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Radio review: The Wine Programme (BBC Radio 4)

The democratisation of wine is not exactly galloping ahead but with BBC Radio 4’s new show the Wine Programme it’s at least broken into a gentle trot.

The show consists of half an hour of studio-based chat and visits around UK wine buffs, presented by Oz Clarke (pictured) and Andrew Jefford.

Clarke fields the guests in the studio while Jefford (a plucky foot-soldier) is sent out into the field.

This was the first programme in an area that has suffered mightily in the last decade. From the glory days of Jancis Robinson’s The Vintner’s Tales and the Wine Programme, wine on TV and radio has been pruned so enthusiastically as to kill it off almost entirely.

So it’s a pleasure to see airtime devoted to serious, entertaining and informative discussion about wine. This new programme, along with the massive popularity of daytime king and queen Richard and Judy’s Wine Club, could get editors interested in commissioning wine programmes again.

Oz Clarke is an enthusiastic radio presence – his voice is as fruitily orotund as an expensive Aussie Shiraz – and Jefford’s encyclopaedic knowledge provides confidence.

There are some cavills. The choice of Dr. Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh (and author of the books ‘Looking in the Distance’ and ‘Godless Morality’ according to the Radio 4 website) as the first studio guest led to a discussion about

religion and wine that was rambling and of no practical use whatsoever.

And choosing Zinfandel for the first studio tasting wasn’t exactly populist, considering that the majority of Zin sold in the UK is undrinkable.

But Jefford’s house visit to sort out someone’s cellaring was useful and informative, if occasionally straying into Monty Python territory as a few chords of Mozart’s Fantasie in D Minor were struck up on the vintage Steinway to check for vibration. He came across with good nuggets: keep the wine out of the kitchen (where 90% of people store it), and out of the shed (where strong smells like creosote could ruin it); Champagne is the most temperamental of all to store; only the top 5% of wines are worth keeping, so drink up the rest.

There was also an incisive middle section with the ever-focussed Jancis Robinson on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

The verdict on the first programme? Seven out of ten, but keep it practical, with lots of solid recommendations that you can go out and buy, and no wittering abstractions about wine and its contribution to civilisation.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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