BBC newsreader Huw Edwards has been passionate about Alsace wines ever since he spent a year living there as a student. ADAM LECHMERE finds out what else tickles his fancy.
Huw Edwards strides into Kensington Place – the noisy west London restaurant favoured by media types for long (very long, around Christmas time) lunches – sits down, stretches out his legs and starts talking.
It’s a well-known fact that the small screen adds five pounds to your weight. In Huw Edwards’ case, the five-pound rule doesn’t apply. Apart from the fact that he’s sitting almost horizontally in his chair, he appears exactly as he does in my sitting room every evening, in his capacity as anchor of the BBC’s flagship Ten O’Clock News. He’s tanned, slightly jowly, with grey hair short and neat, an expensive suit of classic cut and loud tie. He’s a large presence, and polished, as if someone had given him a good buffing with a soft cloth.
At the moment, post-lunch, he’s also expansive, humorous, indelicate and – if Huw Edwards wasn’t in such a holiday mood – he could probably be overbearing. His Welsh accent is much stronger face to face – especially when he says ‘bloody’. As in: ‘I was forced to drink some bloody Spanish rubbish.’
(I imagine he tones the accent down when he broadcasts, though he has said that early on he decided not to neutralise it with elocution coaching, as many young people with regional accents used to in order to ‘get on’ at the BBC.)
He’s here to talk about his passion for wine – specifically, Alsace wine. Huw Edwards falls into the category of single-minded wine buff: he has developed a love for one region, and while he’s prepared to look at other stuff, he seldom strays.
‘I knew very little about wine until I was 20,’ he says. ‘Then, in one of those wonderful fateful events, I was sent to live in Alsace for a year as part of my degree course in French and Italian.’
The callow youth, straight out of Llanelli, South Wales, knowing ‘almost nothing’ about wine (‘it wasn’t a great fanational obsession in Britain in the 1970s’), was welcomed by the hospitable Alsatians and – as a matter of course – they poured their wonderful wines. ‘So that was my introduction and, more than 20 years on, Alsace wine is my passion.’
Huw Edwards admits to collecting top Bordeaux for investment, knows the region (he’s good friends with the owners of the well-respected Château Lezongars in Bordeaux), and would take Pomerol to his desert island (‘I love the stuff’). He also likes white Burgundy, but it’s to Alsace that he always returns.
He name-checks the producers he has visited (‘the great Johnny Hugel gave me a tour of his cellars. He was kind of full of himself because he’d just celebrated a big birthday in London and was feeling nice towards the Brits’), and the wines he ‘laps up’: ‘Anything by Trimbach – the Clos Ste-Hune is sensational. Wish I could afford more of it. Anything by Hugel, Josmeyer or Marcel Deiss.’ Schlumberger and Zind-Humbrecht are also mentioned.
His leaning is towards the minerally, dry, austere style of Riesling – ‘I’m less of a fan of the grains nobles’. I wonder if this spoils his taste for the other excellent Rieslings of the world.
‘No. I’ve tasted some wonderful Australian Rieslings like Grosset’s Polish Hill. I would say my benchmark is Alsace. But it would be rather stupid and short-sighted not to consider other versions.’
What does he get out of Riesling? ‘I love the combination of a very steely character and the fact that it’s discernibly fruity. When they get that mix right, you can’t beat it. But lots of people I’ve served it to don’t like it. They find it too austere, too awkward, too cold as a personality.’
Finding time to drink
So when does he do his drinking? Edwards has five children under eight, and he isn’t home till close on midnight four nights a week, which rules out midweek entertaining, but he spends a lot of time in restaurants. Many of his anecdotes start with, ‘I was in such and such a place the other day and the sommelier suggested…’
He’s known as an entertaining host. But he excites strong emotions, even considering he is one of the best-known faces on UK television, broadcasting up to four nights a week to 6–8 million people. One normally phlegmatic couple choked on their pasta on hearing I was interviewing him and said they ‘couldn’t stand him’. A colleague wanted me to ‘ask him why he never smiles’.
He smiles broadly. ‘If only I was given a quid for every time someone said that to me. It is not my job as a newsreader to show emotion. My job is to give the news as dispassionately as possible. I shouldn’t even imply that I have feelings about a story. I am merely a medium.’
He comes across as a straightforward sort of bloke, in fact. His wine talk is knowledgeable and unpompous. He distrusts too much food and wine matching, for example – ‘it’s totally overdone. It’s a bloody industry’. He won’t touch port (‘I detest it’) or scotch (‘poison’) or brandy (‘disgusting’).
‘I’m pretty common in my tastes,’ he says, smoothing his tie. ‘People who know me know that I like my fish and chips.’ And with that, he’s off to broadcast to the nation.
To win a case of Enclos du Château Lezongars 2001, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, in aid of Wine Relief, log onto www.decanter.com/competition.