Wine as a Device in Film

Posted by Barterhouse on August 25, 2020

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle,” Paulo Coelho said. When taking this life advice, we all are encouraged to drink life in. When we aren’t in the mood to jump out of airplanes and travel the world, movies are an acceptable substitute. Film provides an alternate universe where we can put ourselves in a character’s shoes and explore the sublimation of the drives. A well-casted movie excellently solidifies that fourth wall, taking us out of the world for a moment. While we might not think of wine as a player, it actually has been an important and plot-serving character in many of our favorite films. Sometimes as a larger-than-life character in its own right, here are some movies in which wine played an integral role. Occasionally, like the “Sideways Effect,” the wine is able to transcend the plot into the real world, boosting wine sales or creating new ‘wine moments’ for us to taste.

Sideways, a 2004 film with a near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, is perhaps the best example of wine infiltrating a movie. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 and is known to have boosted pinot noir sales astronomically. The main character, Miles Raymond, was played by Paul Giamatti, a down on his luck English teacher and writer, who takes his friend (Jack played by Thomas Haden Church) on one last fling before his wedding. The two guys meet two girls, and in many misadventures, somehow end up better off than they started. Raymond is a bit of a wine connoisseur, waxing poetic about the wonderful attributes of Pinot noir. Because of his intensity, the wine industry credits the aforementioned “Sideways Effect” for boosting Pinot noir sales about 170 percent since the film was released and vilifying merlot (slowing the sales volume and causing the price to fall). 

The Princess Bride, produced in 1987, has always had a cult following. This delightful story within a story features Westley, who must battle Prince Humperdinck to win back his love, Princess Buttercup. One pivotal scene involves wine and wits, when Humperdinck’s henchman, Vizziini, tries to trick Westley with a poisonous cup of wine. Like the wine itself, the plot slowly intensifies, leaving us moving through the film with willful trepidation. Westley outsmarts him, and eventually recaptures his lady love. In 2012, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema came out with a line of wines for the 25th anniversary of the film. The line is called Bottle of Wits, a play on words from the movie, and features a California Cabernet called “Inconceivable Cab” and an “As You Wish” White. 

From Russia with Love, James Bond’s second movie produced in 1964, shows him in unconventional settings, like Istanbul and on the Orient Express. Who wouldn’t love a bottle of white chilling in the river while seducing a woman? Bond movies always ask us to give in to the willing suspension of disbelief. The life that Bond leads is something we want to make real. Parallel to that concept is the idea of savoring a glass of wine, giving into the moment, and using it as a method to ‘forget our worries.’ Bond also ends up drinking a bottle of wine called Raki with gypsies in Turkey, flavored with anise. The movie shows a series of wine bottles for Bond to drink, as he moves through his adventures and his women. The film culminates with bad guy Grant ordering red wine with fish, which is usually an absolute no-no. This gives Bond even more of a reason to prevail.  

A Good Year, a 2006 romantic comedy, stars Russell Crow, who is a successful city banker who inherits a rundown vineyard on its last legs. There is also the intrigue of the wine business’s shady trading circumstances as a backdrop to the action. Director Ridley Scott loved the countryside and had always wanted to film a movie there. Although not the most well-written play, it does feature some great shots of vineyards, and wine is important to the characters of this feel-good comedy. 

You Will Be My Son is a 2013 family drama movie that slowly evolves into a tense thriller, just like a fine wine changes as you experience a tasting. Eleven generations of the family have owned the vineyards, Paul de Marseul is a much-appreciated winemaker and would typically pass the vineyards to his son, Martin. But they have never gotten along. Enter Paul’s beautiful wife Alice and a worldly man named Philippe who knows everything about wine, and the nuances build to a head when the harvester becomes sick, and Martin wants to take over. The movie intensifies with family dramatics at the forefront. 

Silence of the Lambs, a 1991 psychological horror film, features Hannibal Lector, behind bars for murder, and Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster), an FBI ace interviewing him to better profile Buffalo Bill, another serial killer. Performed by the intensely focused Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lector is a psychiatrist imprisoned for murder and cannibalism. The FBI is correct that he will help Clarice catch Buffalo Bill, but it comes with a price as Lector gets in her psyche. One of Lector’s lines is that he ate his victim’s liver with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti. Like for The Princess Bride, Alamo Drafthouse created “Cannibal Chianti “which is sold in a red leather bag with a side of fava beans and “Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio, “served in a burlap bag alongside Buffalo Bill lotion. 

Next time you head to the movies or watch one on Netflix, see if you can spot a bottle of red or a bottle of white. Consider the deeper meaning so that you can truly drink in every flavor of the film! 

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