Mark Oldman lets you do two things with his new book, "Oldman's Brave New World of Wine."
One is that he lets you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with celebrity wine quotes. Let's pick names that sound like food. Say … Kevin Bacon and John Candy. Kevin Bacon is quoted in "Brave New World" along with Sammy Hagar, who was on the soundtrack to "Heavy Metal," which starred the voice of John Candy. Done.
Make more Bacon connections using Jodie Foster, Dan Aykroyd or Matthew McConaughey. Or do a celebrity chef edition with Tom Colicchio, Guy Fieri and Lidia Bastianich. They're all in there.
The second thing is that Oldman lets you go shopping. Leave the flavor-of-the-month merlot and the butter-bomb chardonnay in the wine rack by the oven and pick up shocking Txakoli from Spain, grassy grüner veltliner from Germany and mouthy montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Italy. Don't worry. Easy-to-follow graphics in the book will tell you how to pronounce them, what they taste like, how much you can expect to pay and which ones might be worth buying.
It's a celebration of the character actors of the wine world: moschofilero, torrontés, vinho verde, Cahors , nero d'Avola , American sparkling wine and 40 more underappreciated players, each one with an essay from Oldman. He rats out a winemaker who sips monster cabernets through Red Vines licorice, calls petite sirah "dark and intense as a dominatrix's boot," tells how he brought a 1969 Madeira to a seance and compares aglianico to George Clooney: "a big, rich SOB that really doesn't care whether you like its … scents of tobacco, tar and leather."
Students of wine will know Oldman from his first book, "Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine." Austin audiences will know Oldman best from his job as a judge on the PBS series "The Winemakers," a reality-TV competition won by Austin wine specialist Ross Outon. Oldman will be in Austin on Oct. 16 for the Texas Book Festival.
He also writes about wine for the food magazine Every Day With Rachael Ray, and he finds a populist voice in the book, writing about sneaking into the movies with white vermentino wine in a Sprite bottle and when the wife of Rush guitarist Eric Lifeson blithely took a prize cabernet to a bachelorette swig-fest.
Ten years ago, the late writer Michael Jackson's "Great Beer Guide" changed my appreciation of the noble grain. This "Brave New World," already my dog-eared restaurant companion, is doing the same for wine. I spoke with Oldman by phone as he drove through California on a book tour:
American-Statesman: You've obviously got an Austin connection with Ross Outon on `The Winemakers.' How cool of a guy is he?
Mark Oldman: He is amazing. He looks like he could be the fifth member of Metallica, and he's got the heart of a great winemaker. I really like the wine he produced for the show.
Have you made enemies among some of the not-so-brave winemakers?
Surprisingly not. One reason is because when you get winemakers with their proverbial hair down, they'll tell you in secret that what they drink all the time is often one of these what I call "Brave New Pours." You can make boring wines, but if you're around wine that much, you tend to know the good stuff and you know how to get it pretty affordably.
You touched on so many terrific grapes. I wonder if there were some that didn't make the cut. One that came to mind that I've discovered recently is carmenère.
I covered 48 chapters. That was literally in line for Chapter 51. I love carmenère.
How do you hook up with a guy like Matthew McConaughey to talk about wine?
First of all, you're talking to a guy with a Longhorn money clip. I just have Texan envy. I'm from New Jersey, and New Jersey's kind of like the poor man's Texas, in that people from Texas and New Jersey both tend to have big personalities. But Texans tend to get the glory, whereas the Jersey people get the "Shore." It could be that Matthew had some sense of my regard for Texas. … He was talking very knowledgeably (about wine), and you wouldn't know that from the cover of Us magazine. Or Sammy Hagar. He really knows his stuff.
Do you remember the first wine you ever drank?
My dad would sometimes get wine as gifts, and he would put it in the basement. And the quickest way to kill a wine is to expose it to heat because the cork expands and contracts. I remember a lot of turpentine-like wines growing up. One of the first wines that really rearranged my molecules was when I was in college. It was the Hess Collection '87. At the time it was 18 bucks a bottle, and it was one of those really rich, cedary, plummy cabernets. It just enveloped you. I ended up buying a case of that stuff. I still have, like, three bottles left. … It attests to the fact that wine can be like a time machine. You can smell and taste certain things that you did back at that time.
Six more 'Brave New Pours'
Borrowing from Mark Oldman's categories, here are six wines I'd bravely recommend. I can't guarantee they're all available locally, but they're worth seeking out. Suggested retail prices are in parentheses.
- Mike Sutter
Rosé: Quivira Grenache Rosé 2009 ($17). Winemaker Steven Canter raises goats for dairy, plays music he describes as "Son House meets the Stooges" and once bought a patch of 120-year-old grapevines off Craigslist. His rosé has a little brass to back up that sunny California pink.
Box wine: Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc '09 ($23.99 for 3 liters). The steely-blue octagonal box is more statuesque than its blocky cousins. The wine inside is Granny Smith with a sharp tongue, nursing a vodka-tonic with lime. Oldman also lobbies for New Zealand sauv blanc, so this one scores in two categories.
Bargain Bordeaux: Chateau Lestrille Capmartin Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge '06 ($23). The wine tastes the way the label looks, a study in vintage restraint, like a red velvet strap on a good guitar tuned half a step low.
Tawny port: Warre's Otima 10 ($26.50 for 375 milliliters). Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
Red from Portugal: Vale do Bomfim Douro Valley '07 ($12). A country can't live by port alone. This overconfident red is the one your rib-eye has dinner with until the manager kicks it out on the street for public displays of affection. That's OK. It's just as happy with a cheeseburger.
Petite sirah: J. Lohr Tower Road Paso Robles Petite Sirah '07 ($35): This fat, inky grape has one of those ironic names, like when you call a defensive tackle "Tiny." This is Tiny relaxing after the game, reading a sharp-witted book about off-the-radar wines with a little momentum behind them.
Texas Book Festival
• Mark Oldman will appear at the Austin Book Festival from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 16 in the Cooking Tent for a discussion called 'Writing About Wine: Why We Love the Vine.' Details at www.texasbookfestival.org .
• Look for the Austin Review of Books special section on the Texas Book Festival in the American-Statesman on Oct. 13.