This is the last part of a series of articles on wine and the movies. Part 1 covered movies from the Forties, part 2 covered movies from the Fifties and Sixties. Part 3 covered wine movies from the Seventies and Eighties. Part 4 covered wine movies of the Nineties. Part 5 covers movies of the 21st century. Underlined movies are available from Netflix.
Sideways– 2004 Paul Giamatti, Frank Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh.
This is a road trip movie with wine; lots of it. Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Church) take a tour of Southern California wineries; sort of an extended bachelor party for Church. The soliloquy to wine that Virginia Madsen gives almost repairs the wreckage these two boisterous wine guys create.
What one learns:This movie emphasizes the power of film. Giamatti, a beer drinker, managed to turn off hoards of wine drinkers to Merlot which saw sales tank, and enshrined Pinot Noir whose prices went through the roof.
Giamatti saved his favorite bottle of wine, Chateau Cheval Blanc, until the end of the movie. A wonderful right bank wine, which is comprised of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc, which is the other grape he belittles in this movie. The right bank wines of Bordeaux use Merlot as their principal grape, not Cabernet Sauvignon as they do on the left bank of the Gironde River. Should one assume Giamatti couldn’t tell his right from his left?
A Good Year– 2006 Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard and Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish.
The opening scene with Albert Finney as Uncle Henry instructs his nephew about winemaking as a way of life, until Max cheats at chess, prompting Uncle Henry to say, “You little sh–!” The memories of which, shown in flashbacks, causes the grown-up Max(Crowe) to be conflicted about whether to sell the vineyard and chateau, or hold onto it, supporting his uncle’s dream of passing on his legacy. The cinematography of Provence is breathtaking. The sense of living in a chateau and making wine are also nicely captured.
What one learns:In France, terroir signifies everything about the wine. In a later scene the oenologue inspects the chateau’s soil and determines what quality wine the vineyard can produce. In Burgundy, a 1st growth vineyard is supposed to create the best wines. In Bordeaux, Grand Cru Classe is the equivalent. In Provence the AOC has a set of rules for what can be planted and how. These rules factor later in the story about the mystery wine.
Everyone trying the Chateau La Siroque “house wine” ends up spitting it out. This is not a good sign for a wine’s quality. When Max shares a bottle of Coin Perdu with his cousin (Cornish) however, she is astonished how good it is. Later we learn more about this “cult” wine and this thread of a subplot weaves through the main story. For a wine lover it is hard to decide which to focus on as the main story pulls one back. Coin perdu translates to “back of beyond” or “remote corner”, which hints at the vineyard’s location. The movie plays fair by revealing where the mystery wine was made.
Bottle Shock– 2008Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez.
In many respects, this was a reasonable reenactment of the events surrounding the Paris tasting in 1976, which was described in George Taber’s book, The Judgment of Paris. The focus was only on Chateau Montelena and the winning Chardonnay and only mentioned the winning Stag’s Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon during the ending credits. This movie came out before the book.
Bill Pullman as the irascible owner of Chateau Montelena, Jim Barrett, hit all the right notes and played off Rickman well. The following dialog between Pullman and Rickman pretty much sums it up.
Jim Barrett: Why don’t I like you?
Steve Spurrier: Because you think I’m an ass. And I’m not really. It’s just that I’m British, and you aren’t.
What one learns:In reality Mike Grgich, was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena and had many clashes with the owner, Jim Barrett. In the film, Jim and his son, Bo (Pines), are the ones settling their disagreements in the ring. Gustavo (Rodriguez) is a real character, although he wasn’t at Chateau Montelena when the Chardonnay was made. He was also the technical consultant to the film, which might explain the script changes. Perhaps it was his suggestion to have Sam (Taylor) make love to him after tasting his wine?
Mike Grgich, the famous beret-crowned winemaker of diminutive stature, was initially the technical consultant. Before he backed out, Danny Devito was going to play him. One can just imagine the dialogue between Danny and Alan Rickman discussing wine. What an opportunity lost!