Wine writers often conflate genuine wine movies with films with memorable wine moments. The 1942 World War classic “Casablanca” is not, as some have suggested, a great wine movie. It would qualify though for having the world's sexiest toast when, after having poured the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman a glass of wine (all right, champagne), Humphrey Bogart says in his laconic way: “Here's looking at you kid.” As she prepares to leave at the end of the film, he will raise her tear-stained face towards his by hooking his finger under her chin and speak the very same line.
Yes, “Casablanca” did have references to the 1926 Veuve Clicqout, no different from a clutch of other films that like to throw in wine snobbery in a scene or two. In “Goldfinger” Sean Connery tells his fawning girl (all right, Goldfinger's girl) that there are some things that are simply not done such as “drinking Dom Perignon ‘53 with a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit”. In “The Silence Of The Lambs”, Hannibal Lecter declares his preference for dining on human liver with fava beans and Chianti. (Trivia: it was Amarone in the book; the typically dumbed down film script opted for a wine that viewers would be familiar with.)
The truth is that there aren't a great deal of genuine wine movies about. There are a number of documentaries of course — everything from wine tasting instructionals, to broad wine region overviews, to the odd thematic offering such as “Mondovino”, which explores the impact of big corporations on the world of wine.
You can count the full-fledged feature films on the fingers of one hand. I know of only three. There is “Sideways”,that smart and lovable film about two friends spending a week travelling through wine country in California. (Aside: This is not just a good wine movie, it is a fine film by any standards.) There is “Bottle Shock” of course, that engaging but over-dramatised account of the face off between Napa and French wines in the blind tasting that became known as The Judgment of Paris.
I saw the third — “Blood Into Wine” — at a private screening last fortnight. All right, the film, which is basically about the challenge of making wine in a remote high desert region of Arizona, is not strictly a feature. But it's not a straightforward talking heads documentary either in that it liberally uses narrative devices to tell the story of how former Army cadet Maynard James Keenan, the frontman for the heavy metal band Tool (as well as a couple of other groups such as A Perfect Circle and Puscifier) became a winemaker against great odds and considerable skepticism.
You can learn more about wine from this film than from “Sideways” or “Bottle Shock”; yes, there is technical detail, but “Blood Into Wine” does not allow itself to become bogged down by information, dealing with Keenan and his winemaking passion in a light tongue-in-cheek manner.
All three films have been successful in their way, which makes one wonder why there haven't been more made. Wine stories are good because they are invariably about challenges and overcoming them. “Sideways” would have been a piece of fluff had it not set the unlikely hero Miles Raymond's passion for wine side by side with his alcoholism. “Bottle Shock” may be wrapped around a competition, but the real story is about the struggle of the Napa wine growers to make a mark on the international wine map. And “Blood Into Wine” is about the challenge of making wine in a part of Arizona which almost no one thought was suitable for growing grapes.
Wine films remind us that there is a story behind every glass we drink. A story of a journey from the vineyard to winery to bottle that makes the wine what it is.