The 1950s-styled TV and radio presenter and performer only discovered wine recently, but there’s no stopping her now, says FIONA SIMS
The first time I encountered Amy Lamé was in bed. The writer, broadcaster and performer was wisecracking with co-presenter Danny Baker on the BBC London (then GLR) breakfast show. She was funny. I was giggling before I’d even opened my eyes. Her slot has moved now, sadly, to weekday afternoons, when I don’t listen. But you might have spotted her elsewhere, too. Her TV presenting career spans Celebrity Fit Club, Richard and Judy, Great Food Live and Daily Politics, among others.
With her trademark 1950s specs and Rubenesque figure, Lamé obviously likes her food (she is defiantly chubby and models in her spare time) – but she has also built up a considerable wine cellar. Her partner, Jenny, shares her passion – so does Baker. Every Monday after the show she and Baker retire to the pub across the road to share a bottle of pink Champagne – Taittinger, preferably. They call it Champagne Monday. ‘Ooh, yes,’ she purrs in her sultry American drawl when I ask if she wants to talk wine with Decanter – of which she’s an avid reader.
We meet in Mocotó, the flash new Brazilian eatery in Knightsbridge – and no, it’s not well known for its wine list, but it makes a mean caipirinha, one of Lamé’s favourite cocktails. She’s meeting friends there later, before jetting off to Australia the next day with her first one-woman show in a decade, ‘Amy Lamé’s Mama Cass Family Singers’. Lamé is now a British citizen – a fact she celebrated properly the night before over dinner at Le Gavroche. What did you drink? ‘2003 St-Emilion Clos de Sarpe,’ she replies. She drank little wine when growing up in New Jersey. ‘Besides the odd bottle of Chianti at family holiday dinners and my father’s unexplainable love of Drambuie on the rocks, we were like most American families and pretty teetotal. That’s not to say my siblings and I weren’t sneaking stuff from the sadly underused liquor cabinet. When our parents weren’t around, my brother and I used to drink teaspoonfuls of Galliano and pretend to be drunk.’ And apart from getting drunk on raspberry wine spritzers at a Depeche Mode pop concert in 1987, that was it as far as wine went when she was growing up.
So what kick-started her recent passion?
‘My partner sent me on a one-day wine course at Berry Bros & Rudd for a birthday present a few years ago and it changed my life. It felt like an exciting, enticing world of wine tasting was unfolding. There’s been no stopping me – I’ve been poking around vineyards, cellars and wine shops ever since.’ She declares herself ‘a bit of a wine nerd’, scouring the broadsheet wine columns, reading wine magazines from cover to cover, and she has a number of wine books by her bedside, including Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Guide and the Oxford Companion to Wine. ‘I’m a compulsive wine browser. Every time I happen upon an independent wine shop I make a point of going in and buying at least one bottle. It’s important to support merchants that are taking risks and bucking the chain shop trend.’
So what does she like to buy?
‘I’m unashamedly Old World. I’ve a small collection of about 50 bottles here in London, mostly Burgundy that we bought a year and a half ago on a big tasting trip for my partner’s 30th birthday – Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe- Corton, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, and a smattering of Chablis (William Fèvre). Plus our everydaydrinking Côtes de Roussillon-Villages. ‘We have a holiday house in France where we have a big mix of mainly local wines – Côtes de Roussillon-Villages from Maury, Tautavel and Estagel. I buy direct and regularly from Mas Amiel, Domaines des Schistes and Fontanel, and Vignerons de Maury. And Limoux is an underrated area for Chardonnay – I love Domaine de Martinolles and Toques et Clochers.’ Are there any other wine regions she likes to travel around? ‘Obviously I love France and we’re planning a tasting trip to Alsace later this year. I’ve been all over Andalusia, California’s Monterey and Salinas Valley, plus all of Italy, from Piedmont to Sicily. I’d love to taste round North and South America.’ The trip to Alsace planned for later this year was prompted by Tate Britain’s sommelier Hamish Anderson. Lamé loves Anderson’s wine list there, and chef Richard Oxley’s menu, which she declares ‘inspired’. ‘Together they have created a food and wine lover’s paradise – it’s just a shame it’s only open for lunch,’ she grumbles. She often chooses the sommelier’s recommendation ‘to stretch my tastebuds’. ‘It was this way that Hamish succeeded in curing me of my fear of Alsace with Trimbach’s 1997 Clos St Hune Riesling. For about a year I was adamant I didn’t like Pinot Gris and refused to drink Riesling. Oh, how wrong I was.’
Such is her passion for wine that you might see her on TV hosting her own wine show soon, she reveals. Watch this space.