Cinema Vino: Five Films for Wine Enthusiasts
For the uninitiated, films about wine are the closest they can get to understanding the spirit that animates the serious oenophile: the pervading need to experience new flavor notes, or the covetous impulse to own, perhaps even create, a prized vintage.
For those well-entrenched in the wine lifestyle, such movies elicit a cryptic smile: one of elation because the filmmakers got it absolutely right, or of mild condescension because they could have never been more wrong. Regardless of quality, any movie made about wine is of interest to the oenophile—to be sampled and appraised as to whether it can only become better with age.
Here are five films of recent vintage that wine lovers can screen for their friends:
Before The Hangover overplayed the bachelor’s party road trip trope for easy laughs, Alexander Payne’s Sideways presented a thoughtful, funny, and moving narrative of two middle-aged men at a turning point in their lives, set against the picturesque, thirst-inducing wineries of the Santa Ynes Valley. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church play two friends with different approaches to drinking; Giamatti’s character Miles is a wine enthusiast with sophisticated tastes, while Haden Church’s Jack drinks for debauchery and intoxication. Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh co-star.
Terroir: Santa Barbara County, California
Critics say: Sideways was the surprise hit of 2004, garnering box-office and critical acclaim, including an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. More importantly, Miles’ vitriolic dislike for merlot and heartbreaking soliloquy on pinot noir caused the Sideways effect on the sales of these varieties.
Pair with: A glass of pinot noir, a la Miles. Or, if you’re feeling particularly down in the dumps, pour a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc into a disposable paper cup, and savor the irony of drinking a merlot and cabernet franc blend.
Filmmaker and wine enthusiast Jonathan Nossiter explores the impact of globalization on wine regions, and posits that wine critics and established wineries have undue influence on consumer wine preferences, leading to a standardization of taste palates.
Terroir: Shot in locations across seven countries: from the Mondavi estate in Napa Valley, California to independent vineyards in Sardinia and Argentina.
Critics say: Although the documentary may seem overlong and occasionally passive-aggressive, film critics like Roger Ebert note Nossiter’s earnest and persuasive attempt to present the industry from the viewpoint of the independent wine producer.
Pair with: A tasting flight featuring Mondavi wines and varieties produced by small wineries like Giovanni Battista Colombu.
A Good Year (2006)
A Good Year is like an inexpensive supermarket wine: it goes down easy and does very well for chill out sessions with old friends. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the Peter Mayle novel stars Russell Crowe as an English banker who inherits a dilapidated vineyard upon the death of his uncle. While the plot is merely serviceable, the cinematography is fantastic, and will make even the most workaholic professional dream of quitting the rat race and moving to the French countryside to make wine.
Critics say: “A sun-dappled romantic diversion, which one British critic has already dismissed as “tourist gastro-porn,” “A Good Year” is a three-P movie: pleasant, pretty and predictable.”—Stephen Holden, New York Times
Pair with: Your default wine for impromptu get-togethers with friends. But if you have a taste for terroir, try the award-winning organic varieties produced by Chateau la Canorgue, which was heavily featured in A Good Year.
Bottle Shock (2008)
The Judgment of Paris was a turning point in contemporary wine history; the blind tasting—organized in 1976 by the celebrated wine merchant Stephen Spurrier—broke France’s hegemonic sway over critics’ taste palates, and catapulted Napa Valley wineries into the oenophilic spotlight. The movie follows the travails of Chateau Montelena, as they prepare their vintage for the competition. Alan Rickman stars as Spurrier, while Bill Pullman plays Montelena vintner Jim Barrett.
Terroir: Napa Valley, California
Critics say: Spurrier took umbrage at the film’s portrayal of him as an “impossibly effete snob.” Producer Brenda Lhorma counters that the movie remained true to the spirit of Montelena’s success story, albeit portrayed it in a slightly more cinematic fashion. This fact vs fiction rundown may help viewers determine the veracity of the film.
Pair with: Toast the victory of Napa Valley with the film’s central character, the 1973 Montelena Chardonnay.
Director Jason Wise follows four young and promising sommeliers as they prepare for the notoriously difficult Master Sommelier exam. The somm candidates are obsessive and competitive—rattling off flavors and aromas with the speed and bluster of MCs in a rap battle—that viewers become invested in the outcome of the exam.
Critics say: Decanter reports that SOMM’s world premiere at the Napa Valley Opera House drew a standing ovation from its audience. Kyle Smith of the New York Post notes that “Somm” does a fairly impressive job of making wine tasting somewhat cinematic despite its being essentially unfilmable, at least until taste-o-vision comes along.”
Pair with: A recommendation by Ian Cauble, one of Somm’s featured sommeliers. He recently co-founded the online wine club SommSelect.com, which provides members with a selection of wines based on their preferences and his famously exacting tasting notes.
Singapore Wine Vault offers a variety of wine storage options to keep your favorite vintages in ideal storage conditions, until the time for uncorking arrives—be it a special occasion or a movie marathon. Aside from the impressive technical specifications of its wine storage facility—the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia—SGWV provides a personalized drome cellar service and the Wine Butler mobile app, giving clients access to their collections 24/7.