Thursday, April 2, 2009

Movie Review - Bottle Shock

I watched the movie Bottle Shock on DVD the other day. If you're not familiar, this is the movie that's meant to be about the Judgment of Paris wine competition of 1976, where the California producers beat the French producers in a blind tasting, putting California wine on the international map from that point on. In fact, the movie is more about Chateau Montelena, who won in the white wine category (Stag's Leap, who won the more important red wine category, barely gets a mention). The movie portrays Napa Valley at that time as a hardscrabble kind of place where simple farmers made wine, and the place had a small town feel to it where everybody knew each other. Let me assure you it's not like that today, but never mind. Basically the story goes that Chateau Montelena was about to go under financially, attempting to sell their Chardonnay for $6.00 a bottle until an Englishman named Steven Spurrier came along and organized the Judgement of Paris. Montelena wins, everybody wants their wine after that, Napa Valley becomes one of the most highly regarded wine regions in the world, and so on.

My impression is that this movie took a lot of dramatic license with the real events, but I guess that's what Hollywood does. The script is just okay, inserting the obligatory love story that goes nowhere and has nothing to do with the plot. The highlight is Alan Rickman, who plays Steven Spurrier. His acting outshines everybody else. The French characters, where they have any dialogue at all, are portrayed as snobs. Overall I'd give it a B-, probably worth watching if you're interested in the story.

And now an aside on the contest itself. The contest was not the blowout for California wines that many people think it was. For starters, any tasting like this is highly subjective, and the scoring method used was statistically insignificant. Also, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for this event, which shows individual scores of each judge. The winner, Stag's Leap, was the number 1 pick for only one judge. You could make a good argument, a really good argument, that Chateau Montrose should have won. There were also 6 California wines versus 4 French wines, which I don't understand. But then again everybody expected the French wines to completely crush the California wines, so that they did this well is pretty remarkable. It also made French winemakers realize they needed to step up their game if they wanted to maintain their reputation, which resulted in higher quality Bordeaux in the years after.

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