Just as I start grumping that there is nothing on the telly, a chunk of genius appears in the shape of Oz Clarke and James May with “Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure” (Wednesdays 8pm BBC2). I used to watch Oz and Jilly for laughs back in the old Food and Drink days. They were so off the wall I don’t think I ever learned anything. James is of course Captain Slow on Top Gear and knows absolutely nothing about wine. The pair of them head off on a tour of France in a Jag XJS so Oz can teach James all about wine.
Sure it’s a standard “Odd Couple” bickering idea but it works soooo well. James is a big kid and Oz is desperately pompous so the sparks fly constantly. The scene of the two of them in disposable thongs getting into a bath of grape extract together at a Wine Spa is indelibly burned on my brain.
I’m of the James persuasion. He wants to learn enough to be able to buy good bottles of £5.99 French wine in his supermarket. Poor Oz wants to “educate” him. The word terroir hasn’t come up yet but it’s bound to at which point James will blow his whistle called the Ozillator to stop Oz being a wine bore.
James makes some wine by crushing grapes with a dirty hoe, adding sugar and yeast and leaving it in the boot of the car for a week. He then does a taste test of three wines including his own at a French Market. One poor muppet picks James’ as the best!
At Château Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse-de-Lalande I was reminded why Aussie wine with “Shiraz” on the bottle sells better. C’mon, that name’s up there with Tarquin Lim Tim Bim Fim Bim Ole Ftang Ftang Biscuit Barrel. They went into the cellars with Grand Dame Madame May-Elaine de Lencquesaing and discussed ancient wine. James was chomping at the bit “but they are just looking at it, what’s the point of that?”. Madame showed wines from 1817 and 1940. No mention of how they managed to make wine in 1940, cough, don’t mention the war, cough.
But the absolute highlight of the programme was the taste test they did at Château Pichon-Baron, in front of one of the wine industry’s biggest players, Englishman Christian Seely. They gave James three wines to get his opinion of their bouquet. The first was a young white bordeaux which should have peaches, apricots etc. James sniffed, thought, sniffed again and came up with “Dope”. If the ground could have swallowed Oz whole. Next up a £120 Grand Cru which should have smelled of blackcurrants. James interpretation of this - “Trebor Fruit Salad”. Ozes face was frozen in horror. And finally, another Red which should smell of tobacco. James does much better on this “Bonfire, BBQ sausage, Pork”. Oz looks ready to kill him, Then magically “and a hint of Virginia tobacco”. Hurrah, reputation recovered.
Very very funny TV but Oz is failing in one area that James himself mentions several times and that is in the actual education about wine. Oz is so obsessed with the culture and history he forgets simple things - like what grape is white bordeaux made from? I had to Google it as my knowledge of French wines stretches from Sancerre to Pouilly Fumé which is a distance of approximately 400 yards on the Loire I think. Ah, it’s also Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillion and other optionals. Might give that a go.
If you want a giggle and to learn a bit about wine in the process, you cannot miss this programme.