There’s a great degree of inevitability in even the most Earth-shattering discoveries. Had Columbus not found the New World, for example, some other ambitious sailor certainly would have; had Newton not discovered gravity, there were plenty of apples ready to knock some sense into the next tree shade-loving scientist; and had there not been the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, someone would have eventually realized that California’s wines were capable of beating the French at their own global-dominating game.
But ‘76 it was when a British wine merchant in Paris decided to host a blind tasting that put France’s best chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons against the Golden State’s finest. And when the Californians emerged victorious in both categories-not to mention repeatedly being confused as French wines by the judges-the wine drinking world was uncorked, as millions suddenly realized that they needn’t be drinking traditional Bordeauxs or Burgundies to be drinking the best.
While realizing California’s wine worth was inevitable, this discovery, like those before it, makes for great storytelling, especially when the Parisian merchant Steven Spurrier proposes the competition to jumpstart his fledgling business and the winning wine from Chateaux Montelena is made by a combative father-son duo living in the post-hippie/pre-pretension Napa Valley. And with the success of 2004’s Sideways-its Oscar-winning effect on Santa Barbara County’s wine sales still reverberate today-revealing that Americans love a good wine movie, it’s high time that Bottle Shock hits the screens.
Starring Alan Rickman as Spurrier, Bill Pullman as Montelena’s Jim Barrett, and his son Bo played by Chris Pine, Bottle Shock features just enough syrupy wine fanaticism to appease (and, at times, annoy) the serious wine drinker, and portrays the industry-altering event-when “a bunch of hicks” from California beat the snooty Francos-in the romantically proper light it deserves. There are ups (you’ll want to try the assistant winemaker’s secret stash) and downs (when good chards go brown), and all the sort of conflicting love interests that make Hollywood go ‘round. (The cheese factor, you should be warned, is remarkably high-every time the Barretts reach a tension point, for example, they duke it out in the boxing ring. But what, after all, goes better with wine than cheese :)
Though Bottle Shock doesn’t quite have the depressed, blackish humor and eye-opening wine insight of Sideways, winos would be remiss to miss it, if only because you’ll understand some of the lines that your neighbors in the theater won’t. In one scene, a friend of Spurrier declares a wine “bacon fat laced with honey melon”; in another, a Calistoga bartender asks a happily surprised Spurrier, “What were you expecting? Thunderbird?”; and a healthy nod is given to the 1947 Cheval Blanc, considered by many to be the best wine ever, and now topping the price charts at around $5,000.
While it’s not quite legal to smuggle bottles of wine into the Fiesta 5 when the film is scheduled to begin screening next week, here are some New World suggestions for the sneaky, or at least when it comes out on DVD:
Seven Terraces 2005 Sauvignon Blanc: Everyone knows that New Zealand is the brave new world of sauv blancs, and those that come from the Marlborough region are tops. This one, available for about $11 at The Winehound (thewinehound.com; 1221 Chapala St.), should be sipped while remembering that the rest of the wine-making world was officially legitimized by the ‘76 Paris tasting.
Foley & Phillips 2007 Santa Ynez Valley Rose: A blend of grenache, syrah, and cinsault, this $11 bottle (again at The Winehound) is made with the French rose style in mind, so drink it as a celebration of Old World being interpreted by the New.
Nadia 2004 Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard: Though it might not have won in 1976 against Napa or France, this Bordeaux blend from the Cuyama Valley (grown in the former Barnwood Vineyard, made by Laetitia Winery, and selling for $50 at nadiawine.com) is showing why S.B. County’s high desert has great potential for hot weather fruit.