Wine writer Mark Oldman on going to the source

According to wine writer Mark Oldman, 47, drinking wine is only a part of its enjoyment.

“In order to truly appreciate a good wine,” he said, “you need to make a pilgrimage to its source.”

He should know: His job keeps him on the road for more than half the year, but his travel to wine-producing destinations picked up even more while he was researching his new book “How to Drink Like a Billionaire,” in which he offers advice on drinking wine with confidence and covers topics such as undiscovered wine regions and surprising wine and food combinations.

Below are edited excerpts from an interview with Oldman.

Q: What’s your advice on how to best explore a wine-producing destination?

A: First of all, in advance of your vacation, sample as many wines as you can from the region you’re visiting because your trip will be so much more meaningful if you do. And don’t make the mistake of trying to visit too many wineries in a day — two or three is plenty. Rushing is the opposite of what wine drinking is about, and you want to give yourself the opportunity to spend more time at a winery if there is a chance to; you may get immersed in a conversation with the owner or decide to have an impromptu picnic on the grounds. Also, if possible, avoid wineries on weekends when they’re far more crowded.

Q: Napa Valley, Tuscany and Bordeaux are very touristy wine regions. How can travelers unearth hidden gems in these destinations?

A: Avoid wineries that can accommodate large buses because these are likely to be where tourists go. Also, many wineries in these areas are open to visitors without reservations, which means that you’re unlikely to get any personal attention or meet the owner. Wineries that take only visitors with reservations, on the other hand, are more intimate, and the chances of meeting the owners and tasting special wines is much higher. You can find these producers through a web search or through sites such as or

Q: There are many emerging wine destinations around the world. Which ones are your favorites?

A: Southern England for the sparkling wine and the scenic area of rolling hills, apple orchards and barns that feels rustic and endearing. In the United States, I am a fan of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia — the chardonnays and rosés are great, and you hear about Thomas Jefferson everywhere you go because he’s from Virginia and was such a wine lover. Also, the countryside has these grand Jefferson-era homes. Paso Robles, which is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is another notable up and comer; the red blends are terrific, and you can go to wineries and spend hours interacting with the owners if you want to. The region is what Napa was before it was discovered.

My biggest find of this year, however, is Tasmania. The cool climate makes for world-class sparkling wines, and the pinot noirs are good, too. It’s an incredible trip. The island is a vivid green, and the air is crisp and pure.

Q: A growing number of wineries are giving their guests a chance to participate in their harvest. Is this a genuine way to immerse yourself in the local wine culture?

A: It can be, especially at a smaller winery, because you’re out in the wine fields picking grapes with the farmers, but you’re limited to when it’s harvest season, which is short. A better way to have a cool, insidery wine country experience is to set up a barrel tasting at a winery or two. This means that wine is drawn straight from a barrel as it’s aging so you get to taste it while it’s in progress. Not all wineries offer these, but you shouldn’t miss it at the ones that do.

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