I Heard You Paint Teeth: The Wine Cameos in 'The Irishman'

The movie's prop master divulges how he made sure the real-life wine labels that appear in Martin Scorsese's saga were accurate to the era—and the mob

I Heard You Paint Teeth: The Wine Cameos in 'The Irishman'
The good grape juice: Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro convene over Gabbiano Chianti in a scene in The Irishman. (Courtesy of Netflix)
Dec 4, 2019

Martin Scorsese is known to be a stickler for historical accuracy in the set design of his movies, and that includes wine—which is a challenge for a prop team when the movie's real-life characters constantly break bread over wine over the span of 50 years. But they rose to it: For Scorsese's latest mafia saga, The Irishman, the team actually used wine labels to mark the different eras in the stories of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino's characters. In the restaurant scenes, the characters drink Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico, vintage 1948, then '55, then '62. "As the movie progressed time-wise, for a scene that's now in the '70s, I said, 'OK, let's break out the '62.' A scene that's in the '50s, 'OK, let's break out the '48,'" explained property manager Joel Weaver to Unfiltered.

Wines in the Irishman
They did everything they could for them: The recreated Gabbiano prop labels used in the film (the vintages were changed). (Courtesy of Joel Henrie of Motion Picture Placement)

How did Gabbiano get made as the Bufalino crime family's house wine? "These are Italian guys, and we shoot them in the '50s at the restaurant. I don't think they're having anything from Napa Valley, I think it would come from the old country. Joe Pesci's character wasn't a flashy guy, and it wasn't a flashy wine," Weaver explained.

During production in 2017, the movie's product placement guy, Joel Henrie, contacted Treasury Wine Estates to see if they might have something that fit the bill; TWE owns Gabbiano. In order to ensure that the bottles looked authentic, History for Hire, a Los Angeles prop design firm, mocked up different labels for the three vintages, closely based on the real Gabbiano labels of the eras. “We certainly think of our Gabbiano wines as being truly iconic Italian wines that have been enjoyed for generations, so for Hollywood’s elite to also recognize this … we are truly honored," Angus Lilley, TWE's chief marketing officer, told Unfiltered via email.

Wines in the Irishman
No failure to show appreciation: Some of the labels the production team mocked up for bottles in the film, all mimicking real labels. (Courtesy of Joel Weaver / Villa Roma Productions, LLC)

Sometimes you need something a little stronger than wine when you've completed a particularly, ah, emotionally draining hit, though. In the scene after that one, De Niro's Frank turns to his home bar cart for comfort, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot "period-correct labels from the '70s" of Glenlivet and Jameson, said Weaver. Elsewhere in the movie, look for Budweiser labels changing with the decades, J.P. Wiser's Canadian whisky and Bacardi being used to spike a watermelon. (Weaver wanted to use Havana Club, but the label he had wasn't accurate to the 1960s.) Other wines occasionally appear, too: At the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night gala, Pesci's Russell and two of the Tonys in the mob have a (recreated) bottle of Charles Krug Napa Riesling on the table.

Scorsese didn't bother too much with the labels, said Weaver, but took a shine to the glassware. "Marty was really into that," he said. "He was like, 'I picture them using almost a small water glass. This is something they do every day, it would be strange to have this in a proper wineglass.'" And unlike in many films, the glasses here were filled with actual wine—but non-alcoholic. "Sometimes the joke is an actor wants to go 'hot.' If they're drinking whisky, they want to have the real stuff," said Weaver, but on-set boozing was not to the taste of this particular cast, though De Niro is a known wiseguy-wineguy. He, in particular, "definitely was appreciative" of the carefully chosen wine picks, said Weaver. "Not only as an actor, but a producer and director, he pays attention to that kind of minutiae."


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