Oz Clarke hosts wine and music night at Chesterfield Parish Church

Oz Clarke and Armonico.
Oz Clarke and Armonico.

With a schedule of daily communion services, you might expect to find some wine on offer at Chesterfield’s Parish Church. But visitors are being invited to raise a glass – rather than the usual chalice – on the evening of October 18.

Oz Clarke – the man credited with turning Britain into a wine-drinking nation – is leading an evening of drink and music in the splendour of the medieval nave at the Crooked Spire.

The TV wine expert will conduct a grand tour of Europe’s best sounds and flavours. It’s a social experiment to find out how drinking wine whilst listening to music enhances the music and vice versa.

Backed by the formidable Armonico Consort – an ensemble whose credits include the BBC Proms – Oz will guide the audience through some of the world’s finest wine as well as award-winning beer from Brampton Brewery, light-heartedly exploring links between the drinks and expertly-performed Baroque programme.

“We’ve got some wonderful drinks lined up,” says Oz. “And when the audience are listening, they have to drink.”

After a career which started as a choirboy with Canterbury Cathedral and continued professionally as a singer with the renowned Monteverdi Choir, Academy of St Martin’s and in London’s West End, Oz believed he was destined for a life in music, but acting – and wine – got in the way. He began wine-tasting as a way of impressing girls at Oxford University, only to find in Britain that the wine world was run by men in pin-striped suits who controlled what was and wasn’t deemed to be correct.

He ‘democratised’ the Oxford University Wine Society, bringing women into the club and setting up the England Wine Tasting Team – which went on to beat all other European nations in contests.

“When we went to France they had all the TV crews there to show them walloping the English,” said Oz. “The next day they framed (national newspaper) Le Figaro in black at the shame of being beaten.”

And it was as a touring actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, supplying Patrick Stewart with wine in Sydney, Los Angeles and New York, that Oz literally found a New World of wine, the kind of low-priced, high quality products which now fill the UK’s supermarket shelves.

“I realised how wonderful it was and what rubbish we were drinking in this country,” said Oz.

But it was his work with the BBC’s Food and Drink programme which changed the UK’s habits: “I thought – we can turn Britain into a wine-drinking nation.”

Oz and Armonico Drink to Music is on Wednesday, October 18, from 7.30pm at Chesterfield Parish Church.

Tickets, £25, are available from the Church Gift Shop (open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm) or by phoning 01246 206506. Drinks are included in the ticket price.