Bottle Shock


Directed by: Randall Miller
Written by:Jody Savin, Randall Miller, Ross Schwartz
Starring: Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Rachel Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku, Bradley Whitford
Released: March 26, 2009
Grade: B-


The year is 1976 and Englishman Steven Spurrier (Rickman) owns a small wine shop in Paris. Steven has an intimate knowledge of wine but the same can’t be said of his business expertise. His shop is struggling and there are few customers.

Inspired by the advice of a friend, Steven decides to hold a wine contest to boost publicity. He will pit the best wines from France against the best from the United States. Having secured some high-profile connoisseurs to judge the contest, Steven sets off for California to select the best the States have to offer.

He winds up in the Napa Valley and at a struggling winery known as Chateau Montelena. Owner Jim Barrett (Pullman) has put his heart and soul into the vineyard without success. He’s in debt up to his eyeballs and if his current crop doesn’t turn out to be fruitful, the bank will be taking control of the property. It’s his last shot at fulfilling his dream. Helping Jim is his hippy son, Bo (Pine), and a small team of loyal staff.

Bottle Shock is loosely based on actual events. Yes, this blind wine tasting contest took place and yes, the results were heard around the world. A story was printed in Time Magazine and a bottle of the winning red and winning white can be found today in the Smithsonian Institute of American History in Washington D.C.

Whilst I admit that I’m intrigued by this tale, I don’t think the film gives it true justice. I didn’t know at times whether it was supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Jim and his son take out their frustrations by fighting each other in a makeshift boxing ring in the middle of the vineyard. What was the point of these scenes? Is it meant to lighten things up? The relevance of Sam’s character (played by Australian Rachel Taylor) was also lost on me.

Those who enjoy a nice chardonnay might find the film more palatable than others but in my opinion, the best film made about wine tasting was Sideways (released in 2004). It won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to get down your nearest video store and do so.