My Passion For Wine: James Nesbitt

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  • Friday 16 February 2007

The star of Cold Feet, Murphy’s Law and those Yellow Pages ads tells Adam Lechmere about his addiction to Sauvignon Blanc

The star of Cold Feet, Murphy’s Law and those Yellow Pages ads tells Adam Lechmere about his addiction to Sauvignon Blanc

Apart from the damage done to my blood pressure, I enjoyed meeting James – Jimmy to his many friends – Nesbitt. It wasn’t that it was stressful (he’s a relaxed sort of chap), but setting it up was hell. He never returns calls, or emails. When we finally fixed a date he texted me in the morning to say his producers were getting cold feet (excuse the pun), at which my very eyeballs started aching with the tension.

Anyway, eventually we met in his trailer during the filming of a new series, Jekyll and Hyde. It’s in modern dress so he wasn’t all prosthetic teeth and extra body hair, and as this was the first day he couldn’t really say very much about it. It was lunchtime and we tucked into the delicious food the film company lays on for cast and crew. When I play the tape back our conversation is punctuated by loud slurps and grunts.

We start out talking about Dom Pérignon. He’d recently had a bottle of the 1996 and the extraordinary Oenothèque, a blend produced from DP’s library of vintages. ‘That’s the first time I’ve really enjoyed Champagne. It was fabulous.’

But he is not really a Champagne man. He’s thin – almost scrawny: nothing like the moustachioed maverick cop he played in recent BBC series Murphy’s Law – but then actors always look smaller in real life. His big break was Cold Feet, the long-running 30-something-men-on-the-verge-of-a-crisis series that made his name. He enjoyed the experience. ‘It was an exciting show, an exciting city [Manchester]. I was married, but I was up there and she was down here.’

Despite a reputation as a bit of a hellraiser he is pretty low-key, which I hadn’t expected. He gives the impression that acting is quite a lonely business. ‘When I’m filming away I tend to eat out – usually by myself. Or often I will be in a flat instead of a hotel and then I’ll crack open a bottle and cook something for myself.’

Even at home – he is married with two young children – he enjoys his wine alone. He’s just got through a case of Grand-Puy-Ducasse 1970 – ‘a staggering wine’.

‘I like to open a bottle after getting the children to bed, decant it, and sit with it and some cheese. Just me, the wine and that’s it.’

Nesbitt got a taste for good eating and good drinking with Cold Feet co-star John Thomson, also from Northern Ireland. During filming they ‘ate well and drank well’. He started out with Sancerre, and with eclectic reds like Lebanon’s Chateau Musar, but then found himself getting increasingly hooked – ‘like a slavish follower of fashion’ – to the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand.

He namechecks Cloudy Bay, naturally, but he has explored the super-dry whites of Framingham, and Palliser to the north in Martinborough. ‘Only Sancerre at its very best beats New Zealand Sauvignon. I got into Villa Maria – I still love its wines – and I got addicted to Marlborough. It wasn’t that I was drinking it at nine in the morning but it got to the stage where I wasn’t drinking anything else. It was difficult to leave it and find another style.’

That phase passed, and now for the first time he has the chance to really indulge his passion. He has just moved to a large Edwardian townhouse in southeast London with a three-room cellar. And he’s rubbing his hands at the thought of filling it.

‘I’m not going to stock it as an investment. I see it as something that I am going to enjoy spending my money on. You know – so I can go down and pick something out when people come round.’

He’s got his eye on mid-to-top range Bordeaux. ‘I would love to get in some more Grand-Puy-Ducasse’ – later vintages than the 1970 – ‘and of course I’ll have a few special bottles as well. Some stonkingly good important wines.’

He will instruct his wine merchant, possibly Tanners, to source most of the wines. They will be high-end Bordeaux and Burgundy, but not ‘ridiculously expensive wines like the first growths from 2005’.

It’s a nice picture, and one which he should have the wherewithal to realise, given that he’s now a pretty major star. He’s also been making decent money from a notorious series of TV ads for Yellow Pages – about which I detect a hint of defensiveness.

‘They’re very good for me. They don’t do me harm at all. There’s been no negative feedback – people used to be quite snobby about ads but they’re not any more.’

I wonder if these ads – which my friends and colleagues say are mildly irritating but not the worst – have caused him more grief than he lets on. But, as Bob Hoskins said when asked why he persisted with a series of British Telecom ads that were voted the most annoying of all time, ‘Why did I do it? One very good reason. In fact, about a hundred thousand good reasons.’

That should take care of most of the ‘important wines’.

Tasting Notes

What did you drink last night?

I was at a charity dinner in Belfast for Action Medical Research. We had a very good Châteauneuf-du-Pape

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a bottle?

Not that much, by Decanter standards. About £100 in a restaurant, I should think

What’s your Desert island wine?

Anything from Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre. The best Sauvignon Blanc in the world

Who would you drink it with and where?

On my desert island naturally. With Sir Matt Busby

Panel tastings

Wine labels from some of the world's most famous wines

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