Review: Bottle Shock (2008)

This American indie comedy aims to both inform and charm but it fails to do much of either, exhibiting mistakes commonly assigned to big Hollywood. The story centres on an historic 1976 wine competition, known as “the Judgment of Paris,” which was the first time Californian wines defeated French in a blind taste test, but the film spends more time on clichéd relationships between family members and coworkers at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley.

Bill Pullman is the disgruntled owner, Jim Barrett, who bet everything on making successful wine in Napa Valley, and his character always bears a visible weight of emotional strain and discontent. Poor guy. What’s worse, his son Bo, played by Chris Pine in what looks like a hippie wig made of blond yarn, is lazy and irresponsible. He only cares about having fun. Rachael Taylor is the hot young intern Sam and Freddy Rodriguez is Gustavo, a knowledgeable worker with “winemaking in his blood,” who doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he’s Hispanic. His subplot fits with the larger message against wine snobbery. According to the film, the 1976 competition was a watershed that first directed attention and business to wines outside France. Alan Rickman, his usual deadpan self, is the ultimate wine snob: his Steven Spurrier is a British sommelier living in Paris. In a bid less to enlighten the wine world and more to self-promote, he plans a taste testing competition that will showcase American along with French wine. In order to avoid prejudice, the taste testing will be blind. His fish-out-of-water scenes in Napa Valley as he searches for the best bottles are some of the more charming in the movie.

I get the film’s basic point. When I go to the liquor store nowadays, I see, and often choose, bottles from Ontario, South America, Australia, even South Africa. Who’d have expected that fifty years ago? While director Randall Miller wants to assert this competition as an important historic event, most of his movie sidesteps wine politics to show a hackneyed father-son relationship and a predictable love-triangle. It’s as if Miller feared that too much wine talk or actual historical details would bore the audience. If you’re looking for the characterization and wine poetry of Sideways, you’d best keep browsing.

4 out of 10

Bottle Shock (USA, 2008)

Directed by Randall Miller; screenplay by Jody Savin & Randall Miller and Ross Schwartz; starring Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Freddy Rodriguez, Rachael Taylor, Eliza Dushku, and Dennis Farina.