Wine buff Oz Clarke raises a glass to music

Oz Clarke and Armonico Consort in Drink to Music.
Oz Clarke and Armonico Consort in Drink to Music.

Oz Clarke – the man credited with turning Britain into a wine-drinking nation – is inviting Buxton International Festival audiences to raise a glass to his favourite subject.

The TV wine expert will conduct a grand tour of Europe’s best sounds and flavours in Buxton Opera House on July 10.

Drink to Music is a social experiment to find out to what extent drinking wine whilst listening to music enhances the music and vice versa.

Oz takes the audience on a journey of wine tasting, witty tales about composers and their love of alcohol, integrally linked with gorgeous baroque music, played by the critically-acclaimed Armonico Consort.

“We’ve got some wonderful wines,” said Oz. “And when the audience are listening, they have to drink.”

After a career which started as a choirboy with Canterbury Cathedral and continued professionally as a singer with the renowned Monteverdi Choir, Academy of St Martin’s and in London’s West End, Oz believed he was destined for a life in music, but acting – and wine – got in the way. He began wine-tasting as a way of impressing girls at Oxford University, only to find in Britain that the wine world was run by men in pin-striped suits who controlled what was and wasn’t deemed to be correct.

He “democratised” the Oxford University Wine Society, bringing women into the club and setting up the England Wine Tasting Team – which went on to beat all other European nations in contests.

“When we went to France they had all the TV crews there to show them walloping the English,” said Oz. “The next day they framed (national newspaper) Le Figaro in black at the shame of being beaten.”

And it was as a touring actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, supplying Patrick Stewart with wine in Sydney, Los Angeles and New York, that Oz literally found a New World of wine, the kind of low-priced, high quality products which now fill the UK’s supermarket shelves.

“I realised how wonderful it was and what rubbish we were drinking in this country,” said Oz.

But it was his work with the BBC’s Food and Drink programme which changed the UK’s habits: “I thought – we can turn Britain into a wine-drinking nation.”

And Buxton Festival can claim it was one of its own who helped Oz do that. One of the festival vice presidents, pioneering television producer Sir Peter Bazalgette, wanted to create the UK’s first televised blind wine-tasting – but his expert had dropped out.

“Baz said: Get me the actor who knows about wine,” said Oz, who was a huge success, identifying the wine without touching a drop by getting the audience to give him clues.

“I did it in the style of a panto,” he said. “The audience knew what the wine was, and I just played them so they would tell me what it was - and I forgot to taste the wine!”

To buy tickets for Oz and Armonico – Drink to Music, priced £17 and £21, call 01298 72190 or visit www.buxtonfestival.co.uk, or phone 01298 72190.