When news reached these shores that the U.K.’s ITV was airing The Wine Show — a docu-series that features actors Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys quaffing vino while seemingly starring in a fourth installment in the Before Sunrise series — it seemed unfair that the United States wasn’t getting a taste of it, too. Seriously, there’s a show in which Henry Talbot from Downton Abbey and Philip Jennings from The Americans sip pinot grigio while wearing jaunty fedoras and saying things like, “Knock me down with a feather”? And we don’t get to see it? Why can’t Americans have nice things?
Well, now we can. Thanks to popular — or at least our — demand, Hulu has picked up all 13 episodes of The Wine Show and will start streaming every one of them this Saturday. I have viewed the first six, and I can tell you this: If you are unduly excited by the prospect of watching the two Matthews crack each other up while getting their wine buzz on, you will not be disappointed by this program. Even if you think a show that involves an excessive amount of glass swirling and references to tannins sounds overly pretentious, there’s a good chance you’ll be won over, not only by the Matthews but by the overall easygoing, uncondescending, and informative vibe of the series.
The premise of The Wine Show is that Goode and Rhys, novice wine enthusiasts, have decamped to an Italian villa (I know, tough gig) in order to learn more about the grape-based beverage. Each episode is broken down into segments that focus on, among other things, wines from various countries (Chile, France, South Africa), wine-related gadgets, food pairings as chosen by well-known chefs, and an attempt to broaden the actors’ Italian wine horizons by sending them off on scavenger hunts to find wines reflective of the country’s culture. Goode and Rhys are central figures in all this, but wine expert Joe Fattorini, fellow wine guru Amelia Singer, and chef Gizzi Erskine also get quite a bit of screen time. While certainly a showcase for the buddy-comedy stylings of Team Matthew, The Wine Show is, first and foremost, a program that aims to educate audiences about the making and enjoyment of wine. Fattorini & Co. are our ambassadors in that effort, while Goode and Rhys are the Everymen cutting through the froufrou-ness of it all by proving they’re just as clueless about tasting notes as we are.
Given the amount of promotion granted to various wineries, it would be very easy for The Wine Show to feel like an hour-long commercial. Fortunately the producers — including Goode’s brother-in-law, Russ Lindsay — have actually aimed for both lightness and substance, particularly in the produced documentary segments, which use wine as the jumping-off point to explore history, politics, and social issues. Truly, you can actually learn things from watching this show, like the fact that vintner Jean Monmousseau smuggled Nazi resisters out of France using his own wine barrels, or that a Russian ban on wine from Moldova has had a serious impact on that country’s economy. One’s attention may drift during the less-compelling bits; the chef pairings segment sounds like a good idea in theory, but gets boring pretty quickly. But most of The Wine Show is done so smartly, breezily, and Britishly that it feels perfectly pleasant to spend an hour watching it, especially if you’re doing so while enjoying a glass of wine yourself. (Pairing this, back-to-back, with an episode of The Great British Baking Show? Crikey, that’ll go down smooth.)
Ultimately, though, the most pleasant part of The Wine Show is Rhys and Goode. The idea of watching two well-known, wealthy white guys drink wine while luxuriating in their own good fortune sound like the most obnoxious TV show pitch ever uttered, in an elevator or elsewhere. In fact, when PBS tried a variation on that “let’s watch famous people sip chardonnay” concept a few years ago with Vine Talk, it didn’t go over well at all. (“Vine Talk confirms every Republican suspicion about PBS,” read the subhead on Slate's review.)
Unlike that series, which featured a rotating panel of bold facers, The Wine Show sticks with two men who have been friends for years, are clearly comfortable with each other and, most importantly, keep it humble. Plus, they do all the delightful things you would hope Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys would do while casually hanging out in gloriously photographed, sun-dappled environments. They frequently refer to each other as Rhys-y and Goode-y. They naturally drop phrases like “Blimey O’Reilly” and “bloody Nora” into conversation. They do silly things with wine gadgets and express shock when they find out how much they cost. (“It’s a huge birthday!” Goode exclaims when Fattorini tells him that a decanter that pumps medical-grade oxygen costs 1,500 pounds and, therefore, might be appropriate as a big birthday gift.) Goode busts on Rhys’s less-than-manicured beard, which is so conspicuous it wouldn’t even pass muster as one of Philip’s KGB-sanctioned disguises on The Americans. And Rhys — the endearing wine-seminar class clown in this duo — remains perpetually prepared to drop a well-timed quip or amusing suggestion. After sipping a 2012 Sassicaia he clearly doesn’t like, a shop owner notes that the wine turned out well considering that 2012 was a lean year for grapes, a fact that makes him reconsider his feelings. “It’s a shame you can’t sort of put that on your label,” he says. “Look, I had a tough summer. You try and make a wine!”
Basically, after a few episodes of The Wine Show, you will think these two are both delightful and a credit to the human race. You’ll want to hug them and immediately convince a network to greenlight a scripted TV adaptation of Sideways starring the two of them as knockabout sommelier wannabes traipsing through the Tuscan and/or Napa countryside. Actually, Goode recently told our Devon Ivie that they’re hoping to make a second season of The Wine Show that is indeed set in Napa. That’s not a Sideways adaptation and it hasn't been confirmed yet. But it’s a start.
Look forward to, hopefully, seeing you soon in Sonoma, boys. First bottle’s on me.