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*Bottle Shock

Dont like their California wine, Frenchy? Well, youre in the - minority.
  • Dont like their California wine, Frenchy? Well, youre in the minority.

*Bottle Shock (PG-13)
Kimball's Twin Peak


Clichs about French snootiness aside, it's hard for me to imagine a time when California wines were disparaged and French wines were considered the complete story. Which is, I guess, a measure of the impact made by the events depicted in Bottle Shock.

In 1976, Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant who ran a shop in Paris, hit upon the idea of setting up a competition between the wines of France and those of Northern California, which he'd heard were becoming drinkable. So he took a trip to Napa, rounded up some vino and set up a blind taste test between the Napa and French wines with as many serious French judges, wine writers, restaurateurs and other experts as he could find.

The Napa wines won, much to the horror of the French. This became known as the "Judgment of Paris," and it's the reason we're all happily drinking wonderful vintages from Oregon and New Zealand and Chile today.

Regardless of whether you've ever heard of the "Judgment of Paris," you're probably aware that Napa wines are reputed to be excellent, even if you've never tasted them. So going into Bottle Shock, you know how it's gonna end. But this is a charming triumph-of-the-underdog flick, and mostly for one reason: Alan Rickman. His Spurrier is a tightly wound bundle of coiled rage, condescending superiority and elegant arrogance. But more and this is where the film ascends to realms of real cinematic joy Rickman's Spurrier is willing to be wrong, even happy to be so.

The script, by director Randall Miller, Jody Savin, Ross Schwartz and Lannette Pabon, may be deviating from reality here for drama's sake, but the Spurrier of the film is not motivated to create the competition out of any sympathy for Napa. He does it hoping to knock down the haughtiness of the French, which he seems to find a personal affront. (One early scene in which Spurrier is treated like a leper at a Paris wine event is a little treasure box of Rickman's talent on display.) But once he arrives in California, he is startled to discover just how good the wines are.

I don't mean to belittle the rest of the film by focusing on Rickman, but he does tend to steal a film and he's never stolen a movie like he does this one. Yet everything about Bottle Shock is a treat.

Bill Pullman stretches into the role of Jim Barrett, owner of the vineyard Chateau Montelena and the foil for Spurrier. Barrett is like Spurrier, in some ways, just California-casual in his trappings about it. Chris Pine as Jim's son, Bo, is a hoot. Bo is supposed to be a bit of a screw-up, which causes him to lock horns with his dad more than once, but in him we see the kind of audacity that allowed Napa's wines to storm the world.

Smart and sassy, Bottle Shock is no delicate vintage to be sipped, but a big hearty gulp of cinema. Enjoy.

scene@csindy.com

  • It's hard to imagine a time when French wines were considered the complete story.

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