Wine, TV and me: Behind the scenes

Olly Smith with guests (from left) TV host and awarded author of 10 cookbooks Donal Skehan, awarded author of nearly 30 cookbooks and broadcaster Donna Hay OAM, and co-founder Anthony Murphy of 2023 Burger of the Year-winning Hereford-based restaurant chain The Beefy Boys
Olly Smith with guests (from left) TV host and awarded author of 10 cookbooks Donal Skehan, awarded author of nearly 30 cookbooks and broadcaster Donna Hay OAM, and co-founder Anthony Murphy of 2023 Burger of the Year-winning Hereford-based restaurant chain The Beefy Boys

Digital snowflakes fill the screen, the Saturday Kitchen theme tune fills the air and I am proudly wearing a Christmas shirt, waving at a camera on a crane with merry chefs and a festive celebrity. Almost every week, this BBC stalwart show, produced for the past 18 years by Cactus TV, is broadcast live to a UK audience on Saturday morning. With Matt Tebbutt at the helm, and me and former wine buyer Helen McGinn sharing drinks duties, it’s been a huge part of my life since 2006. While the Christmas show is sometimes a rare pre-record, without question live broadcasting is the most thrilling part of presenting wine on TV. With Matt’s skills as a chef, and the team backing us up in the gallery via earpiece, it’s not so much Dancing on Ice as Walking in the Air. But since it’s live on air, how much planning goes into it?

Careful selection

Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef Matt Tebbutt with comedian Chris McCausland

To answer that question, let me introduce you to Amanda Ross, co-founder and CEO of Cactus TV, who produces the show every week and has transformed the way we think about wine on TV. ‘For Saturday Kitchen, casting is key,’ says Amanda. ‘For wine, we can totally trust that Olly and Helen will find the best things in the budget range for the viewers. In rehearsal, I ask them the questions people at home want answered.’

The context of drinks on the show counts for a huge amount and the food pairing is taken very seriously. Unless the recipe involved is as straightforward as steak, I cook it at home to make sure the pairing works and also to get inside the head of the viewer to anticipate and prepare for any questions that may arise. Whenever there’s a chance to champion a lesser-known grape variety or up-and-coming region, I’ll seize it
in the name of both good value and to embolden our viewers’ exploration of wine.

As regular Decanter readers may know, I am deeply passionate about the wines of Greece and (with the exception of the pandemic years) have visited a different region every year across the mainland and islands for the past 30 years. Not long ago, when Rick Stein cooked Greek pasticcio live on Saturday Kitchen, I selected a Xinomavro by a favourite winemaker of mine, Apostolos Thymiopoulos, stocked by Majestic (Alc 13%, 2020 £15.99) – it’s a grape variety that is sublimely deft and savoury, somewhere between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir in style. The impact nationwide was huge, prompting Majestic to put out a press release with the title ‘Saturday Kitchen Mention Creates Greek Wine Surge’, explaining: ‘Thymiopoulos Xinomavro saw a rise of 1,800% in sales against previous weekends – the equivalent of over three months’ worth of sales in a single morning – and has been out of stock since. As such, some Majestic stores were forced to introduce waiting lists for the red wine ahead of Christmas.’ That impact on wine felt pretty special to be part of, and illustrates why Amanda takes the responsibility about what or who we promote on the show very seriously.

Budget conscious

Saturday Kitchen: cameras in place on set prior to broadcast

Cameras in place on set prior to broadcast

Food portions in recipes are costed on the show, and for drinks our brief is to stick to the high street and – special occasions excepted – keep to three price points: under £10, under £8 and under £6. There is a review on these prices underway as we go to print, to reflect the hike in UK duty on wines in August and challenges with inflation, so watch this space. The under £6 is increasingly challenging, but gives an opportunity to include cider, beer, non-alcoholic options and cocktails.

At Christmas, the budget rises. I seem to remember one Christmas with Nigella Lawson as our guest…


Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/wine-tv-and-me-behind-the-scenes-518201/

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