Mark Oldman on quest to show Americans they are all wrong about Aussie wines

Mark Oldman will be holding two seminars on Saturday during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Courtesy photo

Local favorite wine expert, author, entrepreneur, and speaker Mark Oldman is back this weekend for his 17th consecutive appearance at the Food & Wine Classic.

“It’s really by far the best food and wine festival I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s such an honor and so much fun to attend every year,” he said. “The minute I land at the Pitkin County Airport, my pulse flows to a lovely pace. Just the folksiness of the airport, the clean mountain air, the starry skies, and the mysterious mystic mountains — there’s nothing quite like it. And the incredible, incredibly run festival that’s Food & Wine. No other festival is run like it with the administration and the volunteers. It’s like a Formula One pit stop.”

Beyond the location and festival, he said he loves teaching the crowd in Aspen because of their curiosity and eagerness to learn about new regions and less mainstream wines. Since writing his first book, “Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine” in 2005, he said he has noticed a level of knowledge that grows every year, which allows him to present more exciting and challenging seminars every year.

“There is this kind of yearning and mythology around food and wine now that has been stoked by the popularity of food television and movies,” he said. I’ve really noticed people’s sophistication in terms of being knowledgeable about less familiar grape types, especially here in Aspen, so it’s a joy to teach here.”

He’s presenting two seminars on Saturday: “The New Australia, Great Winemakers Down under in Search of Elegance and Grace” and “World’s Best Special Occasion Wines.”

He looked forward to re-introducing audiences to the charms of Australian wines, which he called underappreciated by Americans. He said many American wine drinkers still stereotype Aussie wines as “hefty fruit bombs,” an assumption he’s determined to change.

“I’m married to an Australian, and my little guy now is half Australian, and so I go over to Australia a lot,” he said. “I’ve been to all the major wineries, and I am just blown away by the quality, elegance, and the delicacy. The proliferation of ‘smashable’ Aussies wines is just a wonderful thing. Almost all Australian wine has become more elegant and drinkable. There’s been this incredible renaissance no matter where they’re located; but especially in cool climate regions, winemakers are dialing back the heftiness, and they’re making wines with great existing acidity and great complexity and a lovely drinkability.”

Oldman said choosing which wines he will highlight is about a four-month process. He works with a panel including wine professionals and civilians with great taste buds who sampled 100 Australian wines, putting them through a rigorous evaluation, before settling on the seven he he’s pouring this weekend.

Some highlights from the Australian wines seminar are from House of Arras, a producer from the cold-climate island of Tasmania and one of the top producers of sparkling wines in the country.

Additionally, he will give a master class on Australian slang, providing a glossary of Aussie eating and drinking terms for each wine he presents from “drink with the flies,” to “Chardy,” the best “wines for brekkie,” and how a proper Aussie “skulls her drink.”

For his “World’s Best Special Occasion Wine” seminar, his theme will be “Out of Aspen” and will present eight of the world’s most lusted-after wines, including one of the rarest wines ever presented at the Classic: the once-a-generation, $1,500/bottle Beaulieu “Rarity” Cabernet Sauvignon.

So what criteria does a wine have to adhere to for Oldman to grant it special occasion status?

“The No. 1 threshold: It’s got to be objectively delicious,” he said. “I want you to put your lips to it and have it make you go, ‘Wow!’ No. 2, because this is the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and because I am dedicated to giving people the best experience, it’s got to be from an iconic producer. And third, I’d say this year it has to be the rarest of the rare.”

If you missed his seminars Friday, there is still time to catch “World’s Best Special Occasion Wines” on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Paepcke 1 and at 3 p.m. for “The New Australia: Great Winemakers Down Under In Search of Elegance and Grace” in the same location.

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