Welcome to the second era of Oz.
The first era was Oz Clarke's now legendary partnership with Jilly Goolden on Food & Drink. Now, whatever they thought of each other, Oz & Jilly managed to get through to the national consciousness and raise the profile of wine. Unfortunately what we remember most are Jilly's over-the-top descriptions and therefore ridicule their legacy. However, Oz came across as a likeable and knowledgeable chap, and that legacy is very important and should be built upon.
It is for that reason I was very happy to see that Oz was coming back to our screens in not one, but two programmes in the run up to Christmas. However, it now seems you can't move without bumping into him. In the last few weeks alone I have seen him at the London Wine Show, BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, BBC2 (more on this later) and in various magazines like Harpers and Wine & Spirit. Is that not enough Oz for one year?
Well, we will be seeing more of him (literally I expect) now that the BBC2 show, Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure, with James May is under way. There was much anticipation in the business for this show, some with dread, others with glee. I think I was in the latter category to start, but am wondering whether I expected too much.
The show first aired last week and I sat in my hotel room (after a rather long day at the BBC Good Food Show) to see what this was going to be about. The show is meant to be about Oz introducing "beer drinking","petrol head" and "man of the people" James May to wine. I am all for that concept, as it afforded all sorts of great opportunities to educate interested viewers. However, the producer is obviously a graduate of the reality TV or day time chat show school of television, where every programme must create a tension between different participants in expectation that they'll have a fight.
So instead of being well rested and clear headed, they are made to sleep in a tent together (WHY?). Instead of having someone drive them around so they can both taste wine, they go to top wine producers, and have James taste no wine (DUMB!). Then they have stupid stunts, like driving across a field in a 2CV to see if some eggs might break (not even funny on Top Gear) or making wine from bought grapes in a half gallon quantity with a packet of what looked like bread yeast (simply disgusting).
Why? There are SO MANY clever, fun, relevant things they could have done.
On top of all this, presumably to get a few cheap laughs and get people talking (at least that worked) they show us their two virtually naked bodies in various "wine spa" treatments. Yuk! On both counts.
I had hoped that Oz would come across as he is, an affable wine expert who is not stuffy and old fashioned, and therefore bringing wine to lots of potential new wine consumers. Unfortunately so far he comes across as a dotty old codger without a plan to actually get James on-side and enjoying wine. Why does he insist that there is a "right" answer to how a wine tastes? The whole point about wine is that we each have our own experiences and we should have fun exploring the thousands of wines out there. Why does he not get him to taste a range of wines to compare and contrast instead of getting him to sniff cow pats?
As for James May, well, I guess he is playing his part according to the script. I can't say I was overwhelmed by his style, and I do wish that everyone who has anything to do with Top Gear would stop trying to be Jeremy Clarkson. Get a life, or at least, get a personality of your own!
[For some other reactions, read some other reviews here, here, and here]
I fear that this will be not only an opportunity lost, but will reinforce the misguided stereotypes about wine, and therefore make us worse off.
Let us hope the producer has a trick up his sleeve and will rescue this programme before too long.