During the hard time I served as Detroit Free Press wine critic, I worked for a screw editor who had been plucked from the paper’s Fashion Page. Why she was offered—or accepted—a position as Food Page Editor is a mystery best left to the Motor City brain trust, who, I remind you, twice elected as mayor con-man-turned-convict-turned-ex-con-soon-to-turn-con-again Kwami Kilpatrick, who is currently on trial for racketeering, extortion, bribery, mail fraud, and so on…
In any event, this particular editor knew nothing about food, let alone wine, but she was eager to succeed, I’ll give her that: She was always assigning me silly stories she’d thought up while paging through Flaunt Magazine in her office. Among the most excruciating charge she’d yearly lay upon my table was to write a feature about wines that somehow, some way, related to the Oscars and could be tangibly linked to Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, etc.
Which meant that I had to go see all these random, awful, mind-numbing films first.
Well, sir; I have paid my debt to society, and no longer have to sweat content, composition or deadlines for such blimpy bales of babbling baloney, do I? So long as I report to my parolo officer in Barolo, I’m good to go solo.
Ah, Perhaps Not…
Because, when I really stop to think about it, the assignment could have been fun. A challenge even. What held the idea’s head under water in a sort of Free Press water boarding exercise was that the fact that my fashionista editorette had the funny-bone of a deaf Cistercian monk with Down’s Syndrome, and any time I strayed from the path of somber, sober, spiritless scribology, she got confused and pissed off.
For me—someone who still snickers during The Crucible every time they say ‘Tituba’ and who claims Viagra-related hearing loss whenever anyone mentions ‘Homo Erectus’ and makes them repeat it several times in succession—having to write like a real journalist was emotional pain on the level of execution ad bestias: Being eaten alive by lions in the Colosseum while Roman emperors cheer.
But now that the cuffs of culture have been cast aside—the manacles of maturity, the ankle-bracelet of accountability, the shackles of sheepish schlepping—I thought that I might just give the idea another shot.
Wines To Drink While Watching Full-Length Versions of The Academy Awards’ ‘Best Picture’ Nominees…
Synopsis: Every season has its slew of ‘feel-good’ films starring such feel-up worthy stars as Ellen Page, Anne Hathaway and Drew Barrymore. And, as a single counterbalance to them all, you have Amour, the most depressing tome to hit the silver screen since Night of The Living Dead. The story of Georges, a retired music teacher taking care of his wife through the indignities of a slow, agonizing death, is really sort of hard to take. As a viewer, it’s all you can do to refrain from drowning yourself in a Double Gulp Strawberry Citrus Freeze.
Wine: Rüster Auslese, Late Harvest Riesling, Austria, 1983, price immaterial: This classic dessert wine contains diethylene glycol meant to boost sweetness. Otherwise, diethylene glycol is used as antifreeze.
Diethylene glycol is colorless, odorless, hygroscopic—and extremely poisonous. Although the scandal surrounding its addition to Austrian wines virtually killed the country’s wine exporting business along with the country, if you can find a bottle in someone’s cellar, you are advised that antifreeze is a quicker and less messy death than drowning yourself in Strawberry Citrus Freeze.
Synopsis: The Academy Awards are, of course, little more than a massive, collective Hollywood circle jerk, and Argo spanks the monkey within the monkey, crediting Tinsel Town with saving the lives of six Americans during the 1979 Tehran hostage crises. Despite surprisingly good performances by Ben Affleck both before and behind the camera, the purportedly ‘true’ story of Argo is actually incredibly fluffed up: It was, in fact, the CIA, The Canadian government and an indie film company—not Hollywood—who saved the day.
Wine: Fre Moscato, California, 2011, around $6: Tehran is a few hundred miles from the Governorate of Muscat, where moscato originates, but more to the point, Fre makes a version that is Islam-endorsed and Koran cordial—i.e.; non-alcoholic.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Synopsis: A wake-up call for happy six-year-olds who think that life is anything but a relentless daisy-chain of abject misery. Beasts follows the downward trajectory of li’l cutie-pie Hushpuppy (even her name makes you want to take big bites out of her) as her bayou community is flooded and she, along with her ailing father, are forced to flee; numerous rather disparate sequences follow. Beautifully filmed—staggeringly so—and strongly acted, Beasts of the Southern Wild is, unfortunately, without a boatload of focus.
Wine: Casa de Sue, LaLouisiane Muscadine, Louisiana, about $10: Juicy and Delicious (the name of the play from which the film was adapted) or unctuous and awful, depending on your palate—but chilled, it may soothe the hot temper of Big Daddy Wink. Anyway, after the devastation of the storm, buck-bloated bayou burghers made a beeline to their barrister’s billet—also known as ‘Casa de Sue’.
Synopsis: As far as I know, there have only been three Djangos in the history of humanity: The two-fingered French guitarist; the lead character in thirty-one spaghetti Westerns filmed between 1966 and 1972; and now, Jamie Foxx in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Only three is not surprising considering that ‘django’ is an obscure gypsy word meaning ‘I awake’, which may be good gypsy, but is bad English. Anyway, this typically atypical Tarantino flick is better classified as a housemade tagliolini with truffles and lobster slivers Western; the higher as we raise the cinematographical bar, the quicker this strange genius vaults it.
Wine: Naughty Donati Jug Red, 2010, about $35: An ideal spaghetti red, this wine is big, brawny and bargain-basement: Ideal cowboy wine. Their mission tagline reads, ‘Feeling a little Naughty? Bring a pair of sweet jugs to your next party!’ Now, if that isn’t cowboy humor, I don’t know what is.
Synopsis: As sumptuous and extravagant as you may find Les Miz, after the 1935 Frederic March/Charles Laughton music-less version, this was a film that really didn’t need to be made—any more than Steve Martin needed to ‘remake’ Pink Panther. I guarantee that the idea of scoring the classic tale of OCD, shattered dreams, unrequited love and bread would have puzzled our boy Victor Hugo, since in attempting to liven up the wonderful story and make it relevant, Tom Hooper actually manages to make it boring and irrelevant. Who doesn’t help? In order: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crow, Helena Bonham Carter and Borat.
Wine: Cakebread Cellars, Vin de Porche Rosé (90% syrah, 7% zin, 3% primitivo), 2011, around $15: Five years after Marie Antoinette fictitiously uttered, ‘Let them eat cake,’ fictitious Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and was sentenced to 19 years in prison. His release in 1815 is where both book and film begin. 1815 was also an important date for dead Marie, as that is the year her corpse was exhumed and given a Christian burial in the necropolis of French Kings at the Basilica of St Denis.
Life of Pi
Synopsis: How can a film that mostly takes place at sea be groundbreaking? Ask the publicists, who tout this flick as such. In fact, this strange, dream-like fable about a boy stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger has a plot perhaps slightly less credible than 2005’s Fantastic Four, though with notably better actors. At once hardcore and hallucinogenic, Ang Lee’s transcendent story is lovely and magical, and in ways, more surreal than Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
Beer: Brewed in Singapore since 1932, Tiger Beer is the flagship brand of Asia Pacific Breweries. It first came to American attention during the Vietnam War when it was lovingly referred to as ‘Tiger Piss’. Anthony Burgess (‘A Clockwork Orange’) named his first novel after their slogan, ‘Time For A Tiger’, and asked Tiger Beer management if they’d be willing to send him a souvenir clock with those words imprinted on it. They declined. Later, when he became famous, they relented, and Burgess sent them a terse note: “Too late. I’m a gin man, now.”
Synopsis: Warning! Spoiler alert!: In the end, not only does John Wilkes Booth kill Abraham Lincoln, but this is supposedly a true story where every single other character to appear during the course of the film is also dead.
Bourbon: Angel’s Envy bourbon, made by master distiller Lincoln Henderson, is a close to a perfect Kentucky whiskey as I have found at a reasonable (for the quality) price. At around $45 per fifth, Angel’s Envy is a burly, brawny paradigm, containing every nuance that bourbon buffs crave—maple, orange, vanilla and pepper.
Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: Brad Cooper turns into a phenomenal performance as a bi-polar ex-mental patient attempting to reconstruct his life, but the serio-comic film tends to use his affliction as an excuse to put him into some really dingy situations—almost as if director David O. Russell is making a joke of the disorder. The requisite chick interest is also a screwball, and the love-among-the-Lithium that develops along predictable arc seems contrived and implausible. Anyway, forced by a court order to move back in with his parents, the upbeat, off-beat titled movie makes a wonderful case for remaining mono-polar.
Wine (s): Buy Polar Passports for Seneca Lake Wine Trail!—$12 for a Polar Passport; $24 for bi-Polar Passports. Said passports will allow you to tour the beautiful, rugged Seneca Country in New York’s Finger Lakes District during the winter, when owners, winemakers and vineyard managers are more likely to be in the tasting room. Can’t miss vineyards include Fox Run, Billsboro, Atwater, Damiani Cellars and Red Newt.
Seneca Lake Wine Trail
2 North Franklin Street
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: Like many aphotic, uncomfortable films, Zero Dark Thirty plays better to the film literati than to John and Jane Flag-Waving Mid-America—graphic scenes of the U.S. military torturing detainees is not necessarily what they want to watch while popping Milk Duds. Although it claims to be be based on ‘actual events’, it is not entirely clear how many aspects of the story—the hunt for Osama bin Laden by zealous CIA field agent Maya—are accurately portrayed. But Jessica Chastain turns in such a powerhouse performance as Maya that this viewer really didn’t care.
And anyway, as in Lincoln, the outcome is preordained.
Wine: Dalla Valle ‘Maya’, Napa Valley, 2007, around $456: The jewel in the Dalla Valle crown, this cabernet franc-based proprietary red is pricey, but hell, soldier, you just blew Osama bin Laden’s entrails to Turkmenistan, so live the bitch up!