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Stein on French wine

Published:  18 January, 2007

Thinking I had burned my boats with The Guardian, I was surprised, some weeks ago now, to be contacted by a (perhaps desperate) news editor who wondered if I could write, by 6pm (it was then lunchtime) for the morrow's edition, 400 words on Rick Stein, the cuddly ex-Oxonian adulterer who waffles on about food on BBC television. Stein has become an artless fool (he is not alone; why is it all these TV chefs insist on being so egregiously patronising? Only dear old Auntie Delia managed it authentically), but his pronouncements are, so it seems, noteworthy. However, in this instance it seemed to me that what he said was nothing so ignoble as a grotesque attempt, via the Radio Times, to drum up publicity for his new
TV series.

Stein uttered a series of silly statements about French wine, and coming, as they did, from a man who runs food businesses in the county with the worst catering (and local wine) in England, they amuse rather than seriously inform. The last time I ate at his restaurant in Padstow I had to send back my mussels because the chef had neglected to debeard them. Rick Stein is, then, in no position to besmirch the reputation of anything connected with French food, wine or culture.

Wine lovers', according to the Cornish patron, can find

a better choice in British supermarkets than in some of France's finest restaurants. You've only got to go into any UK supermarket to see how enthusiastically we have embraced all the different wines of the world. Meanwhile, the French stick doggedly to their own stuff, and while they still make the best, they're missing out on all those lovely Australians and New Zealands and Chileans they could be enjoying.' Well, you won't find much Aussie Shiraz or Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc or South African Pinotage in top Frog eateries, but you will find, mostly, a wide selection of the wines of the regions in which those restaurants are situated. Who could ask for more of a wine list? How could a country with 24% of its population concerned with agriculture be so insane as to start importing foreign products? That many New World wines are remarkable, and in many instances superior to French, goes without saying; but if Stein feels France needs foreign wines, then why do a programme about France in the first place?

Stein went further: I have to say that there is a lot of vin very ordinaire out there. The best French wines are still the best in the world - they have this real sense of belonging to the soil in which they were produced. But for every one really good French wine, there are 10 bad ones.'

Oh God. This is so much rubbish. Of course there is a

lot of ordinary wine. The world is full of it. The best French wines are not the best in the world, and soil has nothing to do with it. The soil of a vineyard is far less relevant than the soul of the winemaker and there are two dozen countries that make wine as good, and as bad, as the French. You really must, Mr Stein, exercise discrimination on your bloody barge (his new TV series takes place on French canals) and choose the many good French bottles. The true percentage of bad French wine to good is more like 50/50 than 10/90. Had this TV chef any real knowledge of French wine he could find precisely the opposite of what he claims to have found. It may, for all I know, be perfectly true that too much wine made from vineyards adjacent to French canals are rubbish (I can speak only of those in the Canal du Midi area, among which are many splendid specimens), but if further excursions are necessary, that hardly justifies a call for French wine lists to offer Chilean Cabernet.

One further Stein inanity is a real peach (and reveals that the man has no idea red wines can go with fish every bit as well as whites).

Most of the wines on my own restaurant list', he said, are no more than two years old, since whites are best drunk within a year or two of making.'

Oh dear. What codswallop. German Rieslings, arguably the world's greatest white wines, taste and smell much more sensual after 10 or 15 years, and even a Aussie Semillon is best kept six or seven. White wine, in many instances more so than red, is sassier with bottle age (and certainly New World whites are).

If the man who has passed the remarks above is considered suitable by the BBC to front a programme about French food and wine culture, God help us.

The only taste he has is for his own foot in his mouth.