Tuesday, December 17, 2013
'Oz and James' Big French Wine Adventure' DVD: British Series that Could be Titled 'Travels With Felix Unger'
BFS Entertainment's DVD release of the 2006-07 series "Oz & James' Big French Wine Adventure" has demonstrated that British television is even more awesome than previously believed; it has made what is essentially a reality show beyond palatable to being highly enjoyable and informative.
This series, along with "Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure California," aired on BBC America as "James May's Road Trip." The third installment in this group is "Oz & James Drink to Britain." Unreal TV will run review of the other two series over the next few weeks.
"French" is a six-part series that has the slovenly and laid-back James May, who hosts the long-running auto-centric British series "Top Gear," and more refined wine expert Oz Clarke traveling about the French countryside for the purpose of Clarke educating May about wine and May annoying Clarke for the entertainment of the audience.
Although our hosts experience inevitable (and most likely exaggerated) personalty clashes, our lads mostly keep it civil and generally regale in what each perceives to be his superiority over his companion. May blowing a whistle during the first episode each time that he believed that Clarke is particularly being a "wine ponce" is the closest to open hostility that is reached during the three episodes watched for this review.
One reason that this dynamic works is that both men avoid the true extremes that would make them as noxious as the Snookis and Honey Boo Boos that populate American reality shows. May has no problem being nice and playing well with others, and Clarke is hardly one to either raise a fuss when things are not to his liking or snidely degrade May or anyone else.
The show further rises above the usual level of reality TV fare by taking us through incredibly scenic French countryside and teaching those of us whose knowledge of wine does not extend much beyond knowing that "two (now three) buck Chuck" is a perfectly good choice for most meals.
Each episode ends with Clarke presenting May with a challenge that tests his retention of the knowledge that Clarke is imparting.
The first episode occurs in the Bordeaux region of France, and the instruction begins at a truly "Wine 101" level. Especially interesting aspects of this lesson include learning that understanding wine extends beyond using sight, taste, and scent to include touch.
Clarke amusingly instructs May about the relevance of the scents of pleasant and not-so pleasant items to evaluating a wine; the more "earthy" items are the least pleasant of this group.
The portion of the first episode in which Clarke uses a visit to a spa that incorporates wine grapes into its treatments is among the most bizarre segment in this (or any other) series. His stated purpose for this trip is to teach May about the texture aspect of wine.
Our heroes get grape facials and don skimpy G strings to bathe together in a tiny jacuzzi full of grape juice. This latter scene at least provides proof that the spa recycles this juice and offers a theory regarding the taste of the low-end Chardonnay that Robert Mondavi produces.
The entertaining challenge at the end of this episode has May trying to accurately describe the smell of a glass of wine. His humorous remarks are only part of what makes that scene entertaining.
The second episode sends May and Clarke out into the vineyards for literally hands (and feet) on experience making wine. It is a little disappointing that May crushing grapes does not lead to an altercation reminiscent of the famous "I Love Lucy" episode set in a vineyard.
May making wine as his challenge at the end of this one makes those of us who attempted the same in a college dorm not feel so bad about our results.
The next stop on the road trip is a bit of a departure in that it focuses on pairing wine and food; May once again steals the show in putting his low-brow spin on his challenge.
The series ending up in Champagne is particularly apt considering that wine ponces are particularly fond of reminding the less informed among us that only the wine that we think of as champagne that is produced in that region of France can properly be called by that name; everything else is sparkling wine.
The final rating of this wine adventure is that it deserves high marks; Both Clarke and May fabulously entertain us while Clarke teaches us more about wine than many of us ever expected to learn.
Anyone with questions about "French" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.