OK, so you know that thing where a couple of British actors who don’t know a bloody thing about wine are somehow assigned to represent all the charming goofballs worldwide who are faintly confused by grapes but haven’t been sent to a massive manicured villa in an Italian hill town and educated by wine experts on such topics as “Where Does Wine Come From?” and “Residual Sugar: Friend or Foe?” and “What Is This Gadget?”
Or, to put it another way, you know that thing where showrunners are convinced that certain things are esoteric and the way to make them relatable is to have an actor with major Everyman Factor on-screen getting schooled so it’s sort of like we’re on this wild ride ourselves?
The question is “Do you like that thing?” Because, if you do, The Wine Show is a fun example of it, and if you’re over it, you’ll wonder why you aren’t out enjoying an actual glass of wine with actual friends. Or playing tennis. Or reading. Here, actors Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode hang out in Italy, where they are taken to wine-church by wine expert Joe Fattorini and occasional co-curators Amelia Singer and Gizzi Erskine. For whatever reason, the people who already know what’s what do the globetrotting and the Matthews maybe hop a train to Montepulciano, but mostly they stay holed up in the villa. (So would you. You should see the place.) The Matthews both have that blinky-eyed “Blimey, how’d I book this gig?” charming-awkward schoolboy thing going on and it is both legitimately charming and also liable to get you wondering the same thing. They’re totally solid actors and seem like nice guys. They are self-avowed wine-neophytes and the plot arc, if you want to call it that, is their education. Actors are trained to be able to become anyone, and these guys seriously could be. They could be anyone.
If you are already a wine-o-phile, this show’s likely going to bug you, there are geek-worthy moments, including one in which global wine-guy Joe Fattorini walks into ground zero of winemaking in the Cape of South Africa, Klein Constantia, and tastes the Muscat that Napoleon had had shipped to him in exile (thirty bottles a month!). And I don’t mean the brand, I mean the vintage. If you’re not well-versed in oeno-history you might not even know that South African viticulture dates back practically to when Shakespeare was thinking up the third act of The Tempest—it does, and that’s interesting. If you are, you probably do know that, but it’s still kind of breathtaking to watch someone take a sip of something bottled more 200 years ago.
There’s education. There’s some great Italian porn, by which I mean landscapes. There’s a certain randomness to it. There’s not a lot of explanation as to why these actors or why these wine-folk. The gadget segment in the same episode as Fattorini’s Muscat tasting feels painfully advertorial—if it’s not a product placement for Coravin, Coravin owes them a nice fruit basket for the plug. It’s not deep. It’s not epic. It’s not definitive, making one wonder if titling it The Wine Show was the result of someone being too bored or unimaginative to harness the roughly four million available terms, puns, references and descriptors that would have had more punch than The Wine Show. It’s a show. And it is about wine. But the wine show? Sounds awfully serious and commanding and definitive for the lighthearted jaunt that it is.
It is my opinion that the wine show, the definitive, writ-large wine equivalent of our best food programming or our best natural history programming or our best documentary programming in general, has not yet been made, and possibly it’s for the same reason no one has managed to greenlight The Poetry Show. There’s a bias, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, that wine is esoteric and requires special training to be appreciated. First of all, that’s not true. Second, it is true, but it’s also true of cars, butchering meat, Phoenician history and badminton shuttlecocks, so let’s go on and get over it, shall we? But since the bias remains, showrunners remain skittish about presenting something they are afraid will fail to have broad appeal. So we get The Wine Show in the meantime.
It has broad appeal. Unless you are actually someone with opinions about wine. Then you might get a little tired here and there. But sure, check it out.
The Wine Show premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Ovation TV, and is now streaming on Hulu.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.