The latest addition to the Singapore Airlines wine panel, World Wine Tasting Champion Oz Clarke is known for his entertaining approach to wine, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of it. He tells JENNY TAN about crossing from being an actor to a wine connoisseur.
You graduated from Oxford and performed with The Royal Shakespeare Company. Then, you made a switch to the wine scene. Is there a common thread between these diverse professions?
That’s easy – wine! Wine has always been a part of my student life in Oxford. My tutors used to bring out Bordeaux wines after class back in school as a treat, which is why I am still emotionally more tied to my Bordeaux wines up till today. I also learnt a great deal about wines from the actors in the troupe, and during our travels.
When did you first visit Singapore?
At the end of the ’70s, with the Oscar-award winning actress Glenda Jackson and Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame), we were enroute to Australia to perform the Norwegian play, Hedda Gabler. I remember the fantastic food streets in Singapore where we had a feast of hawker dishes.
Did you try the street food in Singapore with any wines?
Not at that time. But I did however, discover the beauty of Australian wines when we got to Australia. The bottles of shiraz were priced at US$1 per bottle – cheap and so good! I was used to cheap wine in Europe where they usually lacked ripeness. In Australia, quality, cheap wine had good fruit ripeness.
What got you interested in the wine industry?
When we performed in California, we were going to celebrate an actor’s birthday, and I went to buy some wines. The wine merchant asked me to try a California bubbly, which he assured was as good as champagne but at half the price. When we toasted and had the first sip at the party, there was a moment of silence. We were stunned by how good the quality was. I returned to England with the realisation that there was an entire world of wine that no one knew about. That was how I started writing articles about wines for magazines.
You appeared in many wine programmes, but the first (and probably the most memorable) was in BCC’s Food and Drink with Jilly Goolden. That was a hit! What’s the insider story?
When I landed the role, the old-timers hated me. Jilly and I set out to make wine more accessible, as it always had such a sullen and snobby image. We believe that wine has no language, as its descriptions are based on one’s personal memories of taste. So we made wine entertaining.
How do you feel about being the new wine panelist for Singapore Airlines?
I am, of course, honoured. The wine list at Singapore Airlines has an enormous reputation, along with the panelists behind it. I had the chance to meet the SIA sommeliers for a tasting recently, and I am glad that they had the opportunity to taste the wines and chat with the panelists, as this will give them the confidence to serve the selected wines.
PHOTOS VACCLAV, SONGQUAN DENG (123RF.COM)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.