Wine Wednesdays With William: Essential Wine TV On The BBC

'saratoga living' wine expert William Roach recommends two of his favorite wine series in recent history.

Oz & James Big Wine Adventure
Oz Clarke (right) and James May, stars of the BBC's 'Oz & James Big Wine Adventure.'

Wine has been making cameos on the small and silver screen for years—and while there have been some shows and films that have broken through (see: The Wine Show, starring Matthew Rhys of The Americans or 2004’s hit film, Sideways), it’s difficult to find wine-related fare on TV or in the movies that truly gets to the heart of wine.

One show that I think does is Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure, a two-season BBC show—airing on BBC America as James May’s Road Trip—which features wine expert Oz Clarke attempting to teach Top Gear presenter, James May, how to appreciate wine beyond its capacity to inebriate. In the show’s first season, the two travel across France in a vintage V12 Jaguar, meet famous proprietors of famous estates, patrol the vineyards and drink a lot. It’s quite funny. In its second season, the venue changes to California and the vehicle turns into an enormous six-wheeler RV, as the two traverse the state from Los Angeles to Napa Valley, following the same formula.

More obviously educational and now a little dated—but no less essential—is the multi-episodic Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course, which first aired on the BBC in 1995. (It won a James Beard award in the US in 1997.) It walks you through how a wine professional assesses quality in wine and deals, in detail, with the world’s most important grape varieties.

Both of these series are “freely” available on YouTube—and you can also find them on your favorite streaming service, too. If you choose to watch them, pay attention to the footage of the world’s most revered vineyards. This is a chance to see how difficult great vineyards can be to cultivate, witness how rocky and steeply sloping they are and see all the features of the landscape that wring the last drop of energy from the dwindling autumn sun. As always, a picture’s worth 1000 words, hands down.

Wine Challenge:
Closer to home and also on YouTube, you can find me dispensing 90-second snippets of wisdom in 30 videos that cover everything from why people swirl wine to how to stop wine from going bad. Soon to be posted is a sequence of tasting videos in which I compare similar bottles. First up is a California merlot and a Californian cabernet sauvignon. How are they different, and how are they similar? If you’re interested, stop by the Wine Room at Putnam Market and pick up the wines. Later, you can taste the wine at home, make your own mind up.

William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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