Oz Clarke’s Big North East Wine (and Beer) Adventure!
So after many months of preparation and planning, the day had finally arrived for our big event in collaboration with Newcastle Wine School or more precisely, series of events hosted by wine celeb Mr Oz Clarke.
Oz decided to travel up to Newcastle the night before, enabling us to catch up with him over a few local ales in the Broad Chare in Newcastle City centre. Here, the final pieces to the jigsaw were at last slotted into place and it was all systems go for the next day.
Up bright and early, Ruth dropped Kel off at the Waitrose store in Eldon Square Newcastle to allow him to begin prepping for Oz’s first event of the day: an in-store tasting and book signing. Ruth went along to Jesmond Dene House to collect Oz and to check if all the wines for that evening’s Master Class dinner had arrived. To her relief all the wines were there!
Oz and Ruth arrived to a waiting crowd at Waitrose, who were not to be disappointed by Oz’s presentation and engagement with his audience.
Two wines had been selected by Oz, the first was New Zealand’s Cowrie Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 – with it’s lively zest and grassy freshness, with lots of gooseberry but not as in-your-face as some New Zealand Sauvignon’s can be and at £7.49 it’s a bit of a snip! We then moved onto Oz’s red choice a Peter Lehmann Cab/Merlot/Shiraz blend “Clancy” 2011 with its big dark fruits and spice and all for under a tenner!
It was great to see a queue developing with excited folk waiting for their chance to speak with him whilst having a copy (or two) of either his latest Pocket Wine Guide 2015 or his Bordeaux (or both) books signed! Ruth’s mum turned up and we now know what all the family are getting for Christmas! She left a very happy lady and has not stopped talking (not unusual) about meeting Oz and having shared a conversation about their Irish roots!
There was also someone else’s mother in the audience that morning too to witness a special day. This being the mother of Stephen, Waitrose own Wine Advisor, who had recently passed his City & Guilds Level Two course, and being a fan of Oz Clarke what better way than to have the certificate presented to him by the man himself, plus a signed copy of his pocket guide to go with it! Stephen had no idea that this was going to happen; we all did, but what a great surprise it was for him! One very happy gentleman and one very proud family indeed! This had been a lovely suggestion by the Waitrose team and will be remembered no doubt by Stephen for sometime to come. We would like to wish him all the very best!
Oz was then whisked off for an interview with the Newcastle Journal, who shall be running a feature on this event in the very near future, so keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook news feeds.
This gave us both a little time to collect our thoughts and to go through our check-list one last time, then it was time to set off for the next part of the big day.
Our next call was out to Northumberland, Stannington to be precise, to check-out the all new gastro-pub, which had opened barely a week ago; to sample some of its local beers and meet the brewers.
On the way, we had a fascinating chat about local history, particularly mining and ship building. To our surprise, we even discovered an open-top mine with its coal being excavated close to the village of Stannington. We had been unaware that you could still get coal from Northumberland! Apparently this had been a surface that had been seen as too small to excavate back in coal’s heyday but was now something worth digging for. Afterwards the field will be returned to its natural state (and height). Now they just need to develop a way to make coal into a clean energy, now that would be good!
Oz holds a special affection for miners as his father had been a chest specialist doctor to many a miner in days gone by and could recall many a tale of his fathers help and support that he gave to this community of people.
St Mary’s Inn is situated on the site of what was the old hospital of the same namesake. This is now in the process of demolition but part of it survives in the form of this new pub. Owned by the same folk who run Jesmond Dene House, who would be hosting us later for Oz’s Master Class, and what a great job they have done on this place, such a welcoming feel.
Despite its doors only being open to the public in the past week, the place was already busy with custom, no doubt with folk enjoying a local ale or two whilst absorbing the heat from the buildings many log fires. Adorning the wall are many original pictures by the local artist Norman Cornish, who sadly passed away this summer in his 90’s. The walls also adorned landscapes by Judy Appleby and cartoons by The Times cartoonist David Haldane.
Upon arrival, Oz was met first by Peter Candler the MD of Jesmond Dene House and David Harker from Newcastle Wine School, followed by representatives and brewers from three local breweries, of which St Mary’s stocks their beers. Alastair Gilmour of the North East Cheers magazine fame was also present. And so with such a good crowd, it was time to taste some great beer!
On offer around the table were delicious samples of a range of foods that are all made and prepared on site from locally sourced produce.
First up to showcase their wines was Wylam, a brewery whose beers we have enjoyed over the years.
Ben, Wylam’s head brewer, could not be with us so it was left to the company’s Business Development Manager, Matt Boyle to do the honours alongside Sales Manager Su Kay to present their fare to Oz.
Wylam got off to a good start with something a little different, this being the recently created Sheer Chai Green Tea beer at 3.6%, following the ancient brewing technique and style of Kashmiri Green Chai this tea beer uses super light pale and wheat malt to create a blank canvas on which a blend of rare Himalayan and Indian green teas are stewed and cut with modern day brewing hops. An amalgam of liquorice root, dried oranges, green cardamom, pistachios and cinnamon spice are layered throughout the brewing process to create the alluring spiced calm of a true chai. Kel thought that this partnered well with the boiled egg and celery salt dish.
This was followed by the Jakehead IPA at 6.3%, a supercharged Wylam India Pale Ale. Rich/bright & amber/bronze with lots of American hop aroma. Distinctly bittersweet on the palate with a massive hop complexity fashioned deep within the IPA tradition and as nice as it is, we did however, make sure that we took things easy!
Next up was Neil Thomas from Allendale Brewery. First off the mark for them was their Bramling Cross Pale Ale, Crystal, Amber, Wheat, Vienna 59 Double IPA 7.4% it’s a big, bold IPA brewed and double dry hopped with masses of US West Coast hops delivering a big tropical fruit flavour and aroma.
Then came their Export Stout at 7.1% based on a historic recipe this rich, complex stout features some fantastic English hops. As tradition has proven this beer travels well and age will serve to enhance the rich smoke and chocolate flavour. Ruth enjoyed this with the home made pork pie and rich spicy brown sauce!
Last but certainly not least was Anarchy Brewery, a brewery whose beers we have been wanting to try for sometime. Both Dawn and Simon Miles, the companies directors were present to show off their beers and excellent they are! Kel enjoyed the sourness of the Quiet Riot overflowing with kiwi fruits, lime and orange zest. Sweet malts are balanced against a big bitter bite. Medium in body, oily in texture and delicious in flavour and Smoked Saison, a Belgian farmhouse ale that has been given a smoked twist. A subtle smokey aroma serves up layers of fruit and spice and seemed to go down great with the home made sausage rolls!
The Irish gene popped up when Oz had a desire for potato – hmmm, we wondered if this had anything to do with being in contact with Ruth’s mum earlier! Well, being St Mary’s it was a little more than just potatoes has Oz was treated to potato in a cheese (Durham Brie) and ham sauce with a touch of truffle oil, which Oz suggested that they put on the menu! We will keep an eye out for that – either way, we shall be returning to this welcoming place for a spot of Sunday lunch soon! The place has a great feel and we wish them the greatest of successes.
It was now beginning to get dark and with this we whisked Oz back to Jesmond Dene House for a refresh whilst we quickly called by home to change for the evening’s event and of course, feed Tibby our always hungry cat.
Now feeling a tad nervous, and after almost a year of planning and preparation, the big night had finally arrived! Jesmond Dene House had done a great job with ensuring that the room looked immaculate and very inviting. Our guests started to arrive and a buzz stirred up the atmosphere!
Oz, David Harker (Newcastle Wine School) and Chris Powell (Local Wine School) went about putting their tasting skills to the test to detect any faulty wines, so as to ensure that these were not to be offered to our guests (just two corked ones were found and one of these only just).
David and Ruth opened the Master Class dinner with a brief speech – a suggestion of performing a duet was quickly put to one side by both! Then the floor was open to Oz, who informed our guests that it was great to be back in the North-East. He followed this by recounting his meeting with Ruth’s mum earlier that day! We can see this tale being retold to the whole of our Irish side of the family for some time to come!
Oz then presided over each wine (the list is at the end of this blog), giving a little background to each, supplemented by the odd tale here and there, getting the crowd laughing. Taking a walk-about between courses was a definite crowd pleaser as was the chance for our competition winners to meet the man close up, and not have to worry about getting home that night as they had a lovely room booked for them upstairs, allowing the wine to flow nicely!
Mr & Mrs Graham The lucky competition winners!
And there was one more surprise in store for NEWTS supremo Harry Rose, when he was allocated a place on the top-table to ensure that he could catch-up with Oz after all these years!
Oz then made himself available at the very end of the night for another chance for folk to meet him and to get their hands on his books!
What amazed us was not just Oz’s fantastic knowledge of wine but his detailed range of other interests, including history, industry, and we even managed to squeeze in a few conversations about Deltics!
Totally shattered by the days excitement and relief that all the events had gone well, we felt as though we could have slept for a week or more! We still can’t quite believe that it has happened – a truly lasting memory!
It has also been great to have received such lovely feedback from those attending the day’s events – this is a wonderful source of inspiration that will keep driving us and our endeavours – Thank YOU!
We would like to take the opportunity to also say, “Thank you” to the following:
Mr Oz Clarke
Newcastle Wine School
Local Wine School
Jesmond Dene House
St Mary’s Inn
And all the wonderful staff who helped make this a truly memorable occasion, whose support and service was without fault!
Master Class Wine List
Chateau Haut Maginet 2010
Beetroot Cured Salmon, Horseradish, Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke Salad or Jerusalem Artichoke Soup & Black Truffle
Pumpkin, Chestnut & Apple Tortellini
Roast Saddle of Venison, Sloe Gin, Smoked Bacon, Parsnip & Curly Kale or Northumberland Wild Mushroom & Spelt Barley Risotto with Wood Sorrel
Selection of cheeses
Almond Sponge, Caramelised Apples