Top | The Culinate 8

Cheers, Oscar

(article, Vanessa McGrady)

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It’s hard to get through California's Sonoma County without tripping over a sommelier. They’re everywhere, haunting the humblest of cafés and teaching sparking-wine classes in caves. (No, not the Neanderthal kind — the wine-storage kind.) It wouldn’t be surprising to find a sommelier at the local 7-11, ready to give you just the right suggestion for your combo of beef jerky and Funyuns. 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Hm. What to drink while watching this year's best-picture nominees?"]

But Christopher Sawyer, a wine writer and the sommelier at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, stands out from the crowd. How? He's combined two of his passions — wine and film — to become the nation’s go-to guy on what to drink while watching movies.

Sawyer says that film and wine are actually quite similar, time-wise: When you open a bottle of wine at the beginning of a movie, the characters and the story and the flavors of the wine develop in tandem. 

Whether you take this idea seriously, or just enjoy a glass of wine with a DVD at night, here are Sawyer’s eight wine picks for this year’s Academy Award nominations for Best Picture.


#(clear n1). '"Up with Pinot Noir (Schug 2008, Sonoma Coast). Sawyer notes the dichotomy of young and old in this pairing. In the film, George Clooney’s character, a corporate hatchet-guy named Ryan, passes his know-how on to a young upstart, and they each learn a little something from each other. Similarly, Walter Schug has recently turned over the reins of his winery to his son Axel — and, Sawyer says, this Schug wine in particular is a young, vibrant incarnation of a very old grape clone mixed with some of the new, adventurous plantings in the Sonoma Coast region.

#(clear n2). '"Inglourious with Champagne (Henriot NV Brut Souverain, France). “This film is about the time period,” Sawyer says. “In World War II, Nazis were well-known for stealing as much Champagne as they could. People would hide Champagne in vaults.” This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes has “a lot going on,” Sawyer says, noting hints of ripe apple, almond paste, and Japanese pear. The Champagne’s class and style help round out the barbaric attributes of a film fantasy of renegade Jews who kill Nazis.

#(clear n3). '"Precious"' with Petite Syrah (Stags’ Leap 2006, Napa Valley). “Precious,” Sawyer says, is an “amazing, heavy movie that requires a heavy wine. We can compare the wine to a forgotten child in the movie. A lot of things went wrong for her.” Likewise, Petite Syrah was used for about 100 years as hearty jug wine, and yet it wasn’t until the 1960s that mainstream winemakers began revisiting the grape. Originally imported from France in the 1880s, Petite Syrah (aka Petite Sirah) is a cross between the Peloursin and Syrah grape varieties — a combination that Sawyer parallels with the characters of the mother and daughter coming together in the film. Much like the success of "Precious," the Stags’ Leap 2006 comes out of nowhere and quickly emerges as a complex and powerful wine with aromatic notes of violet and lavender and flavors that present a subterranean beauty.

#(clear n4). '"Avatar"' with Chardonnay (Wente 2007 Nth Degree, Livermore Valley). “There are all sorts of reasons this makes total sense,” Sawyer says. “You have 3-D glasses, and this is a three-dimensional wine.” The clone of this grape is very old, and harkens back five generations to when it was first planted at the Wente estate property. In “Avatar,” the ancestral spirits play a major role for the residents of the planet Pandora. The wine, like the spirit of the film, is full-bodied, powerful, and crisp and clean on the finish.

#(clear n5). '"The and '"The with Gewürztraminer (Ravenswood 2008, Sonoma County, and Robert Sinskey Abraxas 2008, Carneros). In “The Blind Side,” a foster child living a terrible life becomes an amazing football star. In real life, the boy eventually was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. This history naturally leads Sawyer to think about hard and soft-shell crabs with Old Bay Spice, a specialty style of cuisine in the Baltimore area and a perfect pairing with Gewürztraminer. “The spicy, zesty sweetness and power and finesse equal the main character and the wine,” Sawyer says. 

“The Hurt Locker” is also a geographically inspired match: The refreshing wine complements the hot Middle Eastern spices found in Iraq, where the movie takes place. “In the film, there are three main characters, and the fourth is the Middle Eastern culture,” Sawyer says. “In the fresh and lively Robert Sinskey Abraxas, a white-wine blend, there are four grapes: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. Like the characters and the theme of the film, all these unique grape varieties work well together.”

#(clear n6). [%image movie float=right width=300 caption="Which do you like better? The wine or the film?"] '"A and '"Up"' with “forgotten wines” rosé (Muscardini 2009 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma Valley) and Malbec (Terra Rosa 2007 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina). The link between “A Serious Man” and “Up” is the common focus on two beleaguered main characters, and two wine styles lost in time. In the case of “A Serious Man,” the main character is trapped in the 1960s and wishes to break free of the conformity of the time. In the case of “Up,” an old man’s house is a time capsule full of memories and unfulfilled dreams. And "forgotten wines" rosé and Malbec come from two producers based in Sonoma Valley: Muscardini with grapes from a historic vineyard, and Terra Rosa Malbec made by Laurel Glen with grapes grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina. 

“A Serious Man” requires a serious rosé, Sawyer says. This story is about a Jewish professor in the Midwest in the 1960s, a decade in which the sweet flavors of Lancer’s and Mateus became the nation’s gentle introduction to wine. Cut to 2010: Made with fruit from the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard, the Muscardini 2009 Rosato di Sangiovese is an upgrade to an old idea in dry rosé form. When served slightly chilled, it's all delightful flavor and color, minus sweetness. 

In “Up,” a 78-year-old man, his house, and a persistent 8-year-old wilderness-explorer scout take off via balloon power. Yes, it’s a flight of fancy. But the old man’s wistful remembrance of love lost brings him to South America — a trip he’d always meant to take with his late wife. The Terra Rosa, made with Malbec grapes grown in Argentina by Laurel Glen, a Sonoma County-based producer, is a “bright, fruity wine with notes of red licorice and spice. There’s a nice, soft finish. And, like the movie, it’s colorful and very friendly,” says Sawyer. 

#(clear n7). '"District with Pinotage (Fort Ross 2006, Sonoma Coast). Two grapes make up this Pinotage: Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The original cuttings were brought to America by the South African family that owns Fort Ross Winery, thus leading Sawyer to connect the wine with the film’s complex, divided society of aliens and humans that echoes apartheid South Africa. “The texture and lovely notes of red berry, black tea, smoke, and cedar really grip the palate. You’ve never tasted it before. You didn’t know what you were expecting, as with ‘District 9,’” he says.

#(clear n8). '"An with Grenache (Gregory Graham 2006, Crimson Hill, Lake County). A pretty and gifted English teen making a beeline for Oxford takes a detour when she meets a much older man who deems himself her cultural tutor. The movie, says Sawyer, is vibrant and fun to watch, so the wine can’t be too big or too light. He picks the Grenache because it's “a youthful, vibrant wine with power and finesse. Also, the hue of the wine is very similar to the color of Jenny’s hair. It’s definitely a wild shade of red!”


p(bio). Vanessa McGrady is a writer and artist based in California.

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