Olly Smith and Pink
News Reports 16 April 2020

The six drinks podcasts you need to know

Amid a wealth of online wine and spirits chat, we cut through the noise to assess the most notable broadcasts

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Peter and Susie
Susie Barrie and Peter Richards

Best for fans of The Archers: Wine Blast
To call them the Richard and Judy of the wine world would be to downplay their credentials – both are Masters of Wine, after all – but there’s a slick, polished nature to the repartee of married couple Susie Barrie and Peter Richards that belies their expertise. She plays the straight man, keeping the show on the road around his dad-jokes and scripted irreverence, while the whole thing is tightly produced, with a carefully choreographed dynamic between the pair. As with most podcasts, though, the most compelling segments are those in which there’s a guest to add a more spontaneous voice – by contrast, the tasting sections, which see the couple sampling wines that we can neither see nor enjoy, saw our attention wondering…

The ability for listeners to send in questions and comments via voice notes lends a nice interactive element, along with a sense of community and warmth. All in all, it’s the kind of content you could imagine Wine Society members contentedly absorbing in the kitchen while preparing the Sunday roast and browsing the weekend papers.

Stuart Broad
Olly Smith with England cricketer Stuart Broad

Best for bon viveurs: A Glass With
From the knowingly kitsch but clever theme tune (sung a capella by the show’s creator, Richard Hemming MW) there is a winnable vibe to this longstanding fixture of the drinks podcast circuit. Presented by the ever jolly Olly Smith (also pictured above with singer Pink), its premise is simple – get together with a celebrity to talk about their love of wine and share some stories. The real stardust here, though, is in the execution.

Smith has an easy, unpretentious manner – knowledgeable, chummy and clubbable, but in a disarmingly natural way. The result is that he manages to turn a guest as notoriously self-regarding as Jay Rayner into a likeable type. The secret comes in indulging the guests without being fawning, gently coaxing them into their comfort zone. As a result, the show becomes about them first and foremost, wine second, and Smith third. So soon Smith is talking male waxing with Rayner (‘were you on all fours?’) and drawing the revelation from cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew that he got engaged at South African winery Boschendal.

Ultimately, this is a show that lives and dies on the strength of its guests – and, thanks to Smith’s connections (‘I hadn’t seen Stephen K Amos since he was on stage with my brother at the Edinburgh Festival’) it has some very good ones. Dermot O’Leary, Pink, Michael Parkinson, Ian Rankin, Dawn French…

As with all such series, the quality of guests has waned over time, but the show’s archives, dating back to when it launched five years ago, are a rich source of entertainment.

Best for beginners: The Bring A Bottle podcast
The trio behind Amazon Prime’s The Three Drinkers have turned to an audio-only iteration of their banter-heavy chum-fest for lockdown. And the same formula remains intact, with Aidy Smith, Helena Nicklin and Colin Hampden-White helter-skeltering their way through a mix of topics, all the while giving the impression that while Nicklin and Smith are happy goofing around, Hampden-White yearns to deliver a cerebral analysis of a fine dram.

The heavily branded opening doesn’t inspire confidence – following the conspicuous introduction of McGuigan as show sponsor, we find the trio tasting – you’ve guessed it – a McGuigan wine. Fortunately, the lip service paid to such tasting segments is trumped by the occasional gem. The revelation that venerable baker Warburtons makes its own beer, with crumpet mis-shapes replacing malted barley, merited more air time; Nicklin having the chaps guess which grape variety she is thinking of, through the medium of sound, perhaps a little less. As for the ‘spit or swallow’ excerpt, the less said the better…

More profane than profound, expect bite-sized fun (at 20 minutes, the length is perfect – other podcast makers please take note) for wine-and-spirit newcomers not wanting to take the subject too seriously.

Levi Dalton

Best for wine geeks: I’ll Drink To That
The patriarch of wine podcasts, former sommelier Levi Dalton has honed the format down to a T. His is a simple formula – interview a guest, and broadcast it, with minimal edits. Sounds simple – and many of the episodes are, with little in terms of slick production values or gimmicky interludes (some of the editing can be a little primitive, in fact, while many of the conversations are obviously done by phone, which can make for long, rambling monologues, rather than conversations). Yet somehow, it works.

Much of this is down to Dalton’s wonderfully lugubrious voice, which sets a calm, relaxed ambience. There is a heavy US influence to the guest list, which is not exactly peppered with star names. Neither does he over-hype them – a recent tag of ‘Ken Wright goes looking for aroma’ was the very antithesis of clickbait. Yet somehow we found ourselves listening quite contentedly to the Oregon winemaker detail how plate activity over the last 200 million years led to the creation of marine sediment that in turn formed the western half of the state. That said, we preferred the episodes featuring industry commentators (Esther Mobley and Jasper Morris MW were two recent highlights) rather than winemakers, but maybe that’s just us. Either way, for wine nerds (the show assumes a high level of knowledge), this is a rich seam of material.

Fiona Beckett

Best for independent thinkers: Battonage
Hosted by Club Oenologique contributor Fiona Beckett and Master of Wine Liam Steevenson, each episode of Bâttonage takes a topic and explores it with the help of a guest interviewee. The pair’s easy manner and ability to communicate make for engaging listening, with Beckett particularly careful to strike a balance between exploring niche subjects and making them accessible to those who are casually curious rather than intimately informed.

On the down side, the sound quality leaves a little to be desired, and while the topics are generally current and intriguing, they can lose some appeal in being presented through the eyes of the trade rather than the consumer. So from our perspective, ‘How to spot when a wine is faulty?’ and ‘What’s behind the British gin boom’ are more resonant than ‘Is shipping wine in bottle a thing of the past?’ and ‘What can sherry do to win back fans?’

Best for hipsters: Uncorked Whisky Sessions
There is a joyful amateurism to this whisky-lovers’ podcast, produced by an offshoot of That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Far from polished, often rambling, it has the carefree vibe of an independent radio show (indeed, there are musical segues) aimed at fans of heavy metal. From this perspective it is more fun, if less authoritative, than its worthier counterpart, Whiskycast. Episodes with a particular focus, such as those on rye whiskey and peat, are particularly strong; occasional quizzes and the odd rant help keep up the pace.

The hosts – Sam Simmons (aka ‘Dr Whisky’) and That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Dave Worthington – are self-confessed whisky geeks and their knowledge and enthusiasm come to the fore. And while we don’t know for sure, we’d like to wager that at least one of them probably has a beard.

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