I know, some of you might think I was hybernating as far as interviews, new books and all that Jazz was concerned.
I just had a few weeks of rough seas.
Now that sailing is smoother, I am getting back to my bad habits like interviews on wednesdays and weekly contests.
We start the Fall season wave of chats with Mark Oldman who just published Oldman's Brave New World of Wine 'Pleasure, value and adventure beyond wine's usual suspects' (Norton).
You might know him for his role on TV show The Winemakers on PBS.
Here are the questions that rolled off my tongue.
Q: Mark, is love of wine something that runs in the family or did you fall into it?
My family’s interest in wine was minimal. A passion for wine seized me in college. In the early 90’s at Stanford, I started a wine club called the ‘Stanford Wine Circle’ and being in relatively close proximity to Napa organized visits allowed me to bring in some of the top figures of the trade like Robert Mondavi.
Q: What leads a Stanford graduate to go from running a career site (Vault.com) to wine writing?
My colleagues and I at Vault.com experienced the dot.com boom and bust and survived it. The stresses of keeping a business thriving during that period inspired me to write and teach about wine in my spare time. After we sold Vault.com in 2007, what was an avocation became a full-time job.
Q: Was your new book, Oldman’s Brave New World inspired by a desire to share wines that often are on insider’s radar not the average Jane and Joe?
The average consumer can feel intimidated and, overwhelmed by the vast range of choices. Part of my job as a wine writer is being an educator, to help folks cut through the clutter and discover new taste sensations.
Q: In the opening chapters, you describe Australian Riesling as dependably dry, is it one for people who don’t like surprises?
You and I might like the off-dry German Rieslings but for many novices, especially in restaurants, it is disconcerting to get a semi-sweet wine when you thought you had ordered something dry. Wine lists in restaurants are often not user- friendly in that sense as they are not flavor flavor-specific. Australian Rieslings, however, are almost always dry – a fact that puts a lot of novices at ease.
Q: Could that petrol character in European Rieslings be a turnoff for some of us?
It is an acquired taste, one that a casual drinker might not expect. A good wine professional should be careful to avoid surprising a neophyte who isn’t looking for exotic aromas and tastes. They should imagine how it feels to order regular mashed potatoes and instead get spuds laced with sardines or anchovies.
Q: The book quotes Paul Grieco of Hearth as being upset by the constant association of Riesling with sweetness. Can you elaborate?
It’s because not all Rieslings are sweet. In fact, many don’t have an atom of sweetness. But better versions of Riesling which do have some sweetness usually benefit from a cleansing, counter-balancing acidity that makes the wine so irresistible.
Q: Does it all get back to words one uses to describe a wine to the uninitiated and sometimes a person using one word yet meaning something else?
To communicate our preferences, it helps to develop a vocabulary to describe food and wine. Descriptions, of course, are subjective: “Rich” to some might mean “buttery” or “pop corn-like” to others. Use words that make sense to you. But it does not hurt to pick up some of the”pro” vocabulary if it resonates with you.
Q: At one point, you equate Muscadet with Alka-Seltzer , personally I envision a bourriche of oysters, why Alka?
I only mentioned that to help the reader visualize that Muscadet hits your tongue, it often has a fizzy, sparkly feel
Q: Ariane Daguin of D'Artagnan mentions ‘Chabrot’, I see the image of my grandfather doing that in his kitchen, have you seen anyone doing ‘Chabrot’ in restaurants?
For those who haven’t heard of it, ‘Chabrot’ consists of adding red wine to your soup when you are getting to the bottom of it, lifting your bowl and lapping it up. I I’ve yet to see it practiced in restaurants. , but I’m hoping for that special day! Ariane likes it because it is a convivial way for diners to share the moment.
Q: Name your favorite spicy food with Torrontes ?
With this peachy Argentinian white light in alcohol, I would pick a Thai food creation, probably something with lemongrass .
Q: Do you really drink Vinho Verde while eating yoghurt?
Sometimes. The tanginess of plain yogurt matches well with the lovely crispness of Vinho Verde.
Q: Besides seafood, why do you suggest risotto or bean dishes as a good match for Albarino?
Richer, nuttier versions of Albarino complement the rustic earthier quality of risotto and beans.
Q: Turning to reds, do you like Chinon because of its low key (less alcohol) style?
When I first started appreciating wine and drank mostly California Cabernets, Chinon probably would have seemed a bit thin tasting. But my tastes have evolved. Give me a Chinon or a Bourgueil and crispy roast chicken and you have a happy man.
Q: As part of educating the public, should we emphasize that not all wines are to be drunk without food?
By all means. Wines with high acidity, for example, tend to taste better with food, the acidity cutting through. I would not drink most Cahors for example without a hearty meal. This is something that needs to be communicated. In that sense, the wine writer is like a curator for art collectors. He should guide you and help you broaden your horizons without being intimidating.
Q: Any thoughts on natural wines?
What matters most to me is how wine tastes. I’m not convinced that you can taste the difference in organic wines, though I wholly support vineyard practices that are positive for the environment?
Q: Have you ever bought wine because of its packaging?
While the taste, of course, is paramount, I do think packaging can enhance the overall experience. I’m drawn to bottles in which both form and function are maximized. Muscadet, for example, often tastes delicious but also often benefits from handsome, aristocratic-looking labels – making it an excellent gift when you don’t want to break the bank.
Q: If you were to share some words of wisdom, what would they be?
Be open to new taste sensations and seek out caring merchants and restaurants that can bring them to you.
Q: Last, your acknowledgements are quite detailed, did anyone complain you forgot them?
Not yet, but I do feel the sinking apprehension that someone I should have thanked will come out of the woodwork!
Thanks Mark for your time and a lively conversation.
If anyone has questions of their own for Mark, let me know.