Bottle Shock: Truly, Deeply, Maddening

POSTED ON 29/03/2009

When Steven Spurrier, wine writer and Decanter Magazine's awards chairman, complained about his portrayal in the movie Bottle Shock, methinks he did protest too much. It’s not everyday that a Hollywood filmmaker comes along and says he wants to immortalise you, and by the way, you’ll be played by Alan Rickman.

Bottle shockedBottle shocked

The subject of the movie was the now legendary Judgment of Paris tasting in which, 200 years after American independence, Steven Spurrier, as a young wine merchant at Les Caves de la Madeleine in Paris in 1976, thought up the idea of pitting the crème de la crème of Bordeaux against the best of California in a blind tasting competition.

That Bordeaux would win hands down was assumed. That California ended up beating Bordeaux was the surprising outcome that sent shock waves through the traditional wine producing countries of Europe and a euphoric thrill throughout the New World. The clear message was: after centuries of French superiority, the wine world is now finally capable of operating on a level playing field.

Back to Bottle Shock in which Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier as a snobbish English wine merchant. Though he may be somewhat posh and wears a suit and tie to tastings, Spurrier remains an indefatigable wine enthusiast but not a snob.

‘I obtained a copy of the first draft of Bottle Shock and met up with Bo Barrett in Napa and told him that he shouldn’t allow history to be distorted so blatantly’, says Steven Spurrier. ‘That’s Hollywood,’ came the reply. ‘There are only five true things in the whole movie: the names of Jim and Bo Barrett, the name of their wine, my name and the date of the tasting’, says Spurrier.

The film stinks more than biodynamic dung. I watched as much as I could bear of the film sitting in economy on a flight back from Buenos Aires before Christmas and I managed to endure almost half an hour of it.

The script is laughably bad. The apparent glee at the expense of the buttoned-up Brit backfires as the characters are totally unbelievable and intensely irritating, not least the appalling ‘hippie’ son of the Château Montelena owner and the conceited ‘love interest’ whose timely arrival to work at the winery just happens to coincide with the 1976 action.

As for Alan Rickman, is this the man who was so brilliant in Truly, Madly, Deeply? Although I never thought it could happen, Rickman hams it up like the rest. And then there’s the dreadful Doobie Brothers soundtrack: one of the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to listen to.

So well done Steven Spurrier for having nothing to do with Bottle Shock. It shows that his judgment, in every sense, is intact. I don’t know if the other movie on the same subject is getting off the ground but if it is, let’s hope that it’s better than this flop. Who said turkey is only for Thanksgiving?

Wine of the Week

1998 Mumm Cuvée R.Lalou Grand Cru Champagne

While I’m not the greatest fan of the basic G.H.Mumm Cordon Rouge, a little on the sweet side and too one-dimensional in its flavours for my liking, it would be hard to overstate the brilliance of its prestige Cuvée, formerly called René Lalou and now just plain R. Lalou. It’s a blend of half chardonnay and half pinot noir from grand cru vineyards and it’s so aromatic, seductively rich, concentrated, creamily textured and winey that you can almost see it as a white burgundy. I think this is very impressive, a champagne that’s up there with the better known top names of Cristal, Krug and Dom Pérignon. Around £82.48 - £100, Dunells,, The Real Wine Company,, Selfridges, Harrods, Vintage House.

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