television: Jancis Robinson's Wine Course (BBC2) Jasper Rees on French whines

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The Independent Culture
Chateau Jancis Robinson is a new appellation that the BBC recently lugged up from its cellars. As a wine it's not unpleased with itself, but pleasing to others, too, though the French tend to spit it out. There's a certain frumpiness in the bouquet, which makes way for a really rather interesting sauciness bordering on intimacy that teases the palate, though the aftertaste leaves you wondering whether it's quite the grape it claims to be.

Of course, Jancis Robinson's Wine Course is not really a course at all. It's more of a travel guide with added fruit. The first programme, on Chardonnay, set the tone: Jancis kicked off in sun-drenched South Australia, and ended up in France, where it was raining. Part 2 (Cabernet Sauvignon) took her from France, where it was raining, to sun-drenched Chile. In last night's third lecture, on Pinot Noir, we were in France again, where it was raining, and moved on to Oregon, where... You get the picture.

In the New World the climate is dull only in the sense that it doesn't vary. France, meanwhile, seems to have traded weather systems with Connemara. It may only be coincidence, but whenever Jancis turns up at a French vineyard, it starts to pour down. After corkscrews and wine glasses, the most visible prop in the programme is the umbrella of a woman who really knows how to put a dampener on things.

An EC draft law is now being rushed through Brussels that will specifically prevent English female wine bores in semi-sensible glasses from crossing the border into France. A massive poster campaign depicting her mug at airports and ferry terminals will help to enforce the ban, while the manpower at motorway checkpoints is to be tripled. It may well be that Jilly Goolden - who was last night recovering in hospital, incidentally, after a savage attack by Richard E Grant on Room 101 (BBC2) - will miss out on the odd summer holiday, but this is a small price to pay for the salvation of French viticulture.

Over in Oregon, where the sun always drenches, Jancis wore a very flouncy white suit that after five minutes in Burgundy would be frankly diaphanous. The story here, as in her visits to other parts of the New World, is of the upstarts usurping the ancients. The reliability of the weather allows wine-makers to churn out exactly the same drink from one harvest to the next. It doesn't match the French peaks, but then it can't compete with France for troughs.

French wine-makers, in other words, are now finding out how English cricketers have felt for the past 20 years: the odd good result can't occlude a pervasive sense of decline and impotent affront as Johnny Foreigner starts to beat you at your own game. The programme could just as easily have been called Jancis Robinson's Whine Course, for that's what the French still excel at. The New Worlders in this series make for bland viewing, however, because in documentaries nothing fails like success.

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