When I started seeing the trailers, overdubbed in Spanish, I had little interest in watching “La Dégustation” aka “Cata de Vinos” or in English, “The Tasting”.
It had all the earmarks of a rather schmaltzy style of film about finding love in middle age. There appeared to be some wine in it however and it’s films about wine that get reviewed here. Thus, like it or not, I had to watch it, especially as it’s a new release internationally after having come out in 2022 in France.
First, I searched out the original French version as the Spanish overdub gave it a rather painful sheen of hysterics as all Spanish overdub versions seem to do. Once found, I watched it and you know what? I loved it. In hindsight this shouldn’t have been a shock as it’s a French film about wine, food, and love, set in a charming, historical town. Even when these ingredients aren’t exceptional, they’re still pleasing and entertaining.
At its heart, yes it’s a story of finding love in middle age and all the complexities/realities therein. The French seem to be able to deal with this head on and not make it cartoonish as was seen in the painful bits of “It’s Complicated” I watched on a flight as an alternative to sheer boredom before giving up to return to the less painful embrace of sheer boredom.
The film also takes on the stark reality of alcoholism in the case of Jacques who has two heart attacks and, as a wine shop owner, refuses to believe he drinks too much as it’s “only the best wines” that he imbibes. This comes to pass at the same time Hortense finds a newfound love of wine via a church service wherein the sacramental wines is a Nuits Saint George from Burgundy for reasons that are left unexplained.
This all leads into the linking thread about wine with a key tasting at the center of the film upon which a great deal of the narrative hinges and then pivots. It was filmed in Troyes which is within the Champagne region, but outside of any of the named subregions. This has the advantage of making it something rather rare in France which is being free of any specific wine region that locals would drink from religiously and thus, the characters drink and taste from all over the country. With the exception of a bullshit statement that biodynamic wines don’t give hangovers, it is overall a fine tribute to all that’s wonderful about French wine.
The characters of Jacques and Hortense are also well defined and exceedingly believable as they’re quite set in their careers as a wine shop owner and midwife, respectively (although flipping that would have been quite daring). Even the supporting character of Steve, an apprentice and eventually sharp wine taster from a boy’s home, is great and adds a good deal of levity that the character of Jacques’s friend, Guillaume doesn’t really provide.
What more is that while there are two leads, the narrative structure is quite interesting given that it seems to start with Jacques but then drifts to Hortense as the main protagonist by the end of the film, not flipping back and forth between them as would regularly be the case. And, while the ending drifts a little bit and gets more sentimental, it’s still well paced and plenty entertaining.
While La Dégustation isn’t a some grand cinematic classic, it’s entertaining, well made, deals with real world issues of alcoholism, and ultimately pleases on many levels.
I can’t really ask much more from a film than that. And there’s wine.