Staying Home: Essential Wine and Food Viewing

Our editors pick their favorite movies and TV shows to savor

Staying Home: Essential Wine and Food Viewing
In Big Night, brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) try to find a way to revive their failing restaurant rather than return to Italy or work for a competitor in New Jersey. (Allstar Picture Library/Alamy)
Mar 23, 2020

Now that Wine Spectator's editors are sheltering in place, we've been catching up on all those films and TV shows we missed, or revisiting our favorite viewing pleasures from the past. Of course, wine and food feature heavily in our choices. If we can't be out visiting wine regions or dining at our favorite restaurants, at least we can be learning, finding home-cooking inspiration and dreaming of better days to come.

Some of our team shared their picks of the week to help you pass the time staying home. This roundup has it all: comedy, romance, documentary, family drama, a cartoon rat who cooks and more. Wine or food take center stage in some, and play just a supporting role in others, but in all a passion for eating and drinking well shines brightly.

Films

Big Night
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

This is one of those movies that, despite some unhappy plot twists, is all heart. Two Italian brothers are running a failing restaurant called Paradise on the Jersey Shore in the 1950s. Primo, played by Tony Shalhoub, is the exacting chef, unwilling to bend his cuisine to American tastes. Secondo, played by Stanley Tucci, who co-directed, is the manager. Their main competitor is Pascal, played by Ian Holm (who also has a major voice role in Ratatouille), who has found success by pandering to local preferences. Pascal has offered the brothers jobs and they have an offer back in Italy too, but they're not ready to give up on the American dream and their principles. Pascal offers to get singer Louis Prima to come to their restaurant. In planning the big night of the title, they go all in, leveraging everything against Prima's visit. What follows is a rapturous meal delivered by Primo, followed by ... well, I can't tell you that. I will say that the final scene, played in silence à la the ending of The Third Man, is fantastically beautiful and moving. Two bonuses: It features the second-best omelet-cooking scene on film (see Tampopo below) and Latino pop singer Marc Anthony, who was then on the cusp of his crossover.—Owen Dugan, features editor


Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), holding up wine bottles, and Stephen Spurrier (Alan Rickman) at the TWA checkin counter
At the airport, Bo Barrett (Chris Pine) and Stephen Spurrier (Alan Rickman) run into trouble trying to get the bottles of Napa wine to France for the blind tasting. (Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy)

Bottle Shock
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

Any serious wine lover will go into this movie already knowing the fate of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena in the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. But this heartwarming, fictionalized story nonetheless keeps you on the edge of your seat, rooting for the home team, with winery owner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) struggling to bring his wayward son, Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), in line while making a success of his little-known winery in a region that had not yet gained fame. The late Alan Rickman brings all his signature dry wit to the part of the famed British wine critic Steven Spurrier, then a wine shop owner, who staged the competition.—Alison Napjus, senior editor


Chef
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

Directed by and starring Jon Favreau as chef Carl Casper, the movie follows the life of a high-end chef as he quits his job at a prominent L.A. restaurant, starts a food truck and goes on a journey that reignites his passion for cooking and his relationship with his son. The movie features mouthwatering images of food—from a grilled-cheese sandwich to creatively plated dishes worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant to Casper’s signature Cuban sandwich—and rock-star shots of the chef showing off his knife skills. (Chef and food-truck owner Roy Choi consulted on the food.) Throw in a star-studded cast of supporting actors, along with a vibrant jazz and blues soundtrack, and you have a movie that is a joy to kick back and relax with.—Aleks Zecevic, associate tasting coordinator


A Good Year
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu and YouTube)

What’s not to like? Scene upon scene of stunning Provençal vistas and vineyard shots, the gorgeous Marion Cotillard, the fabulous Albert Finney and a buttoned-up Russell Crowe. In this enjoyable Ridley Scott–directed romantic comedy, based on the novel by Peter Mayle, a hardcore British banker finds himself, love and a new outlook on life in Provence while dealing with the inheritance of a wine estate of questionable quality. The only problem is that, by the time you’re done watching this, you’ll be cursing the coronavirus anew since your passport is sheltering in place right beside you.—A.N.


Our Blood Is Wine
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube)

In this documentary that takes viewers back to the cradle of wine, the Republic of Georgia, director Emily Railsback and sommelier Jeremy Quinn explore the former Soviet republic, meeting mostly artisanal, family winegrowers who are keeping alive the 8,000-year-old tradition of making wine in qvevri, large clay vessels buried in the ground. Railsback and Quinn get personal with the culture that is entwined with wine and make viewers feel like they are falling in love with wine for the first time.—A.Z.


Remy the rat adds herbs to a pot of soup as the astonished dishwasher Linguini looks on
Remy the rat and a hapless dishwasher named Linguini team up to create inspired restaurant cuisine. (Collection Christophel/Alamy)

Ratatouille
(Amazon Prime, Disney+, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

Leave it to peak Pixar to make a movie about a rat who was born to be a chef at a fine-dining restaurant. Remy is the main character, and is voiced by Patton Oswalt, who brings the perfect mix of wonder, jubilation and indignation to a rat. Remy has such an extraordinary sense of smell that he is put in charge of separating out the dangerous foods among the garbage his cohort eat. He, however, has set his sights higher: His hero is Auguste Gusteau, a recently deceased Paul Bocuse–like chef. Remy is separated from his family, including his less-discerning brother (Remy's admonition to him—"don't just hork it down"—is a favorite in my family), and ends up in Gusteau's restaurant, now run listlessly by Skinner, voiced by Ian Holm (see Big Night). Remy becomes a sort of puppet master to a hapless dishwasher named Linguini (ever wonder what's under those toques?), and with the rat's advanced palate and knowledge, they start making first-rate food. This leads to a visit from the most powerful restaurant critic in the country (another make-or-break big night), a reunion and, of course, a happy ending. My favorite parts? The visual and aural representation of how flavors come together for Remy, the tunnel-vision moment at the climax and the freeze-frame moment when Remy says resignedly "this ... is me." I could go on. Oh, I almost forgot two crucial supporting roles: Château Cheval-Blanc 1947 and Château Latour 1961, playing themselves.—O.D.


Tampopo
(Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

This 1980s art-house hit came out of nowhere when Japanese food was still novel outside of major cities. The main story is about a widow running a ramen shop. Two truck drivers visit, find the food wanting and decide to mentor her. It's a movie-geek bonanza, with references to spaghetti Westerns (noodles, get it?), sensei themes and more. It also has unrelated vignettes interspersed, including a gangster and his companion exploring the sensual side of food, a young man upstaging his superiors at a business lunch through his knowledge of French food and the best omelet-cooking scene on film. Plus, it's very funny: It's like an old screwball comedy, but about food, and set in Japan.—O.D.


Tu Seras Mon Fils (You Will Be My Son)
(Amazon Prime and Vudu)

Wine movies are a limited genre, with mixed success, but Tu Seras Mon Fils my favorite of the bunch, is a must-see. Set in Bordeaux, it depicts a tyrannical father dealing with the problems of passing his château on to his seemingly hapless son. Despite a slightly wonky plot twist at the end, the dramatization of a stern Gallic patriarch is as sharp as the top of a just-sabred Champagne bottle.—James Molesworth, senior editor


TV Shows

A Discovery of Witches
(Season 1 on AMC Premiere and Sundance Now)

Ever wonder what a vampire likes to drink (besides the obvious)? Turns out it’s the legendary 1811 Château d’Yquem, the “comet vintage,” among other impressive bottlings served at an intimate dinner in episode 3 of the TV version of Deborah Harkness’ book of the same name. If your viewing pleasure must include fine wine as well as vampires and witches, this binge-worthy, eight-episode first season is just the ticket.—A.N.


Downton Abbey
(6 seasons on Amazon Prime)

Wine plays an ever-present supporting role on this hit period drama (also a 2019 movie; also a line of branded wines) that originally aired in the U.S. on PBS. In season 1, under-butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) finds himself in hot water after purloining a bottle of claret from the estate’s cellar. In the season 2 finale, as the Spanish flu ravages Europe in 1919, valet Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is forced into butler duties as other staff fall ill and inadvertently overserves himself in his efforts to determine which wines should be served with each dinner course, adding an air of levity to an otherwise heavy episode.—Robert Taylor, assistant managing editor


Brothers Frasier and Niles Crane on a sofa poring through old books with small glasses of Sherry
While sibling rivalry marks the relationship between Frasier and Niles Crane, the brothers share a love of Sherry and other fine wines. (Allstar Picture Library/Alamy)

Frasier
(11 seasons on Hulu)

The current state of the world has me longing for the “good old days” when I was a kid. So my husband and I have been streaming some TV comedies from the ’90s. As a wine lover, one show I have enjoyed revisiting is Frasier. The lead character, psychotherapist and radio-show host Frasier Crane, and his psychiatrist brother, Niles, are complete wine snobs. They enjoy a glass of Sherry in almost every episode, and several episodes are dedicated to events with the wine club to which they belong. I get a kick out of how comedy-show writers view wine and write about it (not always accurately). It's not a show for wine education, but during difficult times, it can give us wine lovers a good, much-needed laugh.—Gillian Sciaretta, associate editor


Master of None
(A Netflix Original)

Comedian Aziz Ansari gives a glimpse into a life of a Millennial in this very New York City–centric show, which explores different cultures, traditions, dating and modern life, along with his curiosity about food, through his character, actor Dev Shah. Ansari is joined by comedian-vintner Eric Wareheim, who plays Dev's friend Arnold, and the two transmit their love for (natural) wine and food into the show. Dev and Arnold explore the NYC food scene, from taco stands to hip restaurants and bars to the restaurants that have become institutions. The second season goes even deeper, starting off with Dev learning how to make pasta in Modena, Italy, and leading him into the world of TV food competitions and celebrity chefs.—A.Z.


Pushing Daisies
(Seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon Prime; episodes also available for purchase on Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

The ideal distraction, this short-lived TV show is spectacularly original—equal parts murder mystery and whimsical romantic comedy, with a dash of the mystical. Oh, and there is lots and lots of pie and, appropriate to these times, a character arc about social distancing. Pushing Daisies is the story of a pie maker who, with one touch, can bring dead things back to life, but can never touch them again or they’re gone for good. When he revives his lifelong crush, they can never have physical contact again. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) was executive producer, and the show has his visually quirky style. The terrific cast includes Kristin Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz and Chi McBride.—Tim Fish, senior editor


Scandal
(7 seasons on Amazon Prime and Netflix; episodes also available for purchase on Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube)

There are plenty of characters on TV with whom I’d love to share a glass of wine, starting with Tami Taylor of Friday Night Lights and Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife. It would even be fun to knock back a flask with the Lannisters on Game of Thrones. But in my current “hunkering down” mood, I’m channeling full Olivia Pope, the crisis-management consultant from Scandal: big cozy sweaters, huge glass of red wine and a bowl of popcorn. (And if you love her stemware as much as the show, which prompted a national wineglass buying spree, it once again is available at Crate & Barrel.)—MaryAnn Worobiec, senior editor

More Staying Home

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