Now that coronavirus has you sheltering at home, its time to catch up on all those wine movies you have missed. Of course you can’t visit wineries or go to restaurants so subscribe to pay TV and relax – with a glass in your hand of course!
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)
This is one of those movies that, has some unhappy plot twists. Two Italian brothers are running a failing restaurant called ‘Paradise on the Jersey Shore’ in the 1950s. Primo, played by Tony Shalhoub, is the exacting chef, unwilling to bend his cuisine to American tastes. Secondo, played by Stanley Tucci, who co-directed, is the manager. Their main competitor is Pascal, who has found success by pandering to local preferences. Pascal has offered the brothers jobs and they have an offer back in Italy too, but they’re not ready to give up on the American dream and their principles. Pascal offers to get singer Louis Prima to come to their restaurant. In planning the big night they go all in, leveraging everything against Prima’s visit. What follows is a rapturous meal delivered by Primo, followed by … well, I can’t tell you that. I will say that the final scene, played in silence à la the ending of The Third Man, is fantastically beautiful and moving. Two bonuses: It features the second-best omelet-cooking scene on film (see Tampopo below) and Latino pop singer Marc Anthony, who was then on the cusp of his crossover.
Bottle Shock 2008
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)
Any serious wine lover will go into this movie already knowing the fate of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena in the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. But this heartwarming, fictionalised story nonetheless keeps you on the edge of your seat, with winery owner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) struggling to bring his wayward son, Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), in line while making a success of his little-known winery in a region that had not yet gained fame. This whip-smart film is the (almost) true story of how California wine became the burgeoning industry it is today. In it, a father-and-son team fight to beat French competitors in an international tasting contest in the 1970s, and turn the wine world on its ear.
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)
Directed by and starring Jon Favreau as chef Carl Casper, the movie follows the life of a high-end chef as he quits his job at a prominent L.A. restaurant, starts a food truck and goes on a journey that reignites his passion for cooking and his relationship with his son. The movie features mouthwatering images of food—from a grilled-cheese sandwich to creatively plated dishes worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant to Casper’s signature Cuban sandwich—and rock-star shots of the chef showing off his knife skills. Throw in a star-studded cast of supporting actors, along with a vibrant jazz and blues soundtrack, and you have a movie that is a joy to kick back with a glass of Central Otago Two Degrees pinot noir to relax with.
A Good Year
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu and YouTube)
What’s not to like? Scene upon scene of stunning Provençal vistas and vineyard shots, the gorgeous Marion Cotillard, the fabulous Albert Finney and a buttoned-up Russell Crowe. In this enjoyable Ridley Scott–directed romantic comedy, based on the novel by Peter Mayle, a hardcore British banker finds himself, love and a new outlook on life in Provence while dealing with the inheritance of a wine estate of questionable quality.
Our Blood Is Wine
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube)
This documentary will take you back to the cradle of wine, the Republic of Georgia. Director Emily Railsback and sommelier Jeremy Quinn explore the former Soviet republic, meeting mostly artisanal, family winegrowers who are keeping alive the 8,000-year-old tradition of making wine in qvevri, large clay vessels buried in the ground. Railsback and Quinn get personal with the culture that is entwined with wine and make you feel like you are falling in love with wine for the first time.
(Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)
This 1980s art-house hit came out of nowhere when Japanese food was still novel outside of major cities. The main story is about a widow running a ramen shop. Two truck drivers visit, find the food wanting and decide to mentor her. It’s a movie-geek bonanza, with references to spaghetti Westerns (noodles, get it?), sensei themes and more. It also has unrelated vignettes interspersed, including a gangster and his companion exploring the sensual side of food, a young man upstaging his superiors at a business lunch through his knowledge of French food and the best omelet-cooking scene on film. Plus, it’s very funny: It’s like an old screwball comedy, but about food and wine, and set in Japan.
Tu Seras Mon Fils (You Will Be My Son)
(Amazon Prime and Vudu)
Wine movies are a limited genre, with mixed success, but Tu Seras Mon Fils is a must-see. Set in Bordeaux, it depicts a tyrannical father dealing with the problems of passing his château on to his seemingly hapless son. Despite a slightly wonky plot twist at the end, the dramatization of a stern Gallic patriarch is as sharp as the top of a just-sabred Champagne bottle.
Sour Grapes (2016)
You can’t con an honest man and you can’t sell fake vintage wine to billionaires? This highly entertaining documentary tells the strange story of Rudy Kurniawan, a young man from Indonesia who in the early 2000s electrified the sedate world of US wine investment by paying colossal sums at auction for rare bottles. He wooed the top players in wine and dazzled them with his apparent wealth. Everyone wanted to be Rudy’s friend. Then, riding the crest of his self-created bull-market wave, he began selling his stock at a vast profit.
But French wine producer Laurent Ponsot noticed something iffy about some of the bottles, and the expensively dressed young emperor of wine was in deep trouble. And because the market in wine, like that of contemporary art, depends on the bubble of reputation, it is always vulnerable. An interesting film to put alongside Jonathan Nossiter’s wine documentaries Mondovino (2004) and Natural Resistance (2014) about the industrialisation of wine production, and how it makes everything taste the same. Snapshot of those two movies are below.
What does it take to make it in Napa Valley?” This feature length documentary follows the development of a brand new winery, Italics Winegrowers, seen through the eyes of elite Napa Valley winemakers. Like a vine extending itself far underground seeking nourishment, the story digs deep to analyse what kind of person it takes to enter this highly competitive wine business. Explore what it takes to succeed at building a brand, staking a claim, and realizing a lifelong dream.
Elijah, a man working two jobs in Memphis: serving at his family’s popular BBQ shop and selling at a local wine store. His father intends for him to take over the business but Elijah’s growing interest in wine has given him other ideas and with the cautious support of his mother he embarks on a quest to become a master sommelier, even if it means problems at home.
Snap shots on other wine oriented movies
Wine Country (2019)
A 2019 American comedy produced and directed by Amy Poehler. The plot follows a group of middle-aged women who go on a wine tasting tour of California.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)
In 1943, the German army occupies the Italian hillside town of Santa Vittoria. The troops want to confiscate the region’s prized wine, but the wily, oft-inebriated mayor (Anthony Quinn) and townspeople hide one million bottles in a cave. The film features fantastic shots of the sunny Italian countryside that will have you wishing the coronavirus pandemic ends soon so you can book your plane tickets..
Year of the Comet (1992)
Instead of vineyards, the setting is the Scottish Highlands for this caper, in which a prim young woman uncovers the most expensive bottle of wine in the world. Can she and her boorish bodyguard fend off thieves and the temptations of unlikely love?
A Walk in the Clouds (1995)
“My family has a vineyard in Napa,” a beautiful, unmarried—and pregnant—woman tells a soldier (Keanu Reeves) returning home from World War II. He offers to pose as her husband, but soon falls in love with her, except her tyrannical father blocks their happiness.
“Its flavors… they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.” That’s how Miles (Paul Giamatti) describes Pinot Noir in this on-the-road ode to life, friendship and uncorking the perfect bottle, filmed in Santa Barbara County. An instant classic that earned lots of Oscar buzz, this comedy tells the tale of two friends touring the vineyards of Santa Barbara, and the misadventures, romances, and bonding that ensue. The film essentially defined wine tourism in the 2000s. I followed the footsteps of the movie a couple of years ago and the bar tender who appears in the movie was still working behind the bar and was up for a good chat.
A Heavenly Vintage (2009)
This is a tale of a 19th-century French peasant who longs to make great wine. In his quest, he’s inspired by his beautiful wife and a proud baroness, as well as Xas, a male angel who tempts with tantalizing secrets. A great journey into magical realism, this tale follows the quest of a French peasant attempting to become a master winemaker in the 1800s.
You Will Be My Son (2011)
A despotic vineyard owner in Saint-Émilion scorns his unassuming son, doubting his ability to take over the business. Instead, he favors his son’s charismatic childhood friend, and family tensions build (French with English subtitles).
During nearly 40 years, only 220 professionals worldwide have passed the Master Sommelier exam, which is considered one of the crowning achievements of wine knowledge. This documentary follows four candidates as they swirl, sip and study for the test.
Somm: Into the Bottle (2015)
An untraditional sequel to Somm is more of a spiritual continuation than a direct follow-up. This documentary provides viewers with intimate access with some of the most acclaimed sommeliers around the globe.
Red Obsession (2013)
Demand hugely exceeds supply for the Premiers Crus of Bordeaux. This lavish documentary looks at how China’s relentless pursuit of prestige bottlings affects these chateaus and could easily change the face of the industry.
Wine for the Confused
Light-hearted and hilarious, this documentary (hosted by British comedian and Monty Python alumnus John Cleese) doubles as a brilliant introduction to the world of wine for beginners.
Natural Resisitance (2014)
Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary Mondovino in 2004 (see below) introduced many to an ongoing debate in the world of viticulture. He talks to passionate independent winegrowers in Italy, low-tech revolutionaries who are working outside the system; their wines don’t conform, sometimes priced radically low. All this revives the debate about identity and terroir from Mondovino. One producer complains that the certification system is creating a world in which everything is Macdonaldizzato – homogenised, like burgers. An interesting take which will get you thinking.
Running two and a quarter hours, it may be too long for you. Even so, it is an engaging and ambitious documentary about globalisation. The mighty producers of France are finding their unquestioned primacy is being questioned where the American critic Robert Parker wields staggering influence. Parker is cruelly shown up in this film to be the world’s smuggest egotist, incidentally, breathtakingly talking about himself in the third person: “The legacy of Robert Parker will be … ” etc, etc. It is to producer Jonathan Rossiter’s credit that lets you see that the cranky old aristos and haughty peasants of Old World wine sometimes have some very reactionary views. Aside from Parker, one of the biggest players is a “consultant” called Michel Rolland, a man of grinning conceit and sub-Pavarotti dimensions who cruises around in his chauffeur-driven car. Say no more.
This funny and slightly bizarre tale revolves around a wine salesman who finds out his wife is cheating on him. He strikes up a friendship with the other man, and goes on a giddy cross-country adventure.
A Tale of Autumn
This film is a poignant drama about a French vineyard owner and widow who finds love again, both for wine, and for life.
This Earth is Mine
An intrigue-packed melodrama set in the early days of California wine culture, this movie is recommended for its fascinating look at how the American wine industry survived Prohibition in the early 20th century.Blood into Wine
Maynard James Keenan of the band ‘Tool’ leads a double life: this film tracks his appreciation of music, and of his other passion: winemaking.
Blood and Wine
A neo-noir thriller about a philandering husband and wine merchant (played by Jack Nicholson), Blood and Wine details the protagonist’s plan to steal a valuable diamond necklace from one of his clients.
A Year in Burgundy
The winemaking process is chronicled throughout a whole year in this documentary, which examines the work of several winemakers in the celebrated French wine region of Burgundy.
Merlot, once deemed unsophisticated by the wine elite, has come to prominence over the past decade. This doc is a great guide to the difference between wine varieties, and gives an insightful look into the inner workings of the industry.
A Year in Champagne 2015
Netflix, Amazon, Prime
Part of a documentary trilogy by the director David Kennard (that also includes A Year in Burgundy (above) and A Year in Port), this film documents how the world’s favourite bubbly beverage, Champagne, is created through a year.Boom Varietal
The explosive popularity of Argentine Malbec, this film also spells out how the wine has become a force in South American pop culture.
This true story follows three Italian winemakers and chefs who are attempting to stop the industrialisation of their beloved hometown of Langhe.
The Kids are Alright
While this quirky love story about a lesbian couple attempting to track down their adopted child’s biological father doesn’t directly center on wine, the alcoholic beverage features prominently in a supporting role, and many excellent bottles are explicitly mentioned in the script.
Kevin Kline plays the charismatic son of French winemakers in this ‘90s classic. A love story revolving around the ever-charming Meg Ryan, wine and the romance of Paris blend into popcorn bliss.
From hard-hitting movies and documentaries to tender romances, the story of wine is as complex as a good glass of wine. There’s no reason to just drink it: now you can watch all about it too.
Note: You may have to Google to locate some of these movies but you will be well rewarded.
Let me know your favourite wine movie.