. Natural wine is ‘organic on steroids’, New Zealand is summed up in 3 words “Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’, whilst the reader is told that a friend practised spitting in the bath.
The back-cover states that no previous knowledge is required. That is right as the language is simple and avoids the technical which, if necessary, for the topic in hand, is readily explained. I liked how Oz Clarke dispels the wine snob and ramps up how anyone can enjoy any wine with an encouragement to experiment, for it is very much my wine philosophy. The book has no photos save for some witty line drawings – the Old World v New World label: Grand Cru Classé Château Oz Clarke v Clarkey New Dawn Shiraz – is typical of the style and character of the book. I could not quite decide whether ‘Wine by the Glass’ was meant to be a reference book, guidebook or reading book. It mattered not as it was all and none. Oz Clarke covered all the bases and all the basics.
I thoroughly recommend whether you are a wine novice, an amateur or student of wine – or even holiday reader. There is something for all. ‘Wine by the Glass’ costs little more than a reasonable bottle of wine and will last longer too!