Our appreciation of wine enhances our enjoyment of entertainment media when wine plays a key role. The goal of this piece is to create a new kind of entertainment shopping list—a fun way to satisfy our desires with no added calories. Of course, if you can resist drinking wine while reading, listening to or watching any of these media pieces, you’re a better person than I. If calories are no object, you can try the suggested pairing listed at the end of each media description.
The following selections of books, songs, entertainment-related events and movies are guided by two criteria: 1) wine must either be the main subject or crucial to the theme of the piece and 2) the media pick must be considered good—critically acclaimed or well reviewed. If no review from an official source could be found, a positive consensus of independent reviewers was sufficient to include the piece on the list.
Lists of media with wine themes are plentiful, but typically at least one of the above criteria is missing for many of the listed items. For instance, the movie Casablanca is on several lists, and although the champagne did flow liberally in Rick’s Café Américain, it is not essential to the plot.
A newer film, A Good Year, is touted to include stimulating and beautiful visuals and depictions of French food and wine that will whet the appetite, but on the other hand, the screenwriting is bland: “pleasant, pretty and predictable” as New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden quipped.
WINE IN LITERATURE
Books on wine abound, but this list focuses on fiction in which wine appears.
The Cask of Amontillado, 1846 by Edgar Allen Poe.
Angry over repeated insults and injuries cast upon him, Montresor tells us the short story of his plot to get revenge against pompous wine connoisseur Fortunado. Montresor takes advantage of Fortunado’s affection for Amontillado, a fortified wine/sherry, by luring him deep into his wine vaults on a dare that Fortunado would not be able to withstand the fumes of nitre lining the cavern walls. As the pair descends, Fortunado continues to cough while cheerily offering subtle insults. Montresor’s ire increases and his diabolical plans solidify. Check this out at the library for the disturbing finale with the full benefit of Poe’s rich prose.
STORY PAIRING: dry sherry
A Wine Lover’s Mystery Series by Tony Aspler
Tony Aspler, also known as “The Wine Guy,” was the first author to develop a series of mystery novels for wine lovers. In the mid-1990s, he began to write about the fictional character Ezra Brant, a wine writer who unwittingly becomes a detective as he visits various wine regions, then gets involved with solving murders. Aside from enjoying the fine tales Mr. Aspler spins, you can learn about the various activities associated with wine writing.
Aspler has been writing about wine in general for over thirty years and is currently working on his fourth book in the series: Nightmare in Napa Valley. For more information or to purchase his books, go to www.tonyaspler.com. The site has a wealth of information on wines of the world, including reviews, food/wine pairing ideas, recipes and wine news. Aside from being a highly respected wine writer in Canada, Aspler is an accomplished wine educator and lecturer.
Blood is Thicker than Beaujolais, 2000, revised edition.
In Aspler’s first mystery book, wine journalist Ezra Brant travels to France for the release of a beaujolais nouveau, but gets involved with fraud, murder and intrigue that starts when a body falls through a cave-cellar trap door. “Reads like a cozy” according to an independent reviewer.
BOOK PAIRING: gamay with onion tart, goat cheese and dates
The Beast of Barbaresco, 1996.
Our hero Ezra Brant appears again in the second book of Aspler’s series. His supposedly innocuous trip to judge a wine competition in the village of Barbaresco, Italy, turns into a hunt for his fellow judge, who is missing amidst talk of a serial killer known as “The Beast of Barbaresco.” The Grape Goddess of PlanetGrape.com reports that this is her favorite among Aspler’s trio of mysteries. An aside: amazing pizza wines barbera, barolo and barbaresco, among others, hail from the Barbaresco village.
BOOK PAIRING: barbera with pizza
Death on the Douro, 2000.
In Tony Aspler’s third mystery, Ezra Brant happily accepts his friend’s invitation to Oporto, Portugal, to attend a bicentennial celebration of a small Quinta (Portuguese for inn), realizing he can also research the history of port while there. Unfortunately, he is again thrust into detective work when numerous “accidents” in conjunction with an incident in his own room at the quinta force him to grasp that he is himself a target.
BOOK PAIRING: port and chocolate
The Wine Lover’s Mystery Series by Michele Scott
Michele Scott has also written a series of books dubbed The Wine Lover’s Mystery Series, but the books are not associated with Aspler’s. Being a horse enthusiast, she has also produced a line of books entitled the Equine Mystery Series.
Scott’s wine mysteries feature heroine Nikki Sands, who starts out as a waitress seeking to become an actress, but instead works her way up in the wine industry. Women may identify with this protagonist, who struggles with life and her own flaws while progressing. Recipes and wine pairings pepper the books for an added treat.
Murder Uncorked, 2005.
Working as a waitress while aspiring to be an actress, Nikki Sands meets handsome vineyard owner Derek Malveaux, who offers her a job upon learning of her wine savvy. Shortly after her arrival at the winery, she finds the body of the Malveaux Estate winemaker and feels compelled to follow the leads to solve the case.
BOOK PAIRING: sauvignon blanc served with mixed-mushroom bruschetta, featured recipe in this book
Murder by the Glass, 2006.
Now settled into her job as assistant to the owner at the Malveaux Estate, Nikki Sands helps her new friend and restaurateur Isabel cater a wedding. Unfortunately, both discover that the nasty bride Susan is marrying Isabel’s secret lover. When the bride is murdered at the wedding, Isabel is an immediate suspect, but Nikki knows better. Too many people have been offended by Susan…
BOOK PAIRING: Alexander Valley Vineyards Sin Zin with pork tenderloin in port wine mushroom sauce, featured recipe in this book
Silenced by Syrah, 2007.
The new restaurant, Georges on the Vineyard, is part of the new boutique hotel spa at Malveaux Estates. Renowned chef Georges Debussey soon disappears after leaving for a relaxing syrah bath splash at the spa. Of course, Nikki Sands, now the winery manager, feels obliged to solve this puzzle…
BOOK PAIRING: syrah served with chicken Thai wraps with spicy peanut sauce, featured recipe in this book
Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery Series by Nadia Gordon
San Francisco-based Julianne Balmain writes her Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery series under the pen name of Nadia Gordon. She is currently working on the fourth in the series, called Lethal Vintage, to be ready for market in the fall of 2008. Her works under Julianne Balmain include the new travel guide Night + Day San Francisco and the Kama Sutra Deck with its companion, the Kama Sutra Bedside Journal. Balmain has also co-written three children’s books, Crafty Girl: Cool Stuff, Crafty Girl: Beauty and The Queen’s Amulet.
Visit www.nadiagordon.com to learn more.
Sharp Shooter, 2002.
Two conflicts are present in Nadia Gordon’s third book: 1) the glassy-winged sharpshooter (an insect), dangerous to the vineyards, and 2) suspicion that our heroine’s friend has murdered the heir to a prominent wine family. Critics from the Publishers Weekly to the Times Book Review have hailed this book as highly enjoyable with rich descriptions of the culinary world, intelligent dialogue, strong plot and mystery. From the Los Angeles Times: “Rapturous descriptions of gourmet meals and world-class wines…”. From Booklist: “A promising debut with a strong plot and colorful characters”.
BOOK PAIRING: roasted duck legs and fettuccine with mushroom cream sauce “plus as much red wine as possible” (served by Sunny in the book)
Death By the Glass, 2003.
Chef Sunny McCoskey finds herself in a pickle when her new, celebrity-chef lover is suspected of a murder veiled under a heart attack. From the Chicago Tribune: “The perfect book to read while eating—preferably something slightly more upscale than a Big Mac...Sunny learns that one of Vinifera’s [Yountville dining facility] owners has been poisoned while drinking an expensive bottle of Burgundy. No glass or bottle is safe after that, and eventually every mushroom becomes deadly. Jolly, high-calorie pleasure, almost as good as a trip to the scene itself”.
BOOK PAIRING: pinot noir and stuffed mushrooms
Murder Alfresco, 2005.
Once again, Chef Sunny is propelled into detective work. She discovers a woman’s body outside a local winery and may have seen the murderer drive away. From mystery series writer Cara Black: “Forget visiting the Sonoma wine country, just drizzle olive oil on the endive salad, grab the Chardonnay, sit back, and enjoy Murder Alfresco. Chef Sunny McCoskey finds murder in the vineyard and intrigue in her trendy restaurant. Nadia Gordon’s evocative descriptions and smooth prose make Sunny’s third outing the best yet!”
The paperback will be available in the spring of 2008.
BOOK PAIRING: Truchard Chardonnay and “mind-blowing stinky cheeses” (served by Sunny in the book)
The first children’s book regarding viticulture, The Grapes Grow Sweet describes four-year-old Julian patiently waiting, then getting to help with his first grape harvest. His dream of participating in the harvest finally fulfilled, Julian’s longing is then focused on when he will be allowed to drive the tractor! The lively activities are all illustrated with breathtaking watercolors by author Lynne Tuft.
The Grapes Grow Sweet was originally published in 1996, but a reintroduction by Rivervine Press along with a new accompanying coloring book based on Julian’s own vineyard reports (Julian’s Vineyard Adventures) will become available in October on www.GrapesGrowSweet.com. The books will also be available at Bookends Book Store and Napa Valley Traditions in Napa and Riverhouse Books in St. Helena.
Wine lovers and growers alike appreciate this book because it enables them to share their passion with their children. The Grapes Grow Sweet has won three awards: the Benjamin Franklin Award (from the Publishers Marketing Association), the Grand Prize for Best Self-Published Book of the Year (Writer’s Digest) and the Best Self-Published Book of the Year (Mid-America Publishers Association). See more of Lynne Tuft’s fabulous artwork at www.lynnetuft.com.
BOOK PAIRING: peanut butter and jelly sandwich with grape juice
WINE IN SONGS
The following five songs not only celebrate wine, but are listed because even if written years back, they are still known and heard today. The big surprise is that Neil Diamond is involved with two out of the five. Both absolutely had to be included.
The Night They Invented Champagne, 1958, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.
From the movie Gigi, this delightful song is performed by the film’s teen heroine (played by Leslie Caron), who sneaks sips of champagne, eventually guzzling, while her grandmother and handsome family friend dance behind her, oblivious.
The night they invented champagne
it’s plain as it can be
they thought of you and me.
The night they invented champagne
they absolutely knew
that all we’d want to do
is fly to the sky on champagne
and shout to everyone in sight
that since the world began
no woman or a man
has ever been as happy as we are tonight!
SONG PAIRING: champagne and truffles
Days of Wine and Roses, 1962 lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Henry Mancini.
This title song for the movie of the same name garnered the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1962. Although very beautiful, “Days of Wine and Roses” is probably the only song on this list that is not upbeat, as it was selected to accompany a movie depicting two normal people played by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick who gradually become alcoholics. Ironically, the director Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick all sought help at AA subsequent to the making of the film. Lyricist Johnny Mercer borrowed the phrase “days of wine and roses” from the English poem Vitae Summa Brevis by Ernest Dowson.
The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
through a meadow land toward a closing door.
A door marked “nevermore” that wasn’t there before.
SONG PAIRING: Shirley Temple with chocolate (our hero persuaded our reluctant heroine to her first drink by selling her on a chocolate-flavored cocktail—she had a weakness for chocolate)
Tiny Bubbles, 1966 by Don Ho and Jessee Jay.
With the release of Don Ho’s second album in 1966, “Tiny Bubbles” hit the Billboard pop charts at number eight, and the subsequent Tiny Bubbles LP remained in the Top 20 album list close to a year. Years later, Scottish country singer Sydney Devine made millions with a cover version.
Tiny bubbles in the wine
make me feel happy, make me feel fine.
Tiny bubbles make me warm all over
with a feeling that I’m gonna love you ‘til the end of time.
Don Ho died just this year.
View full lyrics
SONG PAIRING: champagne and pineapple
Red, Red Wine, 1968 by Neil Diamond.
Few people know that this popular song from the eighties was actually written and recorded by Neil Diamond in 1968, hitting number 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 that same year. Since then other artists, especially UB40, have made the song more famous. UB40’s version reached number one in the UK in 1983 and number 34 in the U.S. in 1984.
Red red wine,
goes to my head.
Makes me forget that I,
still need her so.
Red red wine,
it's up to you.
All I can do, I’ve done
but memories won’t go.
No memories won’t go.
SONG PAIRING: old Gallo jug red with chips and salsa
Cracklin’ Rosie, 1970 by Neil Diamond.
Many music fans know that Neil Diamond wrote and recorded “Cracklin’ Rosie”, but what they may not know is that Cracklin’ Rosie ain’t no woman. She’s a bottle of wine meant to comfort the single men of a Canadian Indian tribe with very few women. Diamond has explained that he visited the tribe and joined the men as they sat around the fire drinking their “Cracklin’ Rosie”, and he thought the name would make a good song title. The clue in the lyrics appears in this line: “Cracklin’ Rosie you’re a store-bought woman”.
Cracklin’ Rosie make me smile.
Girl if it lasts for an hour
well that’s all right
‘cos we’ve got all night
to set the world right.
Life is a dream but don’t ask no questions-yeah.
View full lyrics
SONG PAIRING: homemade wine with roasted snake
WINE IN ENTERTAINMENT-RELATED EVENTS
If you take pleasure in both entertainment and wine, you might enjoy knowing that media event planners often partner with a specific winery to highlight a signature wine for the affair.
Cannes Film Festival
The official champagne of the Cannes Film Festival is Piper-Heidsieck, which has been associated with fame and fortune for decades. Even back in the 19th century, fourteen royal and imperial courts made the champagne house their official supplier.
EVENT PAIRING: no-brainer: Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Demi-Sec, Cuvée Sublime
Oscar Night’s Governor’s Ball
Sterling Vineyards was the featured wine of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governor's Ball for the fourth consecutive year in 2007. Sterling created both the Red Carpet Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Gold Standard Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay in honor of the occasion.
As with the Cannes Film Festival listed above, the official champagne of the Oscars is Piper-Heidsieck.
EVENT PAIRING: 2002 Sterling Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Sterling Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay at your own home Oscars party. These two reserves are analogous to the Red Carpet and Gold Standard.
Sundance Film Festival
Piper-Heidsieck strikes again, sponsoring the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, Sundance has created a special Piper-Heidsieck Tribute awarded to artists who have made significant and unique contributions to independent film.
EVENT PAIRING: Try a Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Brut Rosé Sauvage or visit the Piper-Heidsieck website to view the array of bubbly selections.
WINE IN FILM
Of the three media discussed in this article, movies featuring wine were the most difficult to locate. If wine was a prominent element in the plots, then often the quality of the films were mediocre. In the many really good films where wine did make an appearance, its role was not essential to the stories. Hence, only two of the following films are fictional. The remainder are entertaining documentaries.
A Walk in the Clouds, 1995. Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon and Anthony Quinn.
Two strangers returning home meet on a bus: an unmarried pregnant woman afraid to face her father and a soldier returning from World War II. The soldier agrees to accompany the woman home and pose as her husband. Eventually, passions are ignited against the backdrop of a beautiful vineyard.
Footage includes extensive coverage of the Napa Valley, including Mount Veeder, Mayacamas, Beringer, Charles Krug and Duckhorn. Wine lovers will enjoy the glorious views of the vineyards as well as views of the women dancing and stomping during the ceremonial crush. [OK, realists will say, “where are their purple stains?”].
From the Chicago Sun-Times: “A Walk in the Clouds is a glorious romantic fantasy, aflame with passion and bittersweet longing. One needs perhaps to have a little of these qualities in one's soul to respond fully to the film, which to a jaundiced eye might look like overworked melodrama, but that to me sang with innocence and trust.” Roger Ebert.
MOVIE PAIRING: Vega Sicilia (Spanish tempranillo blend), to be sipped
Wine for the Confused, 2004. John Cleese.
British Comedian John Cleese, is famous for being a writer and actor in the BBC hit Monty Python’s Flying Circus as well as numerous other television and film achievements. In Wine for the Confused, he relaxes the novice wine viewer with his snob-free introduction to the basics of wine, including lessons in silencing snooty sommeliers. This documentary was originally about 40 minutes long, but a new version has been completed with informative bonus material including a hints/tips section. Instruction comprises wine vocabulary, serving wine, wine storage, flavor identification and help with locating reasonably priced wines. The total length is still only about 90 minutes, not too daunting for those folks just starting their wine education.
From DVD Verdict: “Wine for the Confused is a rental that should keep you from being too embarrassed at a tasting, or a purchase that can guide you through regular journeys into the world of wine.”
MOVIE PAIRING: white zinfandel with pride
Bearshead Napa Valley, 2006. Joel Aiken, Robert Mondavi, Janet Trefethen among many other winemakers and professionals.
Produced by husband-and-wife team James and Kerry Forbes, Bearshead Napa Valley is the first film in a series showcasing wines and spirits of the world. James films, edits and writes, while Kerry produces the still photography and creates the graphics. The DVD focuses on the Napa Valley and is subdivided into four sections: history, terroir, wine growing and tours of the Valley.
According to James, “The interactivity of our DVD means that we combine the flexibility of a book with the immediacy of film. You can dip into it for ten minutes or so or get absorbed and explore the riches of the Valley for hours. It works beautifully on television, and when watched on a computer also includes web links to all 44 featured wineries and more.”
From the St. Helena Star: “Breathtaking panoramas of Napa Valley's beauty.... a great gift for your oenophile friends.” George Starke.
From COPIA (Center for Wine, Food and the Arts): “Entertaining, informative and interactive…perfect for the wine neophyte as well as the cognoscenti. You'll enjoy every minute as you explore beautiful Napa Valley; just be sure to pour a glass of Cabernet!” Peter Marks.
Copies can be purchased at www.bearshead.com.
MOVIE PAIRING: tasting sampler of 1997 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2002 Trefethen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mondovino, 2004. Robert Parker, Michel Rolland (French with English subtitles).
The documentary Mondovino was directed, written and filmed by Jonathan Nossiter, largely with a handheld digital camcorder as he traveled all over the world. The hours and hours of footage were shot in seven countries on three continents. Nossiter seeks explores the effect of globalization on smaller wineries, as well as questioning whether the strong influence of critics like Robert Parker go too far in establishing an international style. Individuality might be threatened by mass marketing, as people will like wine they are instructed to like.
Mondovino was the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 and earned a 70% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com.
From TV Guide: “Never mind SIDEWAYS: If you want the real scoop on what goes on in the wine world and how the success of the California wine industry has affected the production of some of the oldest vineyards in Europe, you could hardly do better than filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter's (SUNDAY, SIGNS & WONDERS) hugely entertaining, globe-trotting documentary.”
MOVIE PAIRING: any wine from the Boutique Wine Collection, “dedicated to fleshing out undiscovered and exceptional wines”
Sideways, 2004. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh.
Alexander Payne directs this zany story of two old friends and their wine tasting trip to the Santa Ynez Valley. Miles is a recently divorced, self-proclaimed wine expert, and Jack is a wine greenhorn and casanova who is engaged to be married when he returns home. The discord of their opposing personalities with resulting wacky behavior brings much of the humor to the film. Neither character is admirable, but both become endearing to the viewer as each wart is revealed. Beautiful scenery, tasting room jaunts and descriptive discussions of wine will delight wine enthusiasts.
From Rolling Stone: “Sideways is inarguably a special occasion. Doubters may hedge about calling it a classic and might insist on checking back in a few years to see how it has aged. Fair enough. But it's not too early to call it pure movie bliss.” Peter Travers.
From the New York Times: “…the emergence of Mr. Payne into the front ranks of American filmmakers isn't just cause for celebration; it's a reason for hope.” Manohla Dargis.
MOVIE PAIRING: Los Olivos Café Pinot Noir with Butternut Squash Salad (enjoyed by Miles, Maya, Jack and Stephanie in the movie). The Los Olivos Café has developed a Sideways Dinner Menu, due to popular request.
Missing books, songs or movies that should have made the cut may disappoint some readers, but narrowing the choices for each category was difficult. For instance, Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock, director) fought like a demon to be included. Fans know that in this movie, what masquerades as several bottles of champagne turn out to be bottles containing uranium ore hidden by the Nazis. I watched the film again for fun with some tasty cabernet. Wine was not prominent enough in the film to be included.
Numerous songs with wine in their titles were eliminated due to lack of renown when compared to the winners that made the list. Examples can be found at http://www.wineintro.com/quotes/songs.
Hopefully, this article offers a departure from the usual wine discourse. I know that subsequent to this research, I have revised my holiday wish list!