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Tasters Guild New York members were offered the opportunity to attend a preview of this movie as a guest of the distributor. I was out of town but did get to see the movie after it received 4 Stars and rave reviews. According to Peter Rainier writing in New York Magazine's "The Grape Escape," it "is the sweetest, funniest, most humane movie I've seen all year."

Paul Giamatti does a brilliant job of "wine speak." He holds his glass correctly, looks, swirls, sniffs, slurps but doesn't spit. He loves his Pinot Noir and this movie is an ode to that grape variety. Sandra Oh, who I remember from HBO's $Arliss, plays a character pouring wine at a winery. Her husband, Alexander Payne, is the director/co-screenwriter of this delightful film. Thomas Haden Church is the lothario that beds Oh & thinks all wine tastes the same. Virginia Madsen plays a waitress working in The Hitching Post, my favorite restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley, which should get co-star billing since many scenes take place there.

The real star of the movie is wine & food and the area around Santa Barbara, Buellton and Solvang. Scenes are shot at actual wineries. In one scene the wines are ridiculed, the only time a winery's name was changed. This movie is the "Odd Couple" meets the grape. Thomas Haden Church's character is about to get married & he and Paul Giamatti set out on a week-long trip from San Diego & Los Angeles to central California wine country. The dialogue is perfect and the four actors are brilliant.

I stayed at the end of the movie to find the name of the wine consultant. His name is Brad Iwanaga and he operates Bradford Wine Group. I called him to congratulate him on his professional work and learned that Bradford is a small wine wholesaler in the Santa Barbara region. He told me that Alexander Payne often vacations in the area and loves Pinot Noir. It shows.

Go see this movie; you will love it.

Tasters Guild NY, New York City Wine Tasting Events

Bottle Shock- The Next Sideways?

I loved Sideways and apparently so did most of America as it led to a resurgence for Pinot Noir and lots of people visiting the Santa Barbara area (the prime location of the movie) and drinking more wine.

In 2006 I attended a blind tasting conducted by The Wine Workshop (part of my families business- Acker, Merrall & Condit; I am not involved in the business) recreating The Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that revolutionized Wine (Several of the original judges attended this tasting). That is the name of George M. Taber’s book published by Scribner in 2005. But I am getting ahead of myself.

George M. Taber was a reporter and editor with Time Magazine for 21 years. Stationed in Paris between 1973 and 1976 he wrote extensively on French wine and cuisine. He was the only reporter in attendance when Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, who owned a wine shop in Paris and organized wine tasting and educational seminars decided to pit the best of French wines against “those California newcomers.” Spurrier was sure that the French wines would win easily as he sold only French wines in his shop. He used mostly French judges including: Pierre Tari of Chateau Giscours; Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de las Romanee-Conti; Christian Vanneque the sommelier of Tour Argent. Spurrier and Patricia Gallagher of l’Academie du Vin were the non-French judges (there were 11 in total). However, the totals for Ms. Gallagher & Mr. Spurrier were not taken into account, leaving 9 French judges to rank the wines. Leaders of the French wine industry banned Spurrier from attending France’s wine-tasting tour for a year because of the tasting results. The French press ignored the story but Frank J. Prial writing in the New York Times and many other US publications picked up Taber’s Time Magazine story.

The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon finished first beating out Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1970; Chateau Montrose 1970 and Chateau Haut-Brion 1970 that finished second-fourth. Chateau Montelena 1973 finished first among the white wines beating out Roulot Meursault Charmes 1973. Third and fourth place went to Chalone Vineyard 1974 and Spring Mountain Vineyard 1973 Chardonnay.

Then last week I went to see the movie Bottle Shock. “There are certain moments in history when America has proven itself to the world: Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon; or the US men’s Hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.” Would I place the 1976 Judgment of Paris in that category? That depends on whether you love wine. The movie Bottle Shock tells the story through the eyes of father and son Jim and Bo Barrett. Jim Barrett, played by Bill Pullman, was a former real estate lawyer, whose winery was struggling until this tasting. His son Bo, who is now the winemaker, is portrayed as a slacker and hippie (Chris Pine). Alan Rickman is perfect as Steven Spurrier. Dennis Farina, a favorite of mine, has a part solely written for the movie. There is a love interest for Bo and a Latino apprentice (Freddy Rodriguez) who now has his own winery. But why no mention of Miljenko (Mike) Grgich who was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena at that time? The vineyard scenes are fabulous using the real outside of Chateau Montelena, but interior shots use several Sonoma wineries. Since this was not a documentary there are love scenes and several referrals to drug use. The movie is not adopted from George Taber’s book (I understand he has another movie in production using his book as the source) and the character of George barely has anything to say in the movie. It is not until the crawl at the end of the movie that we learn that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won in the red wine category.

I enjoyed the movie that could be called a "Love Story to the Napa Valley and Chateau Montelena.” Just a few weeks ago I read that the owners of Chateau Cos d”Estournel purchased Chateau Montelena. The moral of this story just might be: If you can’t beat them, buy them.

Ron Kapon for Tasters Guild NY