Meet Mark Oldman

Wine Aficionado and Award-winning Author
By Paul Giorgio

mark oldmanMark Oldman is the featured speaker at the New York Wine Expo to be held March 7th and 8th at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Oldman was also the keynote speaker at this year’s Boston Wine Expo, held at the World Trade Center in February. Oldman is a prolific author. His recent book “Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine” won the prestigious Georges Duboeuf award for the 2004 Best Wine Book

Oldman is a graduate of Stanford University and the Stanford Law School., so the natural first question I asked was, “How do you go from law school student to wine expert?” Oldman’s answer was that he started a wine club at school. “The club was in Napa valley and at first I thought I had to pay the vintners to speak, but they were chomping at the bit to educate the next generation of wine drinkers. We had everyone from Robert Mondavi on down,” recalls Oldman. He started teaching wine seminars in 1990.

Oldman is President of Vault, Inc. the leading media company for career information, and does the wine seminars as an adjunct to his regular job. “I teach wine whenever I can and it’s everything from 4 week courses to speaking at wine festivals ~ luckily these are at night or on weekends.”

We put a few questions to Oldman in order to increase our wine knowledge.

TW: What’s the new hot trend in wine?

Oldman: I guess the hottest trend is people moving beyond the usual varietals. Wine consumption has increased 25% in the last 6 years. We call this the “Sideways effect.” A generation ago it was the 6 big grape varietals, now people are more adventuresome. They are willing to try a Malbec from Argentina or a Prosecco from Italy. People are more knowledgeable and daring.”

TW: What about value?
Oldman: There is an expansion of tastes in wine world. People are tired of paying what I call a “trend premium.” There is real value in lesser known wines. The harder a wine name is to pronounce the better the value. I think that is because people don’t want to be embarrassed by mispronouncing a wine, so they will stick with something they know. They don’t order Gewurztraminer, for example.

TW: So then where can we find value?
Oldman: Torrontes from Argentina, which is a white like Sauvignon Blanc and there is no comfort premium with that. Also Rose is on a comeback because it is so versatile with food. Unfortunately, the curse of white zinfandel destroyed rose. Rose has a stigma in the U.S. that it is not a substantial wine. I like Zinfandel; it offers more value for the money. It’s a spicy and peppery wine. Ravenswood & Rancho de Bacho are 2 good ones.

TW: Any wines from a particular country attracting more attention?
Oldman: I would have to say Spanish wines. People are discovering the delights of Spanish wines that are priced at the $10-$15 level, and the tapas trend fueled this. I find that food and wine are best when paired regionally ~ such as Chianti with pasta, beef burgonneone with Burgundy.

TW: What will you be talking about at the New York Wine Expo?

Oldman: I tend to be hands on, I’m practical. I impart little nuggets of knowledge. I go over my favorite wine types. I like New Zealand sauvignon Blanc or Prosecco, which is Italian Champagne ~ it’s an incredible value, I call it Prozaco, and it’s so uplifting. I also enjoy a high quality Zinfandel and a Pinot Noir.

TW: What about wine descriptors?

Oldman: Descriptors are very personal, what is hay or barnyard to one is something to another. For example,e I pass around a can of green giant asparagus and people realize that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has the same smell. To me pinot Noir has a smell of raspberry jam and Gwertziminer reminds me of licci nuts.

TW: What about wine labels? A friend of mine picks wine by the label.
Oldman: We are very packaging oriented in this country. I too am seduced by packaging. They make the labels to sell the wine in the marketplace. In a world of infinite wine choices we look to the label. A classic example of a label selling a wine short is Chianti. The labels tend to undersell some very good wines

TW: What are your favorite wines?

Oldman: Italy ~ at the high end an aged Barolo and at the lower end a Primativo from Puglia. France, well, It’s hard to choose a favorite but I would have to say a red burgundy, for a white it would be Sauvignon Blanc from Loire valley. American? A petit Syrah from the Paso Robles region of California. Australians, they have figured out how to create good wines at good prices ~ they are not hamstrung by laws and traditions like the French. Australian Rieslings are a good value and not very sweet. Australian Shiraz is the best wines under $15. Australians produce crowd pleasers.

TW: What was the best wine you’ve ever had?
Oldman: 2 months ago in San Francisco Restaurant which was BYOB, a friend brought a 1962 La Tache red Burgundy. If you could afford it you couldn’t find it. It had the aroma of licorice or Asian spices.

TW: You’re the wine guy for Rachael Ray’s magazine, what is that experience like?

Oldman: After my book came out they approached me about writing a wine column. It’s a good experience. I like writing about expensive wines but the challenge with her is to find good value under $20-$30.

TW: What do you say to younger people just finding wine?
Oldman: Drink more bubbly like an affordable prosseco, or a cava from Spain. Gruet from New Mexico is a great American bubbly that no one has heard of. Treat it like 7-up that gets you drunk. But my all time favorite French Champagne is Salon.