Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Top Wine Movies

During my recent trip up to Napa, I thought about the movies Bottle Shock and Sideways and what affect those movies had on those wine regions. I also got to thinking about what are some of my favorite movies that have wine in them. I looked for movies where wine plays a significant role, the filmmakers get the wine parts right, and the movie is a pleasure to watch. These are in no apparent order.

“A Good Year” (2006)
Directed by Ridley Scott, this movie tests whether Russell Crowe can balance machismo with winemaking. Max Skinner (Crowe) is a carnivorous Wall Street lion. He returns to French wine country after the death of Uncle Harry (Albert Finney) and is tamed by the romantic routines of the vineyard–not to mention the alluring ways of Fanny Chenal (played by Marion Cotillard)–to discover his new/old self. Beautifully filmed and acted.

“Bottle Shock” (2009)
Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, a London wineseller, in Bottle Shock who decides to pit American wines against their French forebears. In 1976, Steven Spurrier, comes to the Napa Valley to take the best he can find to Paris for a blind taste test against French wine. He meets Jim Barrett, whose Chateau Montelena is mortgaged to the hilt as Jim perfects his chardonnay. There's strain in Jim's relations with his hippie son Bo and his foreman Gustavo, a Mexican farmworker's son secretly making his own wine. Plus, there's Sam, a UC Davis graduate student and free spirit, mutually attracted to both Gustavo and Bo. As Spurrier organizes the "Judgment of Paris," Jim doesn't want to participate while Bo knows it's their only chance. Barrett's chardonnay has buttery notes and a Smithsonian finish. Not very accurate in it’s telling of the story, but a good movie to watch with a bottle of Chardonnay and popcorn.

"French Kiss" (1995)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Timothy Hutton.
Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "A Fish Called Wanda," but he's even better in this romantic comedy as the prodigal son of a French family of vineyard owners. Not only does he hit all the right romantic and comedic notes; to this American, he's astonishingly convincing as a Frenchman, right down to the Gallic gestures of disinterest and disdain.

There may not be a better, more poetic description of the concept of terroir than the following exchange between Ryan and Kline.
Ryan: "A bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension. (Pause.) Actually I was just talking about myself.
Kline: "You are not wrong. Wine is like people. The wine takes all the influences in life all around it, it absorbs them and it gets its personality."

"The Muppet Movie" (1979)
Directed by James Frawley.
Steve Martin's hilarious cameo as a haughty waiter/sommelier puts this kids' film on the list. Out to dinner with Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog orders a bottle of bubbly, which turns out to be sparkling Muscatel from Idaho that Martin "uncorks" with a beer opener. Kermit is about to sip some when Miss Piggy reminds him that the expert is supposed to taste it first. Martin takes a sip, spits it out in a rush, grimaces, then composes his face into a smarmy smile and says, "An excellent choice."

See it with your kids; you can advise them that in the right company, on a warm night on a terrace with a nice piece of pork, even Vin de Idaho can be special.

"Sideways" (2004)
Directed by Alexander Payne. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen.
The character of Jack (Church), is a washed-up actor with an unquenchable libido, and his arrogant oenophile buddy, Miles (Giamatti) explains the elusive appeal of Pinot Noir.
Maya (Madsen), Miles' love interest, shows us why stuffy snobs like Miles don't really get it; that wine is meant to be shared with friends. And Stephanie (Sandra Oh), Jack's fling, shows us that you don't need to be wealthy to have a few good bottles lying around. She also shows us that it's not a good idea to lie to a lover.

By the way, thanks a lot, Miles, for superheating the market for Pinot Noir. At least good Merlots are more available than ever. This is called the "Sideways effect" in the wine industry; the fact that there is such a term two years after the film's release shows how important this movie is.

"Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn.
There's no actual wine in this movie, so if there's a ringer on the list, this is it. But this film is responsible for the most famous wine and food pairing in the history of cinema.
In one of the most famous roles of his great career, Hopkins plays the brilliant psychiatrist, serial killer and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

What everyone remembers about Lecter. Trying to scare FBI trainee Foster, Hopkins says: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."  Frankly if you ask me, the proper paring with liver is a hearty Merlot. J

"Mondovino" (2004)
This plodding, anti-American wine documentary excited French audiences and angered some interview subjects who felt misled. If you're not a total wine geek, it's long and boring and the photography will make you sick with its handheld cameras.

"Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002)
Capt. Picard toasts a departed friend with his family's Chateau Picard wine in the last voyage for the Next Generation crew. And we learn Romulan ale gives even Klingons a hangover.

Okay your turn…. What are your favorite wine movies?