In vino veritas -- in wine, there is truth, the sages say. There also is a lot of pretentiousness and snobbery, two things for which John Cleese has no patience whatsoever. That's what makes the affable British actor such a perfect host for "Wine for the Confused," a Food Network special.
If the information in this unintimidating and enlightening hour were printed and bound in a yellow paperback cover, it could easily carry the title "Wine for Dummies," so simple and straightforward is this program's approach.
That the show has a different name reflects Cleese's concern that too many potential wine enthusiasts are reluctant to explore the joys of the grape because they are afraid of making a "stupid" mistake.
That's why Cleese starts his presentation from a very reassuring central premise: "Don't let anyone tell you what wine you should like, because people have different tastes, and we shall honor that."
He lends credence to that notion via a wine-tasting party among friends at his own home, where he illustrates that, based strictly on taste, many people cannot discern the difference between a $200 bottle of wine and one costing $5, or even whether a wine is white or red.
Cleese takes viewers on a tour of some of the world's best vineyards to illustrate what kinds of grapes produce what kinds of wine, how the fermentation process works and why some wines are dry and some sweet, but none of this science is used to pummel the novice over the head. And there isn't a test at the end of it.
Rather, Cleese boils it all down to three essential tips: First, sample a variety of wines until you find one or two to your taste. Next, learn a few basic terms to clearly describe the taste (dry? sweet? crisp? fruity?) to friends and wine merchants. Finally, find a local store where you trust the staff to steer you to the kinds of wine you like, at prices that are far more affordable than most people may think.
Wine for the confused
Sunday at 10 p.m. on the Food Network