Exclusive interview: James Purefoy on The Wine Show and why it’s the best job ever

James Purefoy (L) and Dominic West can now be seen in Season 3 of The Wine Show. Pic credit: Sundance Now/Acorn TV

Sundance Now’s unscripted docuseries, The Wine Show, takes a spin around the globe with James Purefoy, Matthew Goode, Matthew Rhys, Joe Fattorini, Amelia Singer, and this season’s special guest, Dominic West.

They break up into groups, explore and sample the wines at hand, and learn about the histories of vineyards, cuisine pairings, and the work that winemakers worldwide do to create that particular bottle.

The show makes you understand that the labor is love, and the individual palate is strongly influenced by setting, as James Purefoy told Monsters & Critics in an exclusive phone interview last week as he was back home in England, looking forward to planning more adventures after this latest Portuguese deep-dive in the Douro valley.

Blessed with a distinctive and appealing grin, Purefoy always seems to be in on the joke, or totally in the know, with his charismatic presence and scene-stealing talent. Cast as Marc Antony, he beguiled Polly Walker’s cunning siren, Atia of the Julii in HBO’s Rome, a role that made him swoon-worthy to so many fans.

In The Following for FOX, he even brought that same-sex appeal to a serial killer, Joe Carroll. In AMC’s Hap & Leonard, his role as Hap was the perfect balance to Michael K. Williams and Christina Hendricks in that critically acclaimed dark comedy.

So it goes without saying that Sundance is benefitting from his star wattage on The Wine Show, a docuseries, travelogue, and wine edutainment experience like nothing else on television. And this season, he brought Dominic West along for fun. West owes him as the gig is nonstop wine, mirth, and R&R. This season, Purefoy has brought West to Quinta do Noval in Portugal, where they explore the merits of ancient varietals like Madeira and Ports and sample rare Azores wines too.

The series splits up the talent as Matthew Rhys dines at Russ & Daughters in New York City with Joe Fattorini, who whips out a “pink” wine to go with their “pink” deli platters. In the same episode, Amelia and Joe escort tourists on a Madeira winery tour, and the group comes together to weigh in on the various varietals with wit and wisdom.

Exclusive interview with James Purefoy

Monsters & Critics: You came on during the second season?

James Purefoy: No, I wasn’t. I used to watch the rushes for the first season. I was working with Matthew Goode on the Roots’ remake in New Orleans.

So he was looking at dailies [for The Wine Show], and I said, ‘What kind of show is that?’ And he told me it was The Wine Show. And he was working on that with our mutual friend, Matthew Rhys in Italy, doing what could not be described as work in any way, shape, or form. I went off and said, ‘ I can’t imagine a better job than that.’

And then the next season happened, and the following season, Matthew Rhys had a very bad excuse. He got a job working on The Post with Steven Spielberg, and he said he couldn’t do the following season. So they think they looked down their list and right at the very bottom was my name. they pulled me in, and it’s been a joy to work on ever since

M&C: Dominic is a friend of yours. He owes you Fruit of the Month Club, by the way. Were you responsible for getting Dominic West into the fold?

James Purefoy: Yes, because Matthew suddenly announced halfway through the shoot that he wasn’t going to be available for the tasting sessions, which is where it gets messy. That was about a week before we shot. So, we were a bit frantic, or we got on the phone, and the first person I called was Dominic, and he said, yes, straight away. And then he got on a plane a week later,

M&C: All your friends ringing you up now?

James Purefoy: (Laughs) Damian Lewis gagging to be on it? [Laughs] here’s a whole bunch of actors who would be very happy to be on the show. Yeah. It’s a nice gig.

M&C: A lot of American fans want to know, will the show ever migrate from Europe to cover American wines? Will you guys ever take a road trip?

James Purefoy: Yes, for sure! We’ve got various ideas planned, and I certainly want to head to California, Oregon. I would love to go and do the Pinots in Oregon, looking at they’re famous for their Pinot Noirs, aren’t they? And Rhode Island is another place where somebody who told me the other day had great wine. Great, great vineyards there.

So, yes, without a shadow of a doubt, I think it’s just, we want to take our time because there’s a lot of places in the world to cover. We want to go to South America, Chile, and Argentina. We want to do Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. So there’s a whole load of places we would be delighted to go to, and if I’m doing this job in 15 years, I’m either in rehab or a very happy man—one of the two.

M&C: How do you manage the takes? How do you manage the sobriety and the words that come out of your mouth after you’ve been going on about a particular wine?

James Purefoy: Probably because we decided early on that aesthetically, it wasn’t an attractive look—spitting. So we decided not to do that.

Whether that was a good idea or a bad one, I don’t know. You have to ask my liver.

How do we manage it? It’s the tasting week which is the toughest week of all. Because those weeks, I mean, just last season, it was four solid days, with 16 wines every morning, a big lunch with a local wine producer, then 16 wines every afternoon.

I think the first season, I got into a bit of trouble—in terms of being able to speak—but we don’t celebrate our drunkenness because cause it’s hard to do [the work] when you are drunk.

But the producers are very kind. They give us a two-hour lunch to have something to eat and then an hour to sleep it off before we start again. So they’re very good to us like that.

The second season I was doing the tastings with Dominic, and I said, ‘Look, Don’t get into these wines too much and don’t slug them just because otherwise you’re going to be in trouble by lunchtime.’

He didn’t listen to a word I said or anything I have ever said except to come and do this job.

So, yeah, he shall we say he got a little tight.

M&C: What have been some wine preference surprises for you in your own palette?

James Purefoy: Some really interesting ones, like the Vinho Verde, for example, I had no idea what Vinho Verde was. I had literally no idea. Green wine? Is that what it means?

A slightly apple-y green thing. The thing about Vinho Verde is because the north of Portugal where it is made is quite temperate. I’d always been very snobby about Vino Verde. I thought it was a bit shi**y wine, but I loved it. That became known as our day wine. Relatively low in alcohol because it’s not as hot in the Northern part of Portugal as it is in the central zones of the Southern zones. Heat gives a lot of alcohol content to wine.

So you can drink quite a lot. And I liked that very slightly carbonized texture to it. So just a very slightly fizzy wine but not like a Prosecco or Champagne that is alarmingly fizzy. So that was a great surprise.

There was a couple of wines that then if you’ve seen any of the show, that was one of the particular wine that made me cry. I would literally cry. How pathetic.

M&C: Well, what was the trigger?

James Purefoy: We went to Alentejo, where they grow all the cork trees. It just goes on for mile after mile after mile, thousands of cork trees.

And we’d spend the day in 40 degrees [Celsius, 104 Farenheit] heat with the guys who chopped the cork from the trees while singing polyphonic folk songs. They don’t speak a word of English, but we managed to communicate and get by and get on with them. We were exhausted, we are doing it for 14 hours or 12 hours, whatever, but it was a long day.

And then some guy rocked up in a land Rover and this bottle of wine called Cem Reis. A 2017 bottle and he had opened it a couple of hours before. So there was a warmness to it; the air had a chance to get in there. And I wasn’t concentrating. I took this slug of this wine and, I just started crying because I thought it was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted in my life.

Now here’s the thing. When you know your wine, context is everything. To me, it is almost as important as what’s in the bottle.

What are you eating? Who you, were you drinking, and who with? What was the temperature? What happened when you were drinking that wine? Who were you talking to? Was it fun? Was it bad?

So all of those things have an effect. I remember being in a restaurant in Tuscany once and thinking that this wine was absolutely out of this world, got my phone out, got a case delivered so that it would be at my home waiting.

When I returned to rainy September West country, England, that wine tasted nothing as it did in that restaurant with those tomatoes and that mozzarella and that bread, nothing. It was a totally different wine.

M&C: Okay. It’s like having a single malt scotch neat when it’s a hot summer day.

James Purefoy: Yeah. When it’s cold, and you’ve just come in from a long, punishing hike, and somebody gives you a little Oban [Scotch], and you knock that back, nectar of the gods. But yes, if you have some [Scotch] in Dubai, I can’t imagine anything worse.

M&C: Do you have a love in your heart for Madeira?

James Purefoy: No, I don’t. And Joe Fatterini was horrified, but he said, ‘Well, what’s your relationship to Madeira?’ And I said, ‘It’s great in gravy.’

For me, that’s the trick. A Port, on the other hand, I can see. I can understand that appeal as we spend a lot of time in the Douro, which is a fascinating place, yet not many people are drinking Port anymore, or at least people are not drinking Port now as they were in the olden days.

And certainly not a drink that young people drink anymore. So, it’s fascinating there as these winemakers are making [other] wine instead of just Port.

And so there’s a lot of that going on in the Douro valley now because they realize that Port is just not what it was. In this country [Britain] you might buy a bottle of Port once a year.

M&C: What’s on the horizon for you? I know you did some spoken theater recently for the Odyssey?

James Purefoy: I did the Odyssey a couple of weekends ago, a huge online, massive, amazing audience for it. I couldn’t believe how many people were watching.

We started at 9:30 in the morning. We finished it at 11:30 at night, it was a very intense experience and interesting.

I’m about to start doing the third season of Pennyworth, with Warner Brothers, which airs on Epix. I’m also just about the star playing Louis XV of France in Canal+ production of a series about Marie Antoinette.

The Wine Show is streaming season three on Sundance Now.

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