Hollywood, whether in TV or movies, has never really been able to figure out wine. Of the two movies best associated with wine, Bottle Shock is uneven at best and Sideways is an acquired taste that the Wine Curmudgeon has never acquired. Most of the time, producers and directors can’t even do a scene where all of the characters hold a wine glass correctly — by the stem or foot, and not by the bowl.
There are many reasons for this, but it’s mostly because the U.S. is not a wine drinking country in the way that France and Italy are wine drinking countries. Despite the recent news that we drink more wine than anyone else in the world, and despite the advances we’ve made over the past decade in wine education, wine is still seen as something special, and not something to drink regularly.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some memorable wine moments on TV and in the movies. Here are six that I like (though in no particular order):
• Star Trek: The Next Generation. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s family owns a chateau in the Franche-Comte region of France, near the Swiss border. The winery is practically a character in Family, perhaps the series’ best episode, and Picard and his brother talk intelligently about wine and even touch on terroir. Chateau Picard seems to make high quality red wine from the trousseau grape (though the bottle still has a cork, which seems old-fashioned for the 24th century).
• I Love Lucy. Yes, the legendary Italian grape stomping moment in Lucy’s Italian Movie. This episode, which takes place during the Ricardo’s European tour, is as socio-culturally significant as it is funny. The European shows are part of an American literary tradition that includes Henry James and Mark Twain, in which Americans are both awed and amused by Europe. We want Europe’s culture and traditions, but we also think they talk funny.
• Sanford and Son. In The Party Crasher, Lamont and Rollo ply two women with Beaujolais. Comedy ensues. This episode, from 1974, neatly encapsulates what those of us of a certain age thought wine was for back then — to impress girls. And if they were impressed, anything could happen.
• Casablanca. Is it any wonder those of us who appreciate wine appreciate the French so much? In the Paris flashback scene, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson are drinking Champagne in a cafe just before the Germans occupy Parish. Says Bogey: “Henri wants us to finish this bottle, and then three more. He says he’ll water his garden with champagne before he’ll let the Germans drink it.” Henri has his priorities straight, doesn’t he?
• Hogan’s Heroes. Yes, this seems like an odd choice, but for all of the program’s foolishness, wine shows up more than once and actually makes sense. LeBeau runs the prisoners’ wine cellar, and takes great care in doing so. My favorite bit: In the first part of the two-part episode, A Tiger Hunt in Paris, Hogan and LeBeau sneak out of camp hiding in Klink’s car. Hogan tells Schulz that when Klink stops for lunch, he and LeBeau would like a little wine and chicken. Which is an odd thing for someone to say who doesn’t understand wine. And it’s an even odder line to include in a series like Hogan’s Heroes.
• Fawlty Towers. No, this isn’t a U.S. production, but few people can burst wine’s pomposity better than John Cleese, and he is top form in The Hotel Inspectors. And I’ve had a waiter try to open a wine bottle like Basil does. Plus, it gives me an excuse to run the video.