A communicator who's spent a lifetime making wine entertaining, Oz Clarke takes us on an unapologetically personal romp through many of the most significant moments in wine in The History of Wine in 100 Bottles (£20, Pavilion). Every bottle drained tells stories of "the politics, the science, the empire-building and the wars, the lucky mistakes, the brilliant guesses, the leaps in the dark and the human frailties that have created our world of wine".
It's important to celebrate the first white zinfandel of liebfraumilch or bag-in-box, he says, because "the eccentric, the bombastic and the mundane" have all in their own way contributed to enriching our culture. Few critics manage so well that tightrope between heartfelt praise of the popular and derision of the lowest common denominator. In communicating his genuine enjoyment of Gallo's Heart burgundy or Montana's Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Clarke demonstrates that a discerning palate doesn't have to mean a wine snob.
Most expensive bottles of wine in the world
Most expensive bottles of wine in the world
1/10 1. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, £8,310
The most expensive wine in the world is described as the perfect Burgundy. The price has been moving upwards over the past three years, so get it while you still can.
2/10 2. Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux, Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru, France, £4,894
Another Burgundy, this one is a collector’s item. It’s also quite popular in Asia.
3/10 3. Egon Muller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Germany, £4,577
The first German wine on the list, this Riesling is produced in the Rheingau vineyard. The 2010 vintage was given a perfect score – 100 out of a 100 – by a major wine critic.
4/10 4. Domaine Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune, France, £3,716
The highest priced white wine from Le Montrachet, this is also the fourth most highly rated white from the region.
5/10 5. Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Germany, £3,415
Another German wine comes in at number five, and critics have rated it as the best white in the region. It has an overall score of 98 on wine-searcher.com – not bad.
6/10 6. Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, £3,379
Another red from the Cote de Nuits, were the Le Musigny vineyard plays a pivotal role in local life – so much so that the village of Chambolle changed its name to Chambolle-Musigny in 1882.
7/10 7. Domaine Georges & Christophe Roumier Musigny Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, £3,202
How about that Cote de Nuits? Another entry from Le Musigny, this is the second highest priced wine from the vineyard. The 2012 vintage was given a score of 98 out of 100 by The Wine Advocate.
8/10 8. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune, France, £2,948
This wine has received more awards than any other white in the region. It’s also the most sough after Le Montrachet wine, based on user searches.
9/10 9. Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin, Rhone, France £2,403
The Ermitage (or Hermitage) is a rich Syrah-based red wine from the Rhone Valley. Ermitage wine can be traced back to 17th century, when it was an official wine in the courts of King Louis XIII and his successor Louis XIV.
10/10 10. Henri Jayer Echezeaux Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France £2,196
Yet another Grand Cru from the Cote de Nuits. Interest in this wine has fallen in recent years, but it’s still popular enough to justify its extraordinary price.
Flavour and history are conjoined on his time travels. After a wham-bam tour of the clay pots of Georgia and the amphorae of the Egyptian and Roman empires, Oz bar-crawls Pompeii's "rowdy drinking joints… so well-preserved that you can taste the wine, smell the food and hear the gossip even now". We learn how monks kept "the flickering flame of culture alive in the silent halls of Europe's monasteries"; how England's Christopher Merret produced fizz 30 years before Dom Pérignon is supposed to have worked out how to make wine sparkle. We relive Napoleon's obsession with the Cape's sweet constantia and discover how hock got its name from Queen Victoria and Albert's visit to Hochheim in 1845.
Clarke contrasts the destructive influences of Prohibition in America, Göring's greedy appropriation of the finest French wines, and the wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan with the figures whose achievements have enhanced our appreciation of wine. These include Louis Pasteur; Emile Peynaud, who modernised Bordeaux; Max Schubert, who laid the foundations of Australian fine wine; Robert Mondavi, the catalyst behind the rebirth of Napa; and the American super-critic Robert Parker.
We breeze though modern trends: the new era of Bordeaux; the global domination of cabernet sauvignon; the flying winemakers who "introduced the future to places stuck in the past"; the English sparkling wine revolution; and accidental phenomena such as beaujolais nouveau and California blush. Never short of an opinion, Clarke also goes on an occasional mini-rant, directing his ire at Champagne's bullying tendency, the ayatollahs of natural wine, and the negative side of Parker's influence. A hundred bottles more, please, Oz.Reuse content