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waters on wine

Oz Clarke is a leading wine writer and broadcaster who delights in teaching people about wine in an engaging and enthusiastic manner.Lucy Pope/Académie du Vin

While attending Oxford University in the 1970s, Oz Clarke figured joining a wine club was a cost-effective way to meet girls. He turned up to the first tasting in jeans only to find himself surrounded by a sea of male students sporting pinstriped suits.

He and a friend moved to recruit members from women’s colleges and make the club more democratic and fun. It was the start of the populist agenda that Clarke has followed for decades as a leading wine writer and broadcaster who delights in teaching people about wine in an engaging and enthusiastic manner.

Thinking back to his early education in wine, Clarke recalls how the elitism of the industry put up barriers for consumers. There wasn’t an enticement or invitation to enjoy wine from the traditional wine regions of Europe.

“It was up to us to find a way to learn enough about them, and to be lucky enough to be able to either find them or afford them, and then find a way to enjoy them,” Clarke says.

When wines from Australia and California producers arrived on the scene, they were a breath of fresh air. These crowd-pleasing styles of wine with easy-to-understand labels ushered in immense changes, which suited Clarke’s reassuringly down to earth approach to wine appreciation.

“I think I’m very lucky to have been able to dive into this turbulent flow of change in the world of wine, and thrash about and do my level best to help the change along its way,” he says. “I’m a populist of heart. I really enjoy bringing more smiling faces into this world of wine who had thought wine was not for the likes of us.”

To that end, his new book, Oz Clarke on Wine: Your Global Wine Companion, comes highly recommended as one of the most sneakily insightful wine books released in recent memory. Clarke’s passion for the subject invites us all to join his ongoing discovery of wine as an everyday part of life. It’s a fun introduction or re-introduction to the grapes, places and people who have changed the shape of wine and its enjoyment around the world.

Other gift ideas in the form of bottles join the recommendation for Clarke’s book this week. There are some splurges here, but also two go-to French labels that are safe bets to buy any time of the year.

Canadian Club Chronicles 44 Year Old, $329.95

Canadian Club continues to dip into its reserves for the annual release of its Chronicles aged whisky collection, releasing the 44 Year Old bottling this month and a 45 Year Old expression this time next year before leaving the circa 1977 stocks until they reach 50 years of age. The 44 Year Old is a lighter and softer whisky than the previous releases, with complex dried fruit, spice and vanilla notes. The price is a splurge but offers the rare opportunity to taste the oldest age-stated Canadian whisky in history (until next November). Available at the above price in Ontario, $289.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $301.49 in Saskatchewan, $294.99 in Manitoba, $329.99 in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Glenfiddich Grand Cru, $599.95

Glenfiddich recently introduced Grand Cru, a limited-edition scotch that’s aged for 23 years in old bourbon and sherry casks before being finished for six months in French oak barrels obtained from a Champagne producer. The result is a complex and smooth spirit, with a mix of delicate and rich aromas and flavours, including floral, apple and citrus and pastry dough. Available in Ontario at the above price and various prices in British Columbia and Alberta.

Collectible bottles aside, whisky drinkers would likely appreciate one of Glenfiddich’s better value for the money offerings, especially the spicy and flavourful Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt, $99.95 in Ontario, $104.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $95.49 in Saskatchewan, $104.99 in Manitoba, $92.75 in Quebec, $94.99 in New Brunswick, $94.95 in Nova Scotia, $95.19 in Nova Scotia.

Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2, $139.95

For the second release of Highland Park’s cask strength single malt, master whisky maker Gordon Motion focused largely on whiskies aged in sherry seasoned casks with a few used bourbon barrels to round out the blend. The rich and powerful spirit was bottled at 63.9 per cent alcohol and features the expected peat smoke, sweet and spicy flavours that are part of the house style with popcorn, vanilla and pear notes. First launched in 2020, the success of this concentrated and complex spirit has made cask strength a permanent part of the Highland Park portfolio. Available at the above price in Ontario, $131.49 in Saskatchewan, $139.99 in Nova Scotia.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2020, $18.95

Based in Burgundy, Louis Jadot has taken a keen interest in the gamay grape and producing top quality Beaujolais-Villages for many years now. The current release of this expressive, light style red is an ideal wine to have on hand for any occasion. Its succulent cherry and berry fruit flavours and smooth texture are easy to appreciate and enjoy. Available in Ontario at the above price, $22.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $19.79 in Manitoba, $18.15 in Quebec, $26.25 in Nova Scotia.

Oz Clarke on Wine, $59.95

One of the most enjoyable wine books released in the past year, Oz Clarke on Wine is a fully revised edition of his 2018 book, Red & White: An Unquenchable Thirst for Wine. Clarke has an incredible knowledge of the world of wine and a gift for storytelling, which makes this informative and opinionated 487-page release from the Académie du Vin Library a joy to read. Clarke’s wit and wisdom make wine appreciation anything but dull. Available direct through wineonline.ca.

Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne, $63.15

Made in a rich and rewarding style, Taittinger’s popular Brut consistently delivers a flavourful yet balanced Champagne that’s easy to appreciate. A blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier grapes from vineyards spread throughout the Champagne region contributes to the depth of flavour and complexity of this elegant and expressive bubbly. Available at the above price in Ontario ($58.15 until Jan. 2, 2022), $69.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $61.50 in Quebec, $69.99 in New Brunswick.

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