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Bottle Shock

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Directed by Randall Miller, Bottle Shock tells the story of the event that put California wines on the map: the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting in which California wines unexpectedly prevailed over some of France's finest vintages. The film focuses on Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a struggling vintner who gave up his law practice to run a vineyard, cultivating grapes and meticulously bottling Chardonnay with the help of his long-haired, easygoing son Bo (Chris Pine), his young Mexican American assistant Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) and a pretty intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor). Barrett can scarcely keep the winery afloat until his Chardonnay is chosen to compete in the contest by Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a supercilious British wine expert and merchant in Paris, who has devised the contest as a means of confirming the superiority of French wines. The movie recreates a mid-'70s vibe with an authenticity seldom seen onscreen, from the cars (an AMC Hornet!) to the jeans to the haircuts and music (Doobie Brothers, Foghat, Bad Company). The beautifully photographed Northern California landscapes and the script's detailed appreciation of the winemaking craft create a palpably sensual experience that cleanses the palate of the insipid, overpraised Sideways. ****

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