In a country so keen on wine o'clock, you might think there'd be some decent programmes about it on TV. There is, after all, no shortage of shows about food, and Jamie Oliver has done more to democratise cooking than any other. But wine? Not so muh. Jilly Goolden, Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke have all tried over the years to hold our attention, and maybe even rducate us along the way, but they were only ever a sideshow.
Wine needes its very own Jamie Oliver, and his equivalent may have arrived in the form of the actors Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys. The two Matthews are front of house on a new programme, The Wine Show. The schtick is that they spend the summer in a spectacularly beautiful villa in the Umbrian countryside, drinking wine that they drive around sourcing and learning about. There's a resident expert, Joe Fattorini, and a token woman, Amelia Singer. It's wine porn, travel porn and, given the exteme handsomeness of the lead presenters, porn. Goode, who played Lady Mary's love interest in the last series of Downton Abbey, can't quite believe his luck in getting such a gig. He has his brother-in-law, the producer Russ Lindsay, to thank.
“Russ said wouldn't it be a great idea if I took a presenting role? That filled me with terror, because I'm not meant to look at a camera. I'm meant to ignore it.“ The result is a series of hour-long programmes devoted to increasing our knowledge of wine. What's puzzling is why it took so long: the UK wine market is the sixth biggest in the world. Sixty per cent of adults say they drink wine. However, for every Briton who's a wine buff, there are hundred who, blindfolded, couldn't tell the difference between a rioja and a riesling and who are intimidated by sommeliers when they go to a restaurant.
“I get intimidated,“ insists Goode. “There's definitely a fear of looking stupid, and there's slight tinge of snobbishness around the wine world. Particularly in the UK, it seems like a foreign thing because we haven't been producing much of our own. Matthew and I get to a couple of mischievous fools asking the questions, acting as a conduit for the people watching. We want to invite people into the world of wine and not find it off-putting.“
It is true that the programme could do with some fine tuning. The banter can feel a little forced, which is ironic, because Rhys and Goode have actually been good mates since they met on the 2013 BBC drama Death comes to Pemberley. “You know when you click with someone, it seems like you've known each other for ages?“ says Goode. “We're like that. We're like an old married couple now.“
However, they also make you laugh. Shown one of those wine-stopper gadgets that sucks the air out of half-drunk bottles of wine, Goode looks at it as if baffled by the very idea, and says: “Yes, I've seen one of those. I've just never seen one in use.“
The BBC has been trying to educate us entertainingly about wine since 1982 with Food & Drink. The first incarnation, which ran until 2002, introduced the nation to the effervescent Goolden and, later, Clarke. More recently, Giorgio Locatelli and Tony Allen have trawled around Italy, as the Matthews do, but the focus has inariably been on food.
Why is talking about wine been so hard? “I remember Food & Drink - my parents used to enjoy watching it, but you'd just get five minutes of wine thrown in. Maybe that's because of the perceived difficulties of talking about wine when you're in a studio. It's difficult to make that interesting, so this programme was about the travel and culture and how the wine's made.“
Goode owes much of what he knows about wine to his father. He encouraged him to try different things, explained why such and such a wine was good, and where it was from, and allowed his son to make up his own mind. “I'd have a little bit with Sunday lunch,“ he recalls.
The best wine he has ever drunk, he says, was a Château Haut-Brion 1989, which he was given as a present. As parents of three children, Goode and his wife, the actress Sophie Dymoke, are happy subscribers to wine o'clock. His father's gentle instruction in the art of wine is something he hopes to continue with his own children when they're old enough - Ralph, the youngest, is nearly nine months; his daughters Teddie and Matilda are two and seven.
His new role as a TV presenter doesn't mean he will giving up acting, however. A day's filming with Brad Pitt is on the cards. Friends who've worked with Pitt say he's an absolute delight, Goode says. If nothing else, they'll have wine in common: Goode cites the Château Miraval rosé produced by Pitt and his wife Angelina Jolie at their Provençal estate as one of his favourite tipples.
Might there be a return to Downton Abbey? “Downton was great fun as long as you didn't upset Maggie [Smith],“ he says. Is she easily upset? “I'm only kidding,“ he says, not entirely convincingly. “But you wouldn't want to be on her bad side. It was very sad for them, Downton coming to an end. But I'm sure there will be a film made at some point and we'll all get back together.“ Until then, there'll always be Château Miraval.
The Wine Show is on Sundays on 6.55pm on ITV4.
Fazit: Mittelklasse-Mimen präsentieren hochklassigen Stoff.