My valued colleague Catherine Oddie has a fondness for listicles so in the spirit of her appreciation for pithy instructive roll calls of things people absolutely must know – I offer my top five favourite wine documentaries.
Each of these are on DVD and some have been cinema releases (McMan and I saw the #1 doco twice within a week at the movies so it clearly bears re-watching).
And for your leisure planning pleasure I have matched a wine recommendation with each of the following.
- RED OBSESSION (2013) This film documents China’s early 21st century westernisation through the frenzy over Bordeaux premier cru as the ultimate luxury item for the nouveau riche. It shows how profoundly wine can signify as well as celebrate historical change. To be consumed with 2008 Chateau Latour, which will make sense when you see the film. Failing that (and don’t we all!) your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon will be ideal. And it is essential to adopt an air of excess.
- CHATEAU CHUNDER (2012) This is a must-view for its distillation of the recent Australian wine story from pariah to ‘sunshine in a bottle’, mainly in the UK market. Watch for appearances by my fellow Australian wine historian Dr David Dunstan. And, if you can’t pay homage to the rise of the Australian wine industry with a Penfold’s Grange (and – again, let’s face it – who can, unless you were prescient many years ago or are in NSW state politics …?), I recommend you first open a cask of cheap wine (red or white) for historical veracity, and then move onto the best Australian white you can find in your cellar or at the bottlo. This way you will have approximately drunk your way through the trajectory from Chateau Chunder to fine Chardonnays and Semillons and Rieslings (Viva la Australia’s quality whites). Or Shiraz, if you want to capture the excitement of the late 1990s boom in Australian reds.
- MONDOVINO (2004) Jonathon Nossiter’s teasing out of the tensions between New World and Old World wine producers – and ideas of authentic wine production – has become the benchmark for wine documentaries. You’ll want to drink French wine while you’re watching this. Anything will do, but get it in ahead of time because otherwise you’ll regret not being able to raise a glass of something non-American at certain points in this film. But if you tend to the relativist rather than taking sides in the Old World-New World enmity between France and the Mondavis of America (who have a French business partner for Pete’s sake – nothing is ever completely black & white) then you’ll also need a Napa Valley wine to truly drink your way through this exploration of a contemporary historical dialetic of the wine world.
- BLOOD INTO WINE (2010) Although ostensibly a defence of American hard rock star Maynard Keenan’s decision to seed the Arizona wine industry, this is a fascinating reflection on what motivates, irks and rewards those who plant vines and make wine. Start out with whatever you have on hand. This film is about moving from what you know into the completely unknown. Ideally, as the story arc reaches its climax you’ll be cracking open a bottle of Maynard’s own Arizona wine. (Note: do not google the current status of the featured vineyard and winery in BIW until you’ve watched the whole doco and the special features).
- MONDOVINO: THE SERIES (2004) For the true wine and culture devotee. If the cinema release MONDOVINO (2004) leaves you wanting more, at 576 minutes of viewing time this box set is the filmic equivalent of the perfect ‘long finish’. Get in a case of whatever you love, this is binge watching of the highest quality and should be savoured with wine you know you enjoy.…and now – I’m off to order an online basketful of wine docos to update my collection. Will keep you posted!