Wine in Movies

8 January 2012
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee


Over the holiday break, I caught up on my reading and watched a lot of movies with my family. I love snuggling up in front of the television with a warm blanket, my family around me, a bowl of popcorn, a bottle of wine, watching one movie after another. I over-indulge in the things I don’t have time to do during the rest of the year like reading several books in one sitting or watching three or four movies back to back. While reading books is a solitary affair, watching movies are communal and in my house, we call it the ‘movie marathon’. We always try to find a theme for our movie marathons. So during the Christmas holidays, I searched for food and wine movies that I could group together for all of us to watch. For food-related movies, there was quite a bit of choice: We skipped the movies from the 1980s since I knew my children prefer modern movie settings. Sadly, we did not watch the beautifully made Danish movie Babette’s Feast, about a repressed woman who expresses herself through her cooking. We also chose not to watch the wonderfully quirky Japanese film from the 1980s called Tampopo, about a chef in search of the perfect ramen noodle soup. Among food movies, I love Ang Lee’s classic, Eat Drink Man Woman, which is now 18 years old but hardly dated. It was so successful in the United States that it not only launched Lee’s career in Hollywood, but it also spawned a whole genre of movies centred around the kitchen and dining table. The list includes Soul Food, a movie released in 2000 with an African-American family bonding over meals and also Tortilla Soup released in 2001 with a Mexican family.


Other great food movies include the brilliant Ratatouille, entertaining for children as well as adults; Like Water for Chocolate is a wonderful film as much about food as it is about forbidden love at the turn of the century Mexico. It has so much depth and nuance that it makes the modern movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche seem childish and simple. Great food movies that women will appreciate that focus on female relationships are Fried Green Tomatoes and Julie and Julia. I wish there were as many wine themed movies to choose from but sadly, only a few are really worth recommending. There has always been wine in movies, since dining/eating scenes are common. We have plenty of Italian meal scenes which includes Italian wines in mafia-based movies such as the Godfather series. Even in Silence of the Lambs, cannibal Hannibal Lecter famously says that he ate someone’s liver with fava beans and “a nice Chianti”. Champagne has always had favourable positioning in movies – remember the champagne scene between Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca as the piano is playing “As Time Goes By”? James Bond, along with his martinis, preferred champagne, normally Dom Perignon or Bollinger. But films that really focus on wine rather than showing wine in passing are limited. One exception is the movie Sideways released in 2004. The two main characters, Miles and Jack, are two opposites, especially when it comes to wine. Miles detests Merlot and finds it prosaic and boring while Jack, who knows very little about wine, finds nearly all wine ‘not bad’ and chews gum while tasting wine in one scene to the disgust of Miles. Throughout the movie, Miles disparages Merlot while extolling the virtues of Pinot Noir. The irony is that the wine he worships, the 1961 Cheval Blanc, consists of nearly 50% Merlot. Sideways was a surprising box office hit given its modest budget of US$16 million and lack of big star casting. It is the only movie I am aware of that directly impacted sales of wine – increasing the demand for Pinot Noir while Merlot took a hit following the release of the film. This was called the ‘Sideways affect’. The movie has an official site ( and its success launched several wine clubs where you can order Miles’ favourite Pinot Noirs for example. Watch out for the two strong female characters, Stephanie and Maya; they have only supporting roles, but these women are wine-savvy and sharp. It is a fun, enjoyable adult movie, not recommended for young children. A more serious wine movie that may have non wine geeks yawning in their seats is the Jonathan Nossiter documentary film Mondovino. Released in 2005, it never made it to the wider big box office theatres but among wine aficionados, it was a must-see controversial movie. Clearly, Nossiter’s agenda was to point out how the growing commercialization of wine and the growth of large wine enterprises were marginalising the small ‘genuine’ winemakers and growers. With numerous candid interviews, the movie offers a glimpse into the working lives of both small producers as well as international figures in the wine industry, including Robert Parker, Michel Rolland and Michael Mondavi. More recent wine films include A Good Year with Russell Crowe and Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman. Both movies are far less entertaining than Sideways and in the case of Bottle Shock, filled with factual errors although it is supposed to be based on the actual 1976 Paris Tasting organised by Steven Spurrier. If a movie marathon is on your agenda this coming lunar new year holiday, don’t go for the scarce pickings of wine-related movies, opt for a food theme where there is a much wider variety of good movies to choose form.


Reprinted with permission from South China Morning Post