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Oz Clarke

What are your top wine-buying tips for us mere mortals?
Set a budget. If you go into a shop and get upsold by £10 or £20 more than you’re actually happy to spend then you won’t enjoy that wine. Same with a sommelier in a restaurant – they can be rather stuffy and aloof and make you feel very pressured but don’t get upsold too far; a bottle that is £20 or £30 more than you would normally spend can spoil your evening. Remember, wine is about pleasure!

How can I experiment with new wines?
Trying a different country is a nice way to experiment within your comfort zone. If you enjoy French Sauvignon Blancs, for instance, but want to get a little more imaginative then look at Sauvignon Blancs from another country.

What’s your new book about?
This book is about the passion of wine and the experiences I’ve had with wine on my travels. It’s not just facts about wine. I find wine books so dull! I have shelves and shelves of books at home like that and have hardly read any of them. My top travel tip is to head to where the locals eat and drink. In a wine region, the non-descript restaurants where the vine workers go are often the best.

How do I get the best bottle for my budget this Christmas?
Opt for less wellknown areas. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and St-Emilion can be £5 or £10 more expensive than other similarly great wines simply because they are well known names.

The best way to substitute for Bordeaux, for example, is to follow the grape variety. Bordeaux’s main grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, so buy Merlot from Chile or Cabernet from Chile, Argentina or South Africa. The wines will be a bit richer but the flavours will be of the same kind.

If you’re looking for another good-value red, try a Côtes du Rhône (or Côtes du Rhône Villages are even better). Or if you like a fresh, crunchy red, no one does reds like Beaujolais and they are £5 or even £10 less than better known reds.

Any tips on supermarket wines?
Don’t buy the half price or special offers. If a bottle is £8.99 down to £5.99 then the bottle was always supposed to be £5.99 – supermarkets often hike up the price to then bring it down on special offer. By all means play the discount game, but opt for discounts across the wine range – 25 per cent off all Australian or French wine, for example.

What about lesser-known countries? 
Less obvious countries can offer superb value if you know where to look. Romania has some great wines – Romanian Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are probably some the best cheap examples in the world. More expensive but full of flavour and scent are red and white wines including the word ‘Feteasca’ in the grape name. Oddbins do Romanian varieties very well because their excellent wine buyer is Romanian.

We hear you like the pubs near home...
I’ve lived in west London for more than 20 years. It’s so friendly around Fulham with great pubs and good shops. I’ve been going to the White Horse in Parsons Green since I was a student and I also really like The Atlas.

What are your tips for entertaining at Christmas?
By all means spoil your guests but set a budget and just keep things easy. People often plump for the obvious bottles of Bordeaux but it’s very easy to spend £25 or more on a Bordeaux and still not be getting a particularly exciting bottle of wine, so experiment with alternatives as above. 

Red & White: An unquenchable thirst for wine by Oz Clarke is out now. (Hardback, £25).

©Keith Barnes