By now, you’ve probably already made your way through that long list of Academy Award–winning films you missed on release, binge-watched every recently trending TV series, and replayed a batch of old favorites. Perhaps the joy of all that extra screen time has started to wear thin. What now?
Devote a week or two (even longer if you missed our first roundup) to on-screen wine and food—and their power to transform and transcend our immediate surroundings and even our lives. To make the evenings and weekends fly by, Wine Spectator’s editors have been popping open a good bottle and turning to childhood favorites, classics of the wine genre, comedies from the romantic to the raunchy, and comforting celebrations of cuisine, community and companionship.
(Amazon Prime, iTunes)
This 1987 Danish import is a charming, if melancholy, portrait of lost love, stoic piety and the art and decadence of a truly great meal. The setting is a remote 19th-century fishing village, where a strict religious community leads an austere life. Enter the enigmatic Babette, a Parisian seeking refuge from the wars in France, who becomes the housekeeper and cook for two sisters who lead the small and aging congregation. Babette quietly bristles at her benefactors’ insistence on a bland diet of smoked cod and bread soup. As the years pass, Babette accepts the simple lifestyle—until one day she wins a small fortune in a lottery.
Babette devises a plan to prepare an extravagant meal for the sisters. Fearing the temptation of indulgence and gluttony, the sisters agree reluctantly but swear a secret pact not to enjoy it. Crates of food and wine soon arrive from Paris, and Babette sets about her masterpiece in the kitchen. We watch as the sisters and their guests sip vintage Champagne and Clos de Vougeot 1845 and eat turtle soup and quail in puff pastry stuffed with truffles and foie gras. The ending is delightful, a bit sad and surprising as Babette’s secrets are revealed.—Tim Fish
(Amazon Prime, Vudu)
This 2013 independent film follows lovable loser Franklin, a broke winery tasting-room employee who lives in Granger, Wash., “in the armpit of the Yakima Valley … Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington—nothing but orchards, hops, vineyards, and they just keep building more wineries.” The fictional Franklin works at the very real Airfield Estates in Prosser, and the movie provides plenty of beautiful Washington wine country scenery (as well as a look at Yakima Valley’s less polished side).
Franklin’s an ace salesman in the tasting room, but his personal life is a disaster. His coworkers despise him; his girlfriend is cheating on him; he can’t pay his mortgage …. But when he rents out his dead mother’s bedroom to a quirky new housemate, he gets an entirely new perspective on life in wine country.—Robert Taylor
This 2001 indie hit, which also comes strongly recommended by Wine Spectator’s Instagram fans, follows a small-time bookmaker and Italian restaurant owner (Danny Aiello) on one fateful evening as he navigates run-ins with his hotheaded son and head chef (Edoardo Ballerini), hostile gangsters, a demanding food critic (Sandra Bernhard), a sous chef with a gambling problem and an obnoxious art dealer (Mark Margolis) demanding complimentary Brunello and comparing the restaurant’s decor choices to those of Danny Meyer’s at Gramercy Tavern.
The restaurant owner, who misses the traditional Italian cuisine his wife made, butts heads with his son over the haute cuisine that has made the restaurant a critical success. “We don’t make meatballs here anymore,” his son retorts. The “lobster scene” might be the film’s most memorable, a montage of the kitchen’s full brigade constructing a towering creation he describes as “Montauk lobster and rock shrimp, in a Champagne shallot sauce with vanilla bean, garnished with salmon caviar and tobiko caviar with a wasabi flavor, and some chives … and no butter.”—R.T.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria
While World War II may not be the most uplifting of settings, The Secret of Santa Vittoria uses wine as a symbol of perseverance in dark times. Directed by 1960s stalwart Stanley Kramer and based on the novel by Robert Crichton, the story centers on a rural town in Italy, Santa Vittoria, beginning just after Mussolini’s fall in 1943. The town—surrounded by vineyards, as the film’s beautiful opening shots show—is led in vinous celebration by their erratic but lovable new mayor, played by film legend Anthony Quinn. But Santa Vittoria is quickly occupied by the Germans, forcing the townspeople to scramble and hide their prized local wine, which is much sought-after by the soldiers. In the end, using their wits, persistence and an old Roman cave, the townspeople hide millions of bottles and successfully defy the occupation.
While The Secret of Santa Vittoria may not be quite a ’60s musical, it was produced with similar effervescence, the tone kept light despite the harrowing history and the setting truly gorgeous, much of it shot on location in the Latium region. Altogether, the film is a reminder of how people can come together during a tremendously difficult hour and, with courage and patience, survive and endure. Then, when they can celebrate again … well, as Quinn toasts to the town, “Now, onto the wine!”—Collin Dreizen
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
A salve for these hibernating times, this 2004 surprise hit is quick-witted yet charming and bittersweet, offering romance and heartbreak, breathless views of Santa Barbara wine country, and lots and lots of food and wine. Sixteen years on, in a now-changed California wine landscape, it’s fascinating to revisit the film that gave a huge boost to Pinot Noir sales (at the expense of Merlot) and to tourism in Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. Sideways is the tale of two friends on a wine-tasting road trip that detours unexpectedly into a midlife crisis. Miles, a gloomy, failed novelist, is a wine snob trying to educate Jack, a carefree, third-rate actor about to get married. Then they pair up with two women who work at a local restaurant and a winery, and things get all tangled up.
Directed by Alexander Payne and based on Rex Pickett's book, the film stars an exceptional cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. But Santa Barbara is as much a star, as the film takes viewers into real-life wineries such as Foxen, Fess Parker and Alma Rosa, as well as two restaurants popular with locals: Hitching Post II and Los Olivos Café. While Sideways may be well-known for a few hysterically funny scenes and one line of dialogue in particular, the best moment is Madsen’s late-night speech—“a bottle of wine is actually alive”—and like Giamatti as he watches her, we fall in love with Madsen, and with wine all over again.—Tim Fish
A Walk in the Clouds
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
There’s a romance to winemaking, and not only because wine is a great accompaniment to candlelit dinners. It’s more conceptual, like terroir. A Walk in the Clouds is certainly a romantic movie, even soap opera–esque at moments, but it goes a long way toward capturing the emotions behind producing wine as well. The movie stars Keanu Reeves as an American soldier in Northern California, just after World War II. While trying his hand as a door-to-door salesman, Reeves’ journey becomes intertwined with that of a young woman, and he soon finds himself living on her family’s Napa Valley vineyard estate. The movie deals lightly with issues of shellshock, class disparity and ever-changing American culture. But the story’s main focus is the budding relationship between its leads, Reeves and Spanish actress Aitana Sánchez-Gijón.
Largely tonal, A Walk in the Clouds derives its romance not just from its actors, but also from captivating, luscious images of vineyards and winemaking (smudge pots, and a long grape-stomping scene, included). With scenes shot at wineries throughout Napa Valley and Sonoma—including Duckhorn, Charles Krug and Beringer—the film sits comfortably at the intersection of traditional Hollywood romance and the passion that carries from vineyards to bottles and into glasses.—C.D
(A Netflix Original)
Allow me to preface this recommendation with the acknowledgment that Wine Country is not a “good” movie; most of the jokes are immature, if not raunchy, and the plot is predictable, albeit heartwarming. That said, director and star Amy Poehler and a cadre of familiar faces including Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and Jason Schwartzman bring plenty of laughs to this Girls Trip meets Last Vegas meets Sideways vacation comedy. For wine lovers, however, the locales are the stars, including Artesa Estate, Quintessa winery, Baldacci Family Vineyards and the town of Calistoga, and the biggest laughs are as much at ourselves as at the dialogue when the cast of middle-age misfit moms heads out wine tasting.—R.T.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
(Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
This 1971 classic was an essential part of my childhood. There was a handful of movies I would always watch when I was home sick from school, and our scratchy, recorded-off-the-TV VHS version of Willy Wonka was one of them. Since sheltering in place began nearly two months ago, some days have felt a lot like sick days—stuck inside due to dreary weather with nothing to do but eat soup and watch movies.
Few movies better fill their role as an escape from reality than this candy-filled fantasy. Admittedly, the child-suitability of it is up for debate: After all, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) is a hermit with an enslaved troop of Oompa Loompas brought from another land to make his chocolate. But there's no doubt that when the five golden-ticket holders enter the Chocolate Room, it inspires a level of awe that leaves an indelible impression on children. In this world of pure imagination, chocolate rivers, flavored wallpaper, three-course-meal gum and the elusive everlasting gobstopper can exist for an hour and forty minutes. If a near-50-year-old film doesn't resonate with your kids on family movie night, it's worth re-watching on your own, both for nostalgia and for the surrealism and adult content laced throughout. Take Wonka's colorful expressions, for example, which often come in the form of literary references: He channels Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest when Augustus Gloop is trapped inside the chocolate river pipe, saying, "The suspense is terrible. I hope it'll last."
Unlike the mouthwatering but precisely plated food movies of today, Willy Wonka instead channels your inner child's craving for over-indulgences. We could all use a little escape into a fantasy world these days. After all, we're all just sitting at home, waiting for our moment to break out, even if we won't be doing it by Wonkavator.—Aaron Romano
(CBC, Hulu, Netflix, PopTV)
This critically-acclaimed comedy, which concluded on April 7 after six seasons, follows the riches-to-rags journey of the fictional Rose family, led by former CEO Johnny (Eugene Levy) and ex–soap star Moira (Catherine O’Hara). In season 1’s episode 6, titled “Wine and Roses,” Johnny and Moira Rose find themselves at their rural town’s local tasting room, Herb Ertlinger Winery. After Herb himself offers Moira a bottle of his “Cabernet-Merlot–Petit Grenache” (“sounds delightfully busy!”), he offers Moira a chance to get back in front of the camera, as the winery’s spokesperson.
Unfortunately and hilariously, a bad pairing of nerves and overserving results in a cacophony of flubbed lines that only the Liberty Biberty Guy could compete with. “In the lee of a picturesque ridge lies a small, unpretentious winery that pampers its fruit like its own babies,” she manages. “Hi, I’m Moira Rose, and if you love fruit wine as much as I do, then you’ll appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of a local vintner who brings the muskmelon goodness to his oak Chardonnay and the dazzling peach crabapple to his Riesling Rioja. Come taste the difference ….”—R.T.
Somebody Feed Phil
When it comes to food television, it can’t be easy to show viewers, separated by distance and a streaming service, how great something tastes. But on Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil, Phil Rosenthal—best known for creating Everybody Loves Raymond—does just that, effortlessly conveying how amazing Danish sandwiches and Venetian pork chops can be. Rosenthal’s grins and wide-eyed stares silently display pure joy with each dish he tastes, and he imparts that delight to his audience.
In each episode of the two seasons so far, Rosenthal travels to a major food-and-drink capital, meeting with chefs, restaurateurs and general food fans to discuss the region’s cuisine and culture. The mix includes expected, top-ranked destinations like Modena’s Osteria Francescana and Mexico City’s Pujol, but Rosenthal also spends a lot of time off the beaten path, with up-and-coming chefs and with local fare like Cape Town’s Gatsby sandwiches. Central to the show is Rosenthal’s seemingly infinite positivity: He sings and dances wherever he goes, and the episodes are packed with laughter. When you need something upbeat to counter the day’s news, it’s comforting to turn to this loving tribute to diverse cuisines around the world.—C.D.