Hollywood & Wine: An oenophile’s guide to the movie Sideways

When I first heard about a wine movie coming out, I nearly wet my pants. I mean, introducing wine to the mainstream – the Hollywood mainstream – that’s the kind of publicity wine really needs to penetrate the American psyche.

Sideways, the multi-Oscar-nominated movie about two middle-aged guys on a wine country vacation, didn’t initially rouse my young female antennae, but after countless people kept asking my opinion, I dragged my butt into the theater… and walked out really happy. How often have I tried to describe the emotions involved in my passion of the juice and failed? How often have I viewed wine as foreplay, worthy of aphrodisiac status? The filmmakers captured the essence of how I feel about wine: more than passionate – obsessive. And they shared my enjoyment of poking fun at wine snobs. Here are my favorite moments and why they matter:

Best line: “I am NOT drinking any fucking merlot.” Merlot has gotten a bad rap in recent years, since so many wineries churn out generic, insipid versions of it. People love the stuff, but wine snobs resent it since at its best merlot can be a gorgeous, elegant wine, capable of greatness. Basically, they view California merlot as wine for dummies.

Best wine scene: At Sanford Winery, Paul Giamatti’s character (Miles) gives Thomas Hayden Church’s character (Jack) a wine-tasting lesson and smells “the faintest soupcon of asparagus and Edam cheese” in the wine. Miles rambles on about color, clarity and density, reflecting on wine esoterica. Jack listens, disregards and exasperatedly asks, “When do we drink?”

Best line that exemplifies wine as an occasion: “We drank a 1995 Opus One with smoked salmon and artichokes but we didn’t care.” 1995 is one of the best vintages for Napa cabernet in recent years, and Opus One is perhaps the most overrated, over-snobbed red wine in the Valley. Drinking a big, tannic wine with salmon and artichokes would be tongue-numbingly awful, so it reflects how much the wine moment mattered rather than the food pairing.

Best overall scene: On the porch, when Miles seduces Virginia Madsen’s character (Maya) – or was it the other way around? They speak about pinot noir as if it’s the power behind all passion. Pinot could exemplify sex, love, religion or spirituality to these two. They worship wine equally and share a common bond not unlike the love of art, since wine is essentially artistry in a bottle. Miles, who obviously falls for Maya during this scene, asks her, “Why are you so into wine?” She introspectively responds, “The more I drink, the more it makes me think wine is a living thing… if you open a bottle today, it tastes different than any other day… And it tastes so fucking good.”

Most heart-wrenching scene: Consumption of the 1961 Cheval Blanc in a diner. Chateau Cheval Blanc is located in the St. Emilion district in Bordeaux, France, where Merlot is, ironically, the dominant grape in the blends. I would’ve done pretty much anything to try that wine. Sigh.

Best line we should all live by: “The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc – that’s a special occasion.” A good bottle of wine and good friends make any day special… we can live by those words.

Even if you don’t give a crap about wine, go see Sideways. It sheds light on a part of our culture that is frequently overlooked but thankfully is getting attention. It’s funny, inspiring and true. No, it probably won’t win Best Picture since the competition is pretty stiff, but it’s well worth your eight bucks.

Recommended wines from the movie Sideways: Sanford 2002 Chardonnay

Andrew Murray 2001 Espérance

Foxen 2002 Pinot Noir


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