Pinotnoir With today being the Oscars I’m weighing in on the wine-themed film "Sideways".  Last weekend I finally had a chance to see it.  Now I really really wanted to love this movie.  And it was high time that I went since friends have been asking, "Did you see it? Did you think it was true?" 

Let me first say that I am the first to admit that I am cynical, jaded and not without an opinion on films and pop culture in general.  Marketing, a profession I enjoy, pays the bills. So that being said–enough already with Sideways.  It’s a fine little film but it’s certainly not all that everyone seems to think it is.  It’s over rated.

For those who haven’t had a chance and are feeling left out here is a brief rundown, Miles, riddled with angst over his unpublished writings and bad luck with women embarks on a bachelor week long wine and carousing binge with his best friend from college to the Santa Barbara wine country.  There are briefly funny moments at tastings.  But in between there is over consumption at dinners, stumbling drunk from bars, swillings straight from the bottle and not to forget drinking from the spit bucket.  Critics loved the movie. The public gets in line to see it, tourism increases in Santa Barbara and pinot sales rise significantly.

So my question is this, is Miles truly an oenophile or an alcoholic? All movies ask you, the viewer, to suspend belief.  However, if the film doesn’t allow for me to make a connection to the main character, or for that matter any of the characters in the film it’s going to be a chore to get me through to the end. And these characters were so loathsome.  (Read one woman’s opinion here. {Washington Post})

A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, offers the following insights into the characters and their dynamics in the January 2, 2005 edition of NY Times Arts & Leisure:

"The contrast between him {Miles} and his friend Jack is partly the difference between an uptight, insecure epicurean and a swinging, self-deluding hedonist, but it is more crucially the difference between a sensibility that subjects every experience to judgment and analysis and a personality happy to accept whatever the moment offers. When they taste wine, Jack is apt to say "tastes good to me," and leave it at that, whereas Miles tends not only to be more exacting in his judgment ("quaffable but not transcendent," which is about how I feel about "Sideways"), but also more prone to narrate, to interpret – to find a language for the most subtle and ephemeral sensations of his palate."

It’s mind boggling how many column inches and minutes of air time this film has wrought.  According to a recent Wine Enthusiast magazine, " Official sales figures are not due for some time, but retailers from California, new York, Ohio and elsewhere are reporting a 15 percent increase in sales of Pinot Noir in the wake of the movie.  Pinot Noir sales have been growing in this country at a rate of about 2 percent for the past several years, so this is quite a dramatic jump.  The rise has been helped, no doubt, by the introduction of $10 to $15 Pinots from California and Oregon."

Reuters has reported that while Pinot Noir sales are soaring Merlot is tanking.  Personally I prefer the French version of Merlot–Pomerol Merlot is always a crowd-pleaser. It’s soft, juicy and pleasant—and many vineyards make design it to be very drinkable for the wine-drinking consumer.

The popularity of this film and the resulting spike in wine sales says more to me about the wine-drinking public than about film making today.  Is everyone really that unsure of themselves when it comes to understanding wine?  Do we need a movie about wine to reveal the mystery of pinot noir?  Here’s a few tips, if you like wine and you want to grow that interest. Drink wine. Take notes. Drink more wine. 

In the A.O. Scott article he provides one theory into why critics enjoyed the film so much,

"In "Sideways," a good many critics see themselves, and it is only natural that we should love what we see. Not that critics are the only ones, by any means, but the affection that we have lavished on this film has the effect of emphasizing the narrowness of its vision, and perhaps our own. It both satirizes and affirms a cherished male fantasy: that however antisocial, self-absorbed and downright unattractive a man may be, he can always be rescued by the love of a good woman. "

All this tells me is that people like to be sold to whether it be wine or film.  So my prediction?  Million Dollar Baby will win for Best Picture.

Sideways Wine List  (via Chowhound)

Silly Tasting Notes Generator

Touring Santa Barbara’s ‘Sideways’ Universe (USA Today)

Another Side of ‘Sideways’ (NPR)

Best Supporting Grape (Eric Asimov, NY Times)