I first came across Mark Oldman’s work in Every Day with Rachael Ray. Mark reviews wines for the magazine, and I contacted him directly. As we talked, I learned that he had a book out, Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine. I liked the title immediately, because it told me that Mark is all about having wine become more approachable for the average consumer. This is something I’ve been a fan of since the day Sutter Home’s white zinfandel turned on my light bulb.
I can’t even tell you how many Merlots I had tried before that white zin, always wanting to enjoy the wine. I was trying to run, before I had begun to walk… From Mateus to Merlot to White Zin… A totally upside down and backwards approach; one that many people have been on, I’d venture to say. Without the guidance of my Manhattan-drinking parents, I had no road map. Fortunately, today, we have people like Mark leading the way.
That White Zin starting point for me helped me realize that a fermented beverage held delight. Would anyone ever shame me into thinking that I was a wine woosie, because a Merlot never did the trick for me? Nope… I’ve always had a mind of my own; and here was another one, just like me.
Mark sent his book to me. How kind… Another great attribute.
I read it and loved it, because it’s filled with wisdom and humor… more great attributes.
This is the link to my review: Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine ~ An intoxicating wine book to treasure
I recently sent Mark an Email to see how he was doing, making sure that his address is the same, because I wanted to send some wine to him. He got right back to me, and told me that he’s got a new book coming out, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine. I wrote about it briefly as coming out this September, because Mark sent an advance copy to me, which I’m just finishing. This book is written to help us all step outside of our comfort zones, to learn about obscure (to us) varieties. (In other countries, these grapes are more of their signature wines.) And, he takes us to other regions in the world, like Portugal, that offer tremendous value wines with wonderfully unique flavors.
Mark’s found his calling… wine 101… which easily takes his readers to wine 202, all without the snob factor. His writing is fun, approachable, and educational… all the traits of his inner soul. I can’t imagine anyone not liking Mark and not enjoying his writing style.
I Emailed Mark and asked if he’d take part in my Q & A. I told him that I’ve interviewed really cool writers, and then I keep those writers on a separate page on my blog. He told me sure, but asked why I’m not on that page if it’s filled with “cool” writers. Always the humorous one in Emails to me, ladies and gentlemen, Mark Oldman:
[Q] Many wine writers also have a day job. If wine isn’t your job, what is and for whom?
[Mark] Wine is now my focus, having simmered along on my vocational stove since I started teaching about it as an undergraduate at Stanford in 1990. A few years ago, I sold my company, a consumer-oriented career portal called Vault.com, which cleared the way to focus fully on matters of the vine.
[Q] When did you start writing about wine?
[Mark] In 1990, way before I started writing wine books, I established a campus club called the Stanford Wine Circle and would write for club members “Anti-Snob” briefing packets about major wine types and producers.
The impulse to do this, and eventually speaking gigs and full-fledged books, has been motivated by a keen interest in innovating in the areas of education and consumer advocacy. All of my professional endeavors have been animated by these themes, from co-founding and running Vault.com to serving on several boards of Stanford. Even as a teenager I was drawn to consumer information; for example, at the tender age of 16, I participated in one of Zagat’s first restaurant surveys, back when they were just one guidebook solely focused on New York City restaurants.
[Q] What prompted you to start writing about wine?
[Mark] The idea for my first book, Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine, came from my students, who over the years had urged me to “put this stuff in a book.” That book and the one being published by W. W. Norton this September, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, mirrors my teaching style, which is always focused on providing what I call “easily implemented nuggets of wine wisdom.”
[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?
[Mark] I have a passion for expanding peoples’ wine knowledge as memorably and engagingly as possible. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I strive never to let schooling interfere with one’s (wine) education.
[Q] How has your job changed since you’ve started?
[Mark] We are in what I call a golden age of wine choice, one in which an ambitious new generation of winemakers and improved winemaking technology are revitalizing forgotten grapes and revamping wine regions throughout the world. The diversity of wines – and their quality and affordability – has never been greater.
[Q] What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
[Mark] La Tache 1962 at a dinner last fall with my friends Burt and Deedee. The first whiff slays you with aromas found nowhere else. “How does this happen?” you wonder, breathing in Asian spices, rose petals, stewed prunes, and tilled soil. The combined effect is at once ferocious and finessed, a vinous Valhalla that astonishes the senses.
[Q] What’s your favorite variety?
[Mark] Although I’m very much a vinous eclecticist who seeks bottles from different grapes and regions around the world, I have a special weakness for red Burgundy and Champagne.
[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[Mark] Wine drinkers indeed have unprecedentedly broad array of excellent, affordable wines available to them today. So many labels…so little time…so many good values. Every page of Oldman’s Brave New World Wine is designed to provide ingenious ways to take advantage of such bounty.
[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
[Mark] Perceptive and welcoming sommeliers. In restaurants, I confer with them all of the time, even if it’s as basic as asking which wines are producing the ooh’s and aah’s among diners.
[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[Mark] Double-fried frites with béarnaise sauce and a light, piercingly crisp red like Pinot Noir or Chinon.
[Q] What are your interests outside of the wine business?
[Mark] I’m a budding fan of contemporary art and follow the work of Walton Ford, Angela Dufresne, Dan Holdsworth, and several other emerging talents. I am also an enthusiastic volunteer for Stanford, which is fast emerging as the great American university of twenty-first century.
Lest all of this seems too high-minded, I satisfy my baser needs through raw horsepower. I have an orange-and-black-striped, lovably obnoxious rolling barbarian called a Saleen Parnelli Jones. “El Tigre,” as I call it, is freedom with a carburetor. Nothing compares to roaring out of Manhattan, sunlight glinting on chrome, all 400 horses at the gallop, the engine growling, yowling, and shuddering through you like a fuel-injected earthquake.
[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
[Mark] Neil Peart, the drummer extraordinaire of Rush, who suffered the loss of his only child to a car accident and then his wife to cancer ten months later. Somehow he survived these unthinkably ruinous blows, and today with his bandmates he is just shredding it better than ever.
Speaking of his bandmates, both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are unqualified grape nuts. I visited Lifeson’s wine cellar while researching Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, and I have some terrific quotes and video from it that will be launching soon on my website, www.MarkOldman.com.
[Q] For what would you like to be remembered?
[Mark] That I gave people more than their money’s worth.
(Mark certainly always gives me more than my fair share!)