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It had been a while since I had taken a peek at Oz Clarke’s Wine Guide.  In fact, the last time I looked at it was when my wife received a copy for her Apple Mac which was traded in two years ago (and, after checking, the Oz Clarke Guide was 1998’s which is forever in software but not wine).  I received a copy of the 2002 Guide from Focus Multimedia in the UK.  They had scanned our website and offered me the opportunity of reviewing the latest release (and, with no strings attached).  Here are my thoughts.

Oz Clarke is a household name in the UK.  For those of us unenlightened US wine drinkers, Oz is a regular on the BBC’s Food and Drink program.  The software packaging claims that Oz Clarke’s Wine Guide 2002 is “the essential guide to choosing, evaluating and enjoying wine”.  While I believe that this guide is a reasonable start for the beginning to intermediate wine lover, I have to downplay the marketing statement as appropriate for all levels.  The Wine Guide 2002 is an excellent educational tool for wine lovers attempting to broaden their knowledge of wines and expand their wine consumption habits.

Oz’ Wine Guide packaging comes in a DVD-style tall plastic enclosure which is a substantial improvement over most of the CD cases.  Appropriately, the program opens with an opportunity for a video clip of Oz Clarke and video clips are scattered throughout the program, offering interesting comments and a pleasant diversion from a standard fare menu with written explanations.  Oz does a great job of narrating, something you might expect from a Shakespearean actor whose last major role was that of Peron in Evita.

There are six major categories or selections available to the user.  These are:  Wine Tasting with Oz, All About Wine, Wine Encyclopedia, World Atlas of Wine, Matching Food & Wine, and the Wine Selector.

Wine Tasting with Oz is a great video lecture.  It starts with The Basics, a series of vignettes regarding the basics in equipment, opening the bottle, and decanting.  How to Taste Wine is next and consists of four categories:  Tasting Procedure, The Appearance of Wine, The Elements of Wine, and Faults in Wine.  I liked these videos so much; I’ve considered playing them for my next neighborhood wine tasting.  While I have a few wine savvy neighbors, many could use the educational update provided in these clips.  Last is a Tasting Tour of 18 major world varietals and regions.  I could foresee lining up the 18 different types of wine profiled in this section and provide sips to my guests as Oz provides the education.  Bravo!

All About Wine is a series of flowcharts, photos, and short film clips organized in nine major categories:  In the Vineyard, In the Winery, Grape Varietals, Wine Lists, Wine Style, Reading the Label, When to Drink Wine, Planning Your Cellar, and Fascinating Facts.  There is a lot of information in this section.  Much of what Clarke has to say is common sense once you learn the basics about wine, but a lot of material in this section should be absorbed by the eager novice wine enthusiast.  In the Vineyard, for example, provides an excellent time line of the grape growing and wine harvest season through a flowchart format.  Wine Lists, another fascinating section, provides 23 guided tours of the major wine regions of the world.

Wine Encyclopedia is the A-Z compendium of over 2800 entries regarding wines, producers, wine regions, and major grape varieties.  This section can also be enlisted for assistance when someone gives you a bottle from an area of the world with which you are not familiar and want to obtain some background information with only information from the label to start with.

The World Atlas of Wine divides the world into 12 major wine-making regions.  There are over 50 regional maps which provide detailed background on the sub-regional areas, varieties of grapes, wine styles, etc.  I found this especially interesting even for someone like myself who has learned to appreciate many wines from many different countries without the geographical and historical background on all (I pride myself on knowing California, French, Italian, and Spanish wines, but learned something on all four areas plus the other 8 regions in this section.

Matching Food & Wine is the most creative section in the software.  There are 1200 suggestions of wine styles as ideas for partnerships with over 600 individual dishes.  What I like about the suggestions, is that you can bracket your tastes through the Wine Selector (more on that later).  I selected what I thought to be a difficult pairing dish, steamed crabs, and was amazed that 897 wines popped up as “appropriate” pairings.  I then utilized the selector feature to further refine the list until I arrived at an acceptable choice.  (reviewer’s note:  I was astonished to see steamed crabs as a selection.  As a native of the Chesapeake Bay region in Maryland, we’re fairly religious about drinking anything other than beer with our steamed crabs.  I think I’m going to have to keep quiet about trying wine with my crabs).

The Wine Selector is a fascinating tool.  There are over 10,000 wines in the Oz Clarke 2002 Guide database.  The selection criteria are extremely flexible.  You can create custom lists of wines that you save and can even swap with other users of the software.  You can add your own tasting notes and swap them as well.  The grading scale is simple:  no stars is a good wine, one star is a particularly good wine in its category, two stars is an excellent wine in its category, and three stars is an exceptional, world class wine.  Oz admits that he’s enlisted the assistance of other wine tasters and provides the details about who has assisted him for the various regions of the world.  The two features that I wish this section had are a pricing guide and a production indicator.  As many of you know, there are some excellent wines which are not expensive.  Unless you have an extensive knowledge base, clicking on the three star wines and then seeking out a bottle in that category could send you on a futile search (for an unavailable wine due to limited quantities) or frustrate you that the bottle you found was well above your personal funding capability.

All in all, Oz Clarke’s Wine Guide 2002 is an excellent choice for a wide variety of wine lovers.  I recommend it strongly for those of you in the beginner to intermediate category and even recommend it for serious wine lovers who desire a different media to educate house guests with a lower level knowledge of wines.  Focus Multimedia has offered visitors to our site a special price of L13.99 (including p&p), a substantial reduction of L10.00.  We’ll contact Focus and add a link to this article so that interested persons can take advantage of the special deal.

Wino Wally

February 6, 2002


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