The passage of time has taught us that history repeats itself for those who refuse to learn it and wine, is exceptionally hard to capture on film.
To date, I’m of the opinion that the only films/shows to do well with wine have been those that made it a secondary focus, thus: Sideways–a story of two jackasses getting drunk, SOMM–the story of bros trying to pass the Master Sommelier exam, and then (any) Anthony Bourdain show–where a sharp-witted individual travels the world and we see food and wine through his eyes and his narration. Wine it seems might very well be the whipped cream and the cherry, but it most certainly can’t be the chocolate sundae underneath.
It seems that Wine Enthusiast and their new series, “It Starts With Wine” took this “talking around wine” into account when setting about to create these episodes. Each of them pairs a winemaker with a chef, letting each of them talk about how they came to their point in life, thus, a pairing of wine and food, filmed.
In overall tone, the series (there are three episodes to date) reminds me of SOMM: Into the Bottle more than anything else. Well shot, well edited, and well produced, they’re definitely nice to look at. The content is a bit up and down however with only one of the three episodes having more spark to it and I was really lacking depth in terms of both wine and food. If wanting to compare it to another TV series such as “The Wine Show“, I’d to say that despite the scripted aspect of that show, “It Starts With Wine” feels much more confined and lacking that British “looseness” with the material.
Are these for hardcore wine people? No, but that’s never a bad thing as hardcore wine people are exceedingly boring to anyone outside their circles. Are they for the general wine drinker? More or less as I think more needed to be shot around the regions and the focus really needed to be on more than one single cellar for these to be more immersive and holistic shows.
Set in Uruguay, this was by far the most dead of the group for me. Pairing chef, Francis Mallmann and winemaker Alberto Antonini was all fine and good but there seemed to be little chemistry between them and it felt like they must have just met before the camera started rolling and then they sat down to eat a pile of grilled dishes. Honestly, they both seem quite stiff and Mallman comes off a bit arrogant, even though I have no idea how he is in real life.
There are some nice shots of Uruguay, which I admittedly know little of, but there wasn’t really any depth to the episode and it felt like a promotional reel for the winery, yet without really showing the winery all that much. Also tied into this is the commentary by Wine Enthusiast’s Michael Schachner, who, being based in NYC and covering a wide-range of countries, has always felt quite shallow and his articles often hold many inaccuracies, perhaps as he’s not traveling constantly to all of them.
We move next door to Argentina and in doing so, this was far and away the most lively of the episodes, pairing the well-known Laura Catena of Bodega Catena Zapata and chef Deborah de Corral. For lack of a better way to describe this episode, they both just seemed to be enjoying themselves. All the production work is the same high quality as the other episodes but there’s more depth, more of a personal portrayal.
I suppose it’s due to Laura being very engaging and making some food as well as drinking the wines that makes it more well rounded and the fact I feel like I actually saw more of their winery and vineyards. My only criticisms are those that are the same for the rest of the series in that it all feels a bit staged and that the topical depth, especially in terms of wine details could be greater. But, if all the episodes had been more like this, I’d have enjoyed the series a great deal more.
It’s then up to the Northern Hemisphere and to California, focusing on biodynamics with vineyard director, Joseph Brinkley of Bonterra Organic Vineyards, and chef Garrett Sathre. My summary of this episode is both confused as well as annoyed. I was confused as they introduce this very hippie-looking guy, Joseph to explain biodynamic viticulture to people. For wine drinkers to understand biodynamics is great, especially as he’s trying to emphasize it’s not all witchcraft and weird dancing in the moonlight kinds of things.
But, once introducing it they have an interview with his wife where she talks about doing home birth and how they have an organic home garden and then you get a good shot of Garrett’s dreadlocks. In no way am I passing judging on what people choose to do but I almost feel like in this episode, they’re just trying to present the biodynamic concept to normalize it, but then at the same time, show that yeah, it’s something that only hippies do. So, I really don’t get what they’re striving for here and I’m in favor of the overall principals of biodynamic viticulture.
Once we get past this, my annoyance kicks in, playing up on the tired tropes of what “is” California. We don’t all surf (I’m a horrible swimmer even) and we don’t all drive VW minibuses. In fact, California isn’t even as liberal as everyone makes it out to be as the interior is exceedingly conservative. Pairing the surfer and the hippie couldn’t be more “Californian” while at the same time not being actual California at all.
Again, like Episode 1 & 2, nicely shot, nicely produced, but it just leaves me thinking at the end, “What exactly was the point of this episode?”
All in all, these are decent shows to watch if looking for something to stream for half an hour. Out of them, I’d probably recommend #2 the most but I’ll be curious to see if Wine Enthusiast continues with the series and if it evolves a bit more in the process, especially giving more depth to the wine, as well as the food in the series.