Wine in the movies and on TV

A scene for the movie Sideways.

We've had a relationship with wine for several millennia … and counting. This relationship has been documented in a number of ways, but so much has been lost to the ravages of time. Gaps in history leave wine culture open to interpretation, but with the dawn of modern media, things have changed. Whether we like it or not, modern media will help us to understand more about how wine has been consumed during any given era – including the present.

Although we have more ways to document culture these days, it’s still our job to draw conclusions. And like wine drinking, it's a lot of fun. The wine lover’s ears are sure to perk up at a wine reference no matter where it appears. The web’s top wine writers are sharing their favorite pieces of wine-related media in the hope they will demonstrate to you the ways our collective palate has evolved over this and last century.

Here we go:

Big Bang Theory

When it comes to wine on TV, I think of Penny (Kaley Cuoco) on Big Bang Theory. As the "normal" character in a group of nerds, Penny is often seen relaxing with a glass of wine, or three. Unfortunately, the show displays wine in the time worn cliché of a boozy way to relax and lighten up. The brainy characters are rarely seen with a glass in hand. While Penny is lovable, her wine enjoyment seems stuck back in the 1960's era of Dean Martin.

Bottle Shock

Napa Valley is one of the world’s top wine destinations and with 4 million visitors each year, the most popular region in the United States.  If there was a single event that can be credited Napa Valley’s ascendancy in the world of wine, it was the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” Tasting.

The 2008 movie, Bottle Shock, is a charming and entertaining dramatization of events that lead to the blind tasting that matched Chardonnay and Cabernet from California against the best the French had to offer from Burgundy and Bordeaux.  When the tasting was done, it was a stunning sweep for the Napa Valley wines,  as the French judges gave top honors to the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.

The primary protagonists in the movie are Jim Barret of the struggling and heavily in debt Chateau Montelena (played by Bill Pullman), and a Steve Spurrier, the British owner of a small wine shop named “The Academy of Wine” in Paris (played by the recently deceased Alan Rickman).  It was Spurrier’s idea to sponsor the competition.

While the outcome is known to even the most casual wine lover, the director did of fine job of extracting entertainment out of the events that lead to the competition and the competition itself.  I especially enjoyed Rickman’s subtle comedic performance.  At one point in the movie, Barret asks Spurrier, “Why do I hate you?”, and Spurrier calmly replies “Because you think I’m an asshole…actually, I’m not an asshole. It’s just that I’m British, and, well ... you’re not.”

For a compelling account of the event  that sent shock waves around the world, check out Judgment of Paris authored by George M. Taber, who  was the only reporter present at the mythical 1976 tasting.

Casablanca

When I think of wine and the movies, Champagne and Casablanca immediately come to mind. Since before I was interested in wine, Casablanca has been my favorite classic movie. I watch it once a year. It’s a ritual.

I first fell in love with the classic fashions of the 1940s. (Who doesn't love the white jumper over a striped blouse Ilsa wears to the Casablanca police station and later in the market scene or either classy, floor-length outfit Yvonne wears to Rick's Café Américain in the evening?)

But as I fell into wine, I began to notice the presence of Champagne throughout the movie. A scene of the bubbly seems to be present at every turn - in Paris when Rick and Ilsa first fall in love (“Here’s looking at you kid”) and when Rick and Ilsa plan to leave Paris together (“Kiss me. Kiss me as if were the last time”) the pair have the task of drinking four bottles rather than leave them for the advancing Germans.

Champagne is consumed on several occasions at Rick’s in Casablanca as well. Major Strasser orders not just Champagne, but a 15-year-old vintage Champagne - a bottle of 1926 Veuve Clicquot on the recommendation of Captain Renault. When Ilsa and her husband, Victor Laszlo, arrive, the good Captain orders a bottle of Rick’s best champagne for the pair.

Later in the movie, Yvonne orders a French 75 and Victor orders Champagne cocktails. There was certainly no shortage of Champagne in French Morocco at the time, in the movie at least.

What this says about wine, in the context of this movie, is that if Champagne is available and you could afford to buy it you should do so. And you should drink Champagne at every opportunity, for who could know what tomorrow would bring? Champagne is celebratory and, above all, so very French. And, of course, so not German. Only in the movies!

Disclosure

It was 1994 and I had just returned from my first ever trip to Napa Valley. Not yet a lawyer, I nevertheless enjoyed films about legal disputes. A Chardonnay as evidence? Now that was a new one.

The 1994 movie “Disclosure,” a flick starring Demi Moore and Michael Douglas, focuses on sexual harassment with a twist: a woman accused of harassing a man. The Seattle-based film is fraught with steamy sex and double entendre. In a scene that later comes back to haunt her, Moore's character Meredith Johnson says in response to Douglas' Tom Sanders:  "The 1991 Pahlmeyer, how did you know about that?  I've been looking all over for it?" with "Well, you know I like all the boys under me to be happy."

The wine, a sought-after Napa Valley Chardonnay, figures prominently as a symbol of power when Johnson counter-sues Sanders for sexual harassment. The case against her turns on how Johnson came to acquire such a hard-to-find bottle of wine in Seattle.

Former lawyer and proprietor Jayson Pahlmeyer, contacted after producers fell in love with the wine at Spago, says he was not too keen on relinquishing two of the only 400 cases produced, for the film. He eventually relented and ended up on Entertainment Tonight in the process. The film is now a bit dated, but vintage after vintage, the Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Chardonnay stands up to the test of time.

French Kiss

In the 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss, the main character, a career thief named Luc Teyssier (Kevin Kline), meets Kate (Meg Ryan) on a plane to Paris. She is flying there to win back her fiancé who has fallen in love with a French girl, while he is returning with a grapevine which also hides an expensive necklace he has stolen. He uses Kate to smuggle the vine and the necklace into France, then befriends her so that he can get them back.

During their escapades, they made a train stop at his childhood home, where she learns that he is a third-generation vintner who lost his share of the family vineyard in a hand of poker with his brother. During the brief visit, she asks to see his room in the family home. There she discovers a box of herbs that he made in school, herbs that are native to the vineyard and the area. She sips a glass of wine and he asks her to describe it. She attempts a description, but confesses that the description is really about her, not the wine. He tells her that she isn’t wrong, that “wine is like people” in that it absorbs characteristics of the environment, which affect aroma and flavor. He then asks her to smell a few of the herbs in the box and try the wine again. In doing so, he demonstrates to her how these herbal influences are found in the wine she is drinking.

During this ah-ha moment, they finally make a real human connection and she kisses him on the cheek as she leaves the room. He takes her to an abandoned vineyard property and shares with her his plan to purchase it someday to make wine. As they make their way back to the train, he promises to help her win back her fiancé and she reveals to him that she has discovered the necklace which, when sold, will give him enough money to purchase the vineyard he so desperately wants.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones guides us through a world where noble houses are fighting a civil war to determine who will be king, and a supernatural presence is determined to destroy an entire region. We find ourselves in a world where a teenage female is one of the most fierce leaders and the Queen of Dragons. A world where, if you can’t be productive in society, you are sent to the Wall to be a member of the Night’s Watch, and no matter who you are, someone is devising a plan to kill you in order to move up the social ladder. Although this world may seem a bit implausible, there is the reality of wine and how it is an integral part of society.

“Those miserable old shits didn’t want you to be human.” Ten little words that possess so much meaning.

Wine is such a large part of our lives and as Tyrion Lannister suggests, we may not be human without it. Wine has been part of our culture and society for ages. It has been discovered that the Egyptians began making a wine-like substance from red grapes back in 3100 B.C. and since then, it has been a staple in our society. For some, it is an outlet, for others it is a dream. The vision of owning your own vineyard and producing your own wine to share with your friends and family is a passion for a multitude of people.  There is something romantically inherent about harvesting grapes from the vine and turning them into wine. The capability to be one with nature and to idly stand by as fermentation naturally turns the juice into wine is idyllic. Knowing that something you produced allows people to be more comfortable with themselves is empowering. Wine allows people to be more comfortable sharing a bit more about themselves. Wine permits you to let your guard down, even if it’s just telling a joke. Wine enables you to see the positive side of life and helps you see that life is worth living.  

James Bond

The first "grown-up" movies I remember seeing were the Sean Connery James Bond films. My mother was a huge fan of the series, and that affinity was passed on to me very early on. I have since seen each of the Connery 007 incarnations dozens of times (Roger Moore and subsequent Bonds fail to measure up to the original in my view), and some of my favorite scenes are those that involve the ultra-cool James ordering, consuming or otherwise commenting on champagne.

In Ian Flemming's novels, Bond usually opted for Taittinger, but once the MI6 spy hit the screen, his preference shifted to Dom Pérignon and, more frequently, Bollinger. My favorite quote comes from perhaps my favorite film, Goldfinger (1964). Drinking a few bubbles with Jill Masterson, Jimbo realized that the wine had lost its chill: "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!" Apparently at the time (it was a bit before I was born), this was seen as marking the growing generational schism that was about to explode in just a few short years. The older generation saw it as a rebuke to the unsophisticated, uncouth youth of the time. While the younger generation derided their elders as being out of touch. Either way, it was my first exposure to champagne and no doubt plays a role in my love for the wine today.

Red Obsession

Passion vs. power.  Red Obsession is a movie that delves into how wine goes from art into a collector’s obsession.  The story follows how a great Bordeaux wine becomes a status symbol and phenomenon – and how wealthy consumers in the Chinese market will do anything or pay any price to own them.  The Bordeaux wine transforms from the trials and tribulations of a farmer to a measure of wealth, power and acquisition for the end buyer.

Russell Crowe serves as narrator, and the story delves into perspectives from the winemakers, wine critics, wine lovers and those who will pay almost anything for a prestige wine and why.  It takes the romanticism out of what happens in the vineyards to those who believe “whoever dies with the most toys, wins."

The Muppet Movie

I need to go old school with The Muppet Movie released in 1979. It contains the first bitter sweet song I experienced, "Rainbow Connection", and it was probably the first time I was exposed to wine. The scene is when Kermit and Miss Piggy are having a romantic dinner together and none other then Steve Martin, their their waiter, brings a bottle to the table with Miss Piggy mistaking it for Champagne. But the waiter says it is sparkling muscatel from Idaho with a sneer while he flips off the bottle cap and asks Kermit: "Don't you want to smell the bottle cap?" It is a hilarious scene based on the poor choice Kermit made for their special dinner.

The term muscatel became popular in the United States at the end of prohibition to meet the large demand for wine. It was made by poor clones of Muscat grapes (used normally for table grapes) mixed with sugar and cheap brandy and it was referred to as wino wine. But we have come a long way. Any wine geek would love to have a sparkling muscatel from Idaho with a bottle cap (crown cap). First, Idaho has some fun sparkling wines as another Snooth contributor recently pointed out, second, there are many different clones of Muscat and some are capable of spectacular wine, and third, Champagne uses crown caps (bottle caps) in their production during the second fermentation and lees aging in bottle. And so, it is not such a bad idea to use a crown cap for a sparkling wine that will be drunk on release. This scene really shows how far we have come as a wine knowledgeable country and I’m sure there is still a lot out there to be discovered.

(Source: Snooth Editorial)

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