Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bottle Shock

I am not usually the first person to see a new movie. We have a long Netflix queue ;) But all of you kept telling me I needed to watch this one, about the famous "Judgment of Paris" in 1976, in which white and red wines from Napa Valley, CA defeated some of the best French wines, in a blind judging by a panel of nine French judges.
This was heresy at the time, so much so that one judge (Madam Kahn), upon hearing the results, did not exactly cover herself with honor; she demanded her ballot back and denounced the other judges. Only one journalist was present, but that was a writer from Time magazine, and soon the surprising news got out and the rest, as they say, is history. Napa exploded to become the overpriced bastion of great-to-poor wines that it is today.
So, what of the movie? In places it is dull, poorly-paced, and its characters are not quite human. Its plot jerks in fits. Its characters do things which aren't in character. It takes amazing liberties with the truth (see below). But it is also very touching in places, and accurately conveys the difficulties experienced by people who live their passion, who put in years of toil, risking all, yet sometimes fail. The flick strengthens wonderfully at the end. At least it is ABOUT something, compared to Sideways, which was about a loser for whom it was difficult to care (and that movie also single-handedly torpedoed the classic and brilliant Merlot grape--a form of "terroirism" which can never be excused).
Overall grade for Bottle Shock: B
Just some of the incorrect portrayals in the movie:
1. Bo Barret and his dad did not have a boxing ring, nor did they box.
2. Bo was not the loser depicted in the movie.
3. Bo did not attend the tasting event outside Paris.
4. The Chardonnay did tinge brown and then recover, but it all happened before shipping the wines off to France.
5. Although the pretty female intern helped move the story along, Napa did not hire female interns until 1982.
6. There was no real-life bartendress, and she did not purchase the entire stock of Chardonnay to save it from the dump.
Fun collateral facts:
a. Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Montelena during the Paris tasting. He did not want to be protrayed in the movie.
b. Jim Barrett was/is a lawyer and is still, at 81, involved with running Montelena. Bo is the winemaker there now.
c. Bo's wife, Heidi Petersen Barrett, is a famous wine consultant, being responsible for the triumphs at Screaming Eagle and many other wineries.
d. Gustavo's character is real. He has his own winery now.
e. Follow-up tastings with the same wines were held, and almost every time the California wines beat the French ones. This included some very notable French wines, such as Mouton, Montrose, Haut Brion.
f. However, statisticians say that the method of tabulating the scores was flawed (in each case the wines were scored from 1-20, and then all scores were added up and the total divided by the number of scores; that is how I would do it, but apparently it is not sufficiently scientific.)
g. I am of course happy that good wines from outside France came to be known as world-class. However, I have had several older Montelena cabs and they just aren't among the best wines that I've had. Some of them, however, are very good.

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