Call me a member of an endangered minority, but I still miss Food and Drink, the BBC cookery show that Delia Smith once dubbed “the most disgusting programme on television”. I’m not talking about the stilted studio-based format, the earnest, pseudo-investigative reporting or Michael Barry’s cardigans here. The thing I pine for is Jilly Goolden’s outrageous tasting notes.
Who but La Goolden could use terms like “wooden bra”, “absolute mangoes”, “a wheelbarrow full of ugli fruit” and (my favourite) “sweaty gym shoes on hot tarmac” without guffawing? Even Oz Clarke, a former actor who knows how to spin a simile, could only raise an eyebrow in appreciation. I don’t know what they put in her tea at Television Centre, but Goolden was a wonderful eccentric.
More to the point, she turned wine tasting into a spectator sport. Even if people hadn’t tasted the liquid she was describing (and more often than not they bought it), Goolden made what is essentially a dull format (two people, two glasses, one bottle, one table) entertaining by camping it up.
Goolden quit Food and Drink in 2000, three years before the show served its last helping, but she still pops up on TV form time to time, most memorably failing a Bushtucker trial (eating a kangaroo’s penis, if memory serves) on “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here” in 2005.
If Goolden has a natural successor he is to be found, not on UK TV, but in the United States. Gary Vaynerchuk is a New Jersey retailer, author and breathless wine evangelist. He is also the host (and, this being the United States, probably founder, CEO and president for life) of Wine Library TV. I find his delivery a little too frenetic — he’s the sort of person who’d have you searching for a parachute if you sat next to him on a plane – but there’s no denying that people watch him and enjoy wines that “bring thunder”, as he puts it.
Back in the UK, wine is under-represented on television. Was it a coincidence that even Last of the Summer Wine came to an end last month? There are some truly terrible cookery programmes out there, but almost nothing about wine. The only exceptions are Saturday Kitchen (on which, to declare an interest, I’m one of five revolving experts who choose bottles to partner specific dishes cooked in the studio) and Oz and James, which tells you a lot about the amusing relationship between Oz Clarke and James May and a little bit about wine.
There was a half-decent programme a couple of years ago, called Château Monty, about a wine writer’s attempt to establish a bio-dynamic vineyard in France, but the ratings weren’t good. People are happy to drink wine in increasing numbers, it seems, but they don’t want to watch someone else making it.
So far, wine has not featured in a reality TV show, but the moment can’t be far off. Take six unemployed wasters and turn them into sommeliers? Give a dozen couples the chance to compete to own a vineyard in the sun? If it happens, the channel could do worse than employ Jilly Goolden as a presenter. Delia Smith might not watch it, but I would.
Last of the summer wines
Sainsbury’s Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (£3.99, 11.5%)
Gascony still makes some of the best value whites in France, such as this crunchy, nettley, grapefruity blend of colombard and ugni blanc.
2009 Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde (£5.49 each for two, 11%, Majestic)
If you want something light and refreshing to sip in the garden, this spritzy, tangy, rose petal-scented Portuguese white is a classic thirst quencher.
2009 Caves Saint -Pierre Preference Côtes du Rhône Rosé (£5.99, 14%, Tesco)
This pink southern Rhône combo of grenache and syrah is quite a full-bodied style, but I love its delicate colour, cherry and raspberry fruit and bright acidity.
2009 Domane Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner, Wachau (£7.99, 12%, Waitrose)
The steep terraces of Austria’s Wachau Valley produce the world’s best grüner veltliners. This is elegant and pear-fruity with classic white pepper notes.
2008 Quincy, Domaine Bailly (£10.99, 12.5%, Marks & Spencer)
A poor man’s Sancerre? Not exactly at nearly £11, but this is still a stunner: an unoaked sauvignon with haunting gooseberry and elderflower flavours.
Hunter’s Miru Miru Brut, Marlborough (£13.99, 12.5%, Laithwaites, www.laithwaites.co.uk)
This is one of the best sparkling wines I’ve ever had from New Zealand: yeasty, balanced and appealingly complex, with classy bubbles and a toasty finish.
Originally published in The Times