This issue of
Citylife

The Life of Wine

For this month’s column I wanted to write about wine in films. But, a quick Google search later, I realised that this is what wine writers do when they have slammed into a creative cul-de-sac. Now I don’t want you ever to feel like I’ve not ever made an immense effort on your behalf, dear reader, but then again, I have just sat through a bunch of films, and I am certain that you don’t want me to feel like I’ve wasted my time, either. So, I’ve come up with a compromise.

I believe that, apart from being entertaining, films have didactic responsibility. Instead of reviews, therefore, I will be distilling each movie down to the three most important lessons it teaches us. 

Right, let’s get the big one out of the way. Sideways, the story of two men wading through mid-life crises and California’s vineyards teaches us three incredibly salient points. Firstly, that Californian Chardonnay can suffer from: “too much oak and secondary malolactic fermentation” – an excellent ice-breaker on a first date. Secondly, all Pinot Noir lovers would probably throw up if ever forced to drink a 1961 Cheval Blanc, and thirdly that running naked through an ostrich farm at night is a far from brilliant idea. Wow, I can see this month’s column is going to be a blinder.

Pushing on. This is the second time I’ve seen A Good Year, and it is a lot better than I remember. Russell Crowe, and his splendid English accent, prove to us all that we should give up our soulless lives as millionaire bankers in The City and opt for the simple life in a gorgeous chateau in Provence surrounded by vineyards and beautiful people to produce a hugely expensive garagiste wine. But what else do we learn? That wine is indeed “sunlight held together by water”, that crass, self-centred Englishmen can change, as long as their glass is constantly refilled with grape-based booze, and that one day I will get to take Marion Cotillard to a ball.

In Red Obsession, a new documentary about the world’s relationship with the wines of Bordeaux, we find out that China’s richest oenophiles could club together and buy Bordeaux with their loose change, the French profess to believe that wine is there to be drunk, unless of course they can drive the price of that wine so high that nobody can ever afford to drink it, and that because Russell Crowe was in A Good Year his voice will add gravitas to a wine documentary.

Allow me to briefly pop over to the world of television for a second. In Black Books – Grapes of Wrath, the protagonists Manny and Bernard are asked to house-sit for a friend. As they gradually make their way through his cellar, they begin to discuss wine in a way that many experts can only dream of. We learn that the older and more expensive a wine is the gooder it is, that the colour of white wine can neatly be described as yellow, and that gazing into a glass of grapey goodness is like looking into the eye of a duck. I’ve actually sat wine tasting exams where I reckon if I had come up with that sort of stuff I might have actually passed.

Somm, another documentary just out, follows four American gentlemen on their quest for the exalted title of Master Sommelier. This accolade is apparently quite hard to achieve, so hard to achieve, in fact, that I fully expected at least one of the candidates to go postal with a Kalashnikov. I would like to suggest a voluntary psychological evaluation be taken by anyone so desperately wanting to achieve a badge that says I know the difference between a Barolo and a Brunello. So what are the three things we learn? Firstly, if you are going to spend every hour of your life glued to flash cards that say things like “Pinot Grigio” on one side and “a white wine” on the other, don’t get married. Secondly, if wine starts to make you want to break down in tears every waking hour of every day, step away from the wine. And thirdly WASH UP YOUR OWN SPITOONS rather than leave them out for your partners to find the next morning, you sociopaths.  

And finally, The Muppet Movie. So what do we learn from the scene in this 1979 classic where Kermit takes Miss Piggy out for dinner and has already taken the liberty of ordering a bottle of sparkling muscatel, one of the finest wines of Idaho? Well, three things again. That if you want to drink fizzy wine through a straw then go ahead and sup it up through a straw. That even a crappy restaurant, a sarcastic waiter and a 99 cent bottle-capped wine doesn’t matter if you are as gorgeously smitten as Kermit and Miss Piggy, and last, but oh-so-not-least, that the world will always be a finer place with Muppets in it – why the Americans don’t just vote these puppets into the White House is a mystery to me.