Bottle Shock film dilutes the truth

By Joelle Thomson

The wine-themed film "Bottle Shock" skimps on the facts, but delivers on the cast, on MiNDFOOD.

Is the film Bottle Shock silly, serious or sleazy? I’m still deciding.

Bottle Shock’s sexual innuendo, ’70s free love vibe and skimpy see-through T-shirt shots guarantee cheap thrills – but also act as a diversion from the plot.

The story is based, loosely, on the famous French versus California blind wine tasting experiment of 1976, organised by Spurrier, a British-born wine connoisseur.

In the film, as in real life, North American lawyer Jim Barrett puts everything he has on the line to make a great chardonnay from his ailing winery, Chateau Montelena. And here’s the disturbing part – for no apparent reason all his chardonnays mysteriously turn brown in the bottle.

Oxidised? I thought so, but in true Hollywood fashion, within a matter of days the wines turned back to the same golden yellow chardonnay colour they had once been – just in time for the tasting.

I’ve lost count of how many winemakers, wine marketers and wine merchants I’ve asked about this phenomenon and, like me, no one has heard of it.

It’s hard to disregard this strange happening, as this chameleon-like change in the wines – from golden to brown to golden again – is integral to the story.

As for the cast, Alan Rickman is the film’s high point, even if his portrayal of Spurrier comes across very differently from the real life version, instead a bumbling ex-pat Englishman whose character is moulded around a clumsy Inspector Clouseau look-alike. He pulls it off well. The real Spurrier is affable, passionate and open-minded, but not at all bumbling.

I liked the film’s suggestion that wine is created in the vineyard, that passion and understanding are as important as knowledge, and that, for some, top French wines are the yardstick for greatness. Wine purists can rest assured that there are some serious moments. They are just few and far between.

Bottle Shock is released in New Zealand on May 28, 2009 and is already showing in Australia. New Zealanders buying Trinity Hill Wines are in with a chance to win tickets to the film. This winery is celebrating its own global success when Jancis Robinson rated the 2006 Trinity Hill The Gimblett as her Best Value “Bordeaux”-based red wine.

Robinson also wrote that Hawkes Bay’s Gimblett Gravels red wines were the closest comparison to France’s Bordeaux reds of any wine region in the world.


UPDATE: Feedback has been fast and furious this week over my Bottle Shock movie review slash wine review. I do wish you’d all post your comments on the site instead of emailing me, but since several of you prefer your hotline to my personal email, let’s share some of that feedback.

Here’s a paragraph from the book Judgment of Paris by George Taber, who was the only reporter at the famous tasting that the film was based on. Hopefully this will explain the phenomenon of the wine turning brown in the movie.

“So-called bottle shock, when unexpected developments in the wine took place after bottling, was fairly common even at some of the most famous and technically advanced wineries. Experts describe a phenomenon like the one that Barrett says happened as ‘pinking in the bottle’, and in the still early days of the California wine revolution the process was not widely understood. Napa Valley wineries in the early 1970s had not yet completely mastered their technology, and were sometimes so anxious to protect Chardonnay from air that they overprotected it. Wine has a natural browning enzyme that disappears when it comes in contact with oxygen, but wineries at that time wanted to make sure no oxygen ever touched their white wines in an attempt to protect their freshness and clarity. If the browning enzyme has no contact with air prior to bottling, a temporary discoloration sometimes turns up in the bottle but then soon naturally disappears.” (Pages 151-152).

A MiNDFOOD reader notes that Master of Wine Jancis Robinson caned the movie, that Stephen Spurrier loathed Alan Rickman’s portrayal of him – not surprising really, since it was incredibly inaccurate. Another reader still says the movie just looks silly and annoying since it raises more technical wine issues than it answers.

A couple of winemakers I’ve spoken to this week say that browning enzymatic oxidation can occur in chardonnay and then change back again, but that they have never heard of this happening once the wine is actually bottled.

Like I say, there are some serious moments in Bottle Shock, but they are few and far between. Keep your comments coming.


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