The ex-BBC Radio London breakfast show host loves his fine wines with a passion, but he can’t bear to be thought elitist, he tells Adam Lechmere
‘Right. This is the way I want this written. I want you to say I’m an enthusiast. That’s all.’ Jono Coleman tucks his napkin under his (fourth) chin and proceeds – between mouthfuls – to introduce me to his particular brand of enthusiasm.
‘I never had any problem with conversation,’ the former BBC Radio London presenter tells me, apropos his career here and in Australia. It’s like a kangaroo saying jumping came easy. Conversation is hard-wired into Coleman’s spherical frame.
We’re sitting in a restaurant in St John’s Wood, near the £2m house he bought from singer Lynsey de Paul, and he’s already telling me in his soft Aussie accent how he got his weight down to 17 stone from 22 stone, and won the Celebrity Fit Club reality show in the process. When I suggest he’s still probably carrying a pound or too more than necessary for someone who stands little higher than a tallish hobbit, he just looks pleased.
I first met Coleman a few years ago, lugging a holdall of Grange to one of Penfolds’ regular re-corking clinics. Grange fans are a weird bunch – they tend to be twitchy millionaires who refuse to tell you their name – and the affable Aussie stood out a mile.
He’s only got about 20 bottles of Grange now, half in London and half in Sydney (he and his family – wife Margot, who I imagine permanently wears what is called a wry expression, Oscar (12) and Emily (9) – divide their time between the two cities). The earliest vintage is the 1970. ‘I had some earlier ones but I got drunk and finished them off.’
He also loves the McGill and the St Henri, as well as other Aussie classics like d’Arenberg (winemaker Chester Osborn’s a pal). Coleman used to work at Penfolds in the 1970s, in fact. ‘I was there under Max Schubert, in the PR department. I wrote back label copy for Grange and all the other top wines.’
In Aussie parlance Coleman is what’s known as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’, part of the assisted British migration in the 1960s, when the Australian government offered passage for £10 in order to boost population and supply workers for its booming industries. He was nine when he left the UK. What kind of a family were they?
‘Very middle class. I grew up in Winchmore Hill in northeast London. My dad was a chiropodist. He’d have a hard week looking at people’s feet so there would always be a bottle of Sauternes on the table to go with mum’s chicken for Sunday lunch.’
It sounds rather comfortable – and very 1950s. Coleman Sr massaged Mae West’s feet, and looked after such matinee idols as Michael Rennie and Laurence Harvey, while talkative young Jonathan presumably hung about among the toenail clippings.
Things have changed a bit now: he has access to finer wines than 1950s dry Sauternes. The Colemans like to drink well, as evidenced by the container of cases he’s had shipped to Sydney.
There’s Pichon Lalande and Branaire Ducru 1997, magnums of Talbot 1997, Angélus 1999, Langoa-Barton, Cos Labory, smatterings of Châteauneuf, Burgundy, quality Brunello, serviceable Rioja, and magnums of Margaux 1994 and 1997: the children’s birth years. From Australia, a roll call of classy Penfolds: RWT, St Henri, Bin 707, Magill, and the inevitable Grange. Plus Henschke’s legendary Hill of Grace, and d’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz.
‘I’m a big d’Arenberg fan,’ he says. ‘I like Chester Osborn’s style. But I’m not a wine snob. We buy to drink. I go a bit crazy when I go into Majestic. We love Spanish, Italian, French. Do they know me in Majestic? Do they ever. Every time I go in I tell ’em I’ve come for the Pétrus. They love me in there.’
Great talker though he is, he has such an Aussie approach to things – terrified of appearing in any way elitist – that he won’t really describe why or how he likes his wine. He loves Pétrus but starts on about how ‘they can be so snooty on the Right Bank’.
When I do chisel a description out of him, it’s old curtains and crashing orchestras: ‘I love the sensation of the texture and nose: like drinking fine old velvet theatre curtains, from some brilliant limelight music hall or opera house, heavy and handmade but subtle and flavourful.’
But there’s nothing wrong with an anti-elitist stance: he will endear himself to many Decanter readers by claiming he’s recently stopped shopping at one wine merchant because, ‘they’re obsessed with Parker points’.
He seems an innocent soul, which I’m sure is pure front, as he’s an extremely successful presenter and does nicely enough in journalism for The Times to pay him a pound a word for travel pieces. At the moment he’s on sabbatical writing his memoirs, at the same time as writing and producing a radio show called My Generation which goes out to 105 stations across Australia.
He was fairly big in the UK a few years ago as BBC Radio London’s Breakfast Show anchor – his cherubic features were on the sides of buses for a few months – but he’s not a household name, which doesn’t bother him at all – he seems perfectly happy to paddle in the shallows, as it were: I get the impression that being recognised in his local Majestic is good enough for him.
We head in there for the photo shoot, and Coleman homes in on the fine wine section, pointing at bottles and saying, ‘I’ve got that, and that, and another vintage of that…’ And that’s the enduring image I have: rotund, keen as mustard, capering around hugging first growths under the eye of the manager.
What did you drink last night? A bottle of 1990 Grange with my wife, Margot. I found it at our Sydney apartment. A late wedding anniversary treat for us.
Desert island wine? Pétrus, or another bottle of Grange, or Hill of Grace, or a fine old Margaux
Most ever spent on a wine? £250 on an old St-Emilion. I can’t remember which or the vintage: it’s long drunk
For previous My Passion for Wine interviews, see the celebrities and wine page on decanter.com