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Wine to 5: Olly Smith, wine broadcaster, author, columnist

Inside a professional's everyday life, Decanter speaks to UK wine broadcaster Olly Smith...

A familiar face on BBC Saturday Kitchen over the past 15 years, Olly Smith also writes a weekly wine column in the Mail on Sunday and hosts the podcast A Glass With… He appears at events as one of the Three Wine Men as well as at CarFest, and is behind P&O Cruises’ The Glass House wine bars. In 2021 he will launch his latest book, as well as a range of glassware.

From Pingu to Pingus… how did that happen?!

I loved being a screenwriter – from Charlie and Lola to Wallace and Gromit, writing animation was my speciality. Pingu was a particular hoot; I worked on more than three series and there’s a script on my website to show how my job took shape. But I’d previously worked for Orange & Co vintners in Jersey, where I grew up, and I couldn’t shake my enthusiasm for wine. In 2004, my screenwriter friend Mark Huckerby encouraged me to enter Wine Idol, a competition sponsored by Australian brand Hardys in search of a new wine communicator. I was delighted to win, and part of the prize was an audition to appear on the TV show Good Food Live for one episode. I got through the audition, appeared on the show and a second booking built gradually into more regular appearances. After stints on Food Uncut and Taste for Sky One, Amanda Ross at Cactus TV gave me a break on the Richard & Judy Wine Club, which, in turn, led to Saturday Kitchen in 2006.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Reaching a wide community of wine lovers and sharing opinions over a glass or two. I love my work for P&O Cruises, pouring bottles for passengers to explore. Performing live shows such as CarFest is great for exchanging views with people who already love wine, as well as those just embarking on their journey. Online has grown hugely for me, hosting wine tastings and events such as Matt & Olly’s Lockdown Love Inn with my chef pal Matt Tebbutt as well as continuing with my podcast. I’m thrilled to have met and chatted with a huge variety of well-known guests who also adore the world of wine: Pink, Sam Neill, Trudie Styler and Sting, Kylie Minogue

And the worst?

Declining invitations. My mission is to help spread the word of wine – to shine a light on the work of wine-growers, issues we face locally and globally, and to link people’s palates to their ideal experience. I receive a lot of enquiries, and I wish I could contribute to everything that comes my way.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That it’s constant drinking and laughter. I’m an early riser and love an early night! I adore my job, but there’s lots of research, writing, rewriting, rehearsals and meetings involved.

What was your greatest moment?

Getting to know Sir Roger Moore and taking a helicopter to have lunch with him in Monaco. He was a huge fan of Sancerre and we enjoyed a few glasses together over the years. I remember him fondly recalling a trip to the Loire in the company of Sir Michael Caine and Leslie Bricusse. Whenever I sip Sancerre, my toast is always to him.

And your greatest mistake?

I haven’t pushed hard enough to get my own column in Decanter. Consider this my first step to putting that right!

Which wine do you find yourself recommending most often?

I’ve visited Greece annually for the past 28 years and I’ll seize any opportunity to recommend Greek wine. Both whites and reds have so much character to offer thanks to the range of lesser-known local grapes, and the small scale of production generally leads to wines of immense charm and intrigue. Yamas!

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