Enter the tousled-haired sommelier, aiming to be the Jamie Oliver of wine

By Steve Bloomfield
Wednesday 03 July 2013 02:02

To end the humiliation of choosing a wine while a condescending wine waiter hovers in judgement, Skinner is urging diners to fight back.

With two wine books out for Christmas and a television series in the pipeline, Jamie Oliver's friend is determined to help a new generation of wine-drinkers square up to a pompous sommelier.

He is already in talks with Channel 4 and BBC about a television series and his first book, Thirsty Work, has been published in 11 countries and translated into six languages. The Juice, a guide to 100 wines from cheap to pricey, is released next month. "I wanted to put together a wine guide that people from my generation could feel comfortable buying," the author said.

"All my mates like a glass of wine, but none of them owns a wine guide. I want people to summon up the courage to have a conversation with the sommelier or person in the off-licence. Don't be shy: you will drink better."

Oliver is a big fan. "Just by being sincere and helpful he can get you the best bottle of wine - that puts him light years away from everyone else," he said.

Skinner started working at an off-licence in his native Melbourne when he was 18. His manager told him he had to take an interest in wine if he was going to sell it. After gaining a scholarship for a year-long wine course and travelling around Europe's vineyards he returned to Australia.

He met Jamie Oliver in Melbourne five years ago when the chef was on a book tour. They immediately hit it off. When Oliver was setting up his restaurant Fifteen and needed someone not just to be a sommelier but also train his students in the art of wine, he gave the Australian a call.

Skinner has now followed his boss on to the television screens. He makes regular appearances on the BBC2 cookery programme Saturday Kitchen and has turned down several other offers, from helping ex-pats turn around struggling vineyards to a Jamie Oliver-style project taking six people from poor backgrounds and training them as sommeliers.

He started producing a weekly email for staff at Fifteen and Oliver's other companies, recommending three wines to try over the weekend. He combined the tips with a bit of history and inside knowledge on different types of wine. An accessible guide for twenty- and thirtysomethings based on his weekly emails was the logical next step.

Meanwhile at Channel 4, Richard and Judy are to launch their own wine club next month - an on-air guide for viewers to getting the best out of wine by tasting along at home. First up are Australian wines. A wine club book will also be published in November.

Richard Madeley said: "There is so much pompous rubbish spoken about wine and it puts people off - the British have an extremely sensitive nose for pretension. We talk about wine in very down-to-earth, matter-of-fact terms and do our best to explain simply and directly how different wines achieve their distinctive flavours, and what in our experts' opinion it makes sense to drink with certain types of food.

"Hopefully our viewers and readers will end up with a good functional knowledge of wine, and will never be intimidated by a snooty sommelier again."

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