My Round: Wine before beer...

There's all sorts of new programmes about wine on TV and radio, but why don't Britain's ales ever enjoy the limelight?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Radio and television have rarely found a way to make compelling listening or viewing out of wine. They've done well with the serious aspects of the subject: Jancis Robinson's Vintners' Tales (1992) is perhaps the best example on TV, and whenever the Radio 4 Food Programme tackles a wine subject (usually with Andrew Jefford presenting), the results are everything you would expect from that unerringly intelligent forum for serious food and drink journalism.

Radio and television have rarely found a way to make compelling listening or viewing out of wine. They've done well with the serious aspects of the subject: Jancis Robinson's Vintners' Tales (1992) is perhaps the best example on TV, and whenever the Radio 4 Food Programme tackles a wine subject (usually with Andrew Jefford presenting), the results are everything you would expect from that unerringly intelligent forum for serious food and drink journalism.

The populist approach hasn't succeeded so well, even though the wine segments of the old BBC TV Food and Drink programme shifted hundreds if not thousands of cases of any wine it recommended. Why? I suspect that wine lacks the drama that you can create with food. There are no dishes to be cobbled together in 30 minutes, no amateur cooks who can be trained while the tape rolls and the chef curses, no dinner ladies or below-the-radar-screen restaurateurs who can be whipped into shape. And while everyone has to take some interest in food, because we must eat to live, no one is forced to drink wine or beer or spirits.

But the producers have obviously not lost heart because two significant developments have taken place recently in vinous broadcasting. One is the Wine Programme, a six-week replacement for the Food Programme, which had its first outing two weeks ago under the guidance of Oz Clarke and Andrew Jefford. It was a good programme, as you would expect from this pairing. But I hope that the powers-that-be at Radio 4 will recognise that wine should be an addition to their programming, not a replacement for a great public institution which makes a vital contribution to the public's knowledge of food. Wine is an accessory to the good life, albeit a wonderful one. Food is an essential.

The other development has a lower profile at the moment, being confined thus far to the precincts of daytime cable television, but it represents both a faithful expression of the Zeitgeist and an attempt to bring wine broadcasting to a new audience. Late last year, UKTV Food hatched a Wine Idol competition to find a TV presenter who could "enthuse the nation about wine." Some 400 entrants applied, and in February the winner was chosen. Olly Smith, a 30-year-old voiceover artist and scriptwriter from East Sussex, won the competition after several challenges including tasting a wine blind and then describing it for a panel of judges. He now has a regular slot on UKTV Food, and has had calls from other production companies interested in him: "The phone has been hot, I must say."

What made Olly the winner? He thinks they were looking for someone who knows about wine but can appeal to a "funky demographic". Olly certainly knows his wine. He has advanced through the Advanced certificate of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) programme. Does he have the right stuff for media-stardom? Too early to tell, but Paul Hillier from Hardys Wines (sponsor of Wine Idol) calls him "the Jamie Oliver of the wine world."

The idea of a Wine Idol, while it may not appeal to traditionalists, has certainly come along at the right time. Britain is set to surpass France in wine consumption, and, if current growth rates continue, will become the second largest consuming nation after the USA within a few years. I'm all for that, and all in favour of more wine on radio and TV.

But I'm also waiting to see beer get its moment under the lights. The supermarkets pay attention to it, as you'll see from three here sold by Asda. Yet beer sales are trending downwards. Wrong direction! Is there a Beer Idol in the house?

Top Corks: Three beer idols

Hambledon Nightmare (£1.68/500ml, Asda) From a good brewery in North Yorks, a chocolatey stout-like beer with attractive burnt caramel notes and a long finish. Great with a meat pie.

Rolling Hitch (£1.50/500ml, Asda) This is a distinguished Indian Pale Ale, singed-amber colour, with citrus peel flavours, lingering. Drink with spicy chicken. From the Darwin Brewery, Sunderland.

Summer Lightning (£1.58/500ml, Asda, Booths, Waitrose) From the Hop Back Brewery, Somerset. Light colour, lively citrus flavours with bracing hoppy bitterness. Pour with care.

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