So, wine is on mainstream TV. A new series of 13 one-hour episodes has just started airing on prime time Sunday evening ITV4, and will be repeated the following weekend at an earlier slot on ITV. It’s called The Wine Show, and this evening on catch up I watched the first episode. The wine trade has been quite excited to see this show arrive, and it’s had some very positive reviews. What did I make of it?
The series was made by Russ Lindsay’s Infinity Creative Media, which describes itself as making ‘investor funded television’. So they raise funds, make the series (they have made several similar series in this 13 x 1 h format) and then sell it to networks, rather than the usual commissioning method where a production company pitches an idea and pilot and then makes the series once it has been bought.
The Wine Show is built around four presenters. There are two actors, the Matthews Goode and Rhys, who are joined by wine experts Joe Fattorini and Amelia Singer. I have to declare here that I know both Joe and Amelia, who are really nice people, so this may slant my objectivity here. Both the Matthews are cast as the novices who need educating by Joe, who seems to be the main focal point of the show. In the first episode, Amelia is just filmed on location.
Things begin in an Umbrian villa, where both the Matthews are resident. The idea is that Joe brings back wines for them to try, and this then leads into a filmed segment showing Joe in situ finding these wines. For this first show, he’s in South Africa, telling the story of Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance. He finds himself in the vineyard at 4 am in the morning. Why am I here? he asks, as if he had no idea he was about to witness grapes being picked. While it’s nicely filmed, the segment sounds like an advertorial for Klein Constantia: it’s just so flattering and glowing (there was no payment for inclusion: this was purely an editorial decision, which makes the sycophancy even worse). When Joe gets to taste the wine, he builds up the reverence and excitement. It’s as if he’s never tried Vin de Constance before.
The next segment is back in Italy, where Joe is taking the Matthews through some wine gadgets. This also looks like an advertorial, even though it isn’t. After this, there’s a lengthy food segment, where a chef chooses a wine and then makes a dish to go with it. This will be repeated each week with a different chef.
Then we are back to Italy where Joe is tasked with introducing the Matthews to Italian wine by sending them around the country. Their first stop is Montepulciano, where they try some Vino Nobile with an Italian wine expert who talks jargon that must have left them quite confused. They have to select wine to take back to Joe. They clearly are well out of their depth. Then we see a barrel-pushing race in the town.
Next: Joe and Amelia are sent off to different locations to make wine. Amelia goes to the Clare Valley in Australia, while Joe goes to Château Margaux. Amelia does some punch downs, while Joe does some pump overs. This also gets jargon filled (the fault of the winemakers, not the presenters), and some of the terms are a bit confused: since when is pressing to barrel ‘clarification’, and when is a press a ‘crusher’?
I watched the whole hour and came away with mixed feelings. The locations are lovely, and all the presenters do a good job. You’d expect actors to be good on camera, but Joe and Amelia are also really good.
But the show itself is a mish-mash. If you are into wine, it’s not interesting. If you aren’t into wine, it’s not really interesting either. And the wines featured in the first episode are an odd bunch. Start a popular wine TV program with a sweet wine? Really? It’s lots of little segments, joined together, with no real narrative structure. It all feels a bit retrofitted: Joe and Amelia have travelled the world shooting material, and then someone has tried to stitch it altogether with the actors and the Italian filming, and some cookery segments thrown in for good measure. I’ll give it a second chance. But the Top Gear of wine it ain’t.