MVC Productions // 2003 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 11th, 2004
So, how exactly does the Boone's Farm family of wines fit in here?
Wine is a tricky topic, reminiscent of that card table trauma known as Bridge, or the black-and-white-swap board game Othello (which used as its sales slogan "easy to learn, a lifetime to master"). Unless you are a wino who is far less concerned about bouquet and tannin and only get your juiced jollies out of faux fruity fortification, or you live the life of a depressed single city gal for whom a cardboard box of chilled zinfandel in the fridge is your last hold on reality, the bottled beverage of the Bordeaux variety will usually produce a decidedly non-inebriated sense of unbalance.
Used to be that matching Manischewitz with your meals was simple: if it was pale and bland, white should be at hand; but if it was bloody and rare, red was the perfect potent potable. There was also a significant psychological component to this confusing color choice. Red meant you were a hearty and robust individual, relishing the ripeness of reality and living life to the fullest while keeping a handy hareskin of Chianti close by. If you preferred white, on the other hand, you were a woman...or a certifiable wuss. Like vacant vanilla to choke-holding chocolate, the person who preferred his or her vintage on the near invisible side was considered a tastebud-less loser looking for some warm mule piss to sip on (and let's not get into the whole Rosé debate, okay?). In recent years, however, a real attempt has been made to educate the social and serious consumer of the concord cordial about the benefits of being a picky personal pickler. Perhaps because more countries than France or Italy are in the running for pre-raisin dollars, endless hours and sniff-snorting seminars have been devoted to giving the new person wondering about wine some insight into the intricacies of having actual taste.
But just like an hour-long lesson on how to be a concert virtuoso pianist, or a single-segment dissertation on perfecting the skills of a brain surgeon, any miniature attempt to cover all the aspects of the fruit of the vine conundrum is both illogical and impossible. Wine Fundamentals is such a super-saturated sermon. Long on ambition and even more verbose on the various sub-sub-subtexts of enjoying a goblet of Port now and again, this 100-minute muddle from MVC Entertainment has its heart in the right place. But when it steps off the fundamentals ferry and dives directly into the mysterious oceans of super-taster acidity and regional oaking, no one but the most proficient Pinot-head will get the message.
The logic to this approach is rather ridiculous. After all, if you just taught a tenderfoot the basics of grape gratitude, why go overboard with all the graphs and vineyard variables? You wouldn't instruct a classroom of neophytes on the basics of addition and/or subtraction and then immediately expect them to leap into quantum mechanics, would you? But this is what Wine Fundamentals does. By the end of this multi-leveled exploration on how to imbibe with intelligence and interest, you're being asked to carry around a note card for future reference, a cheat sheet for proper decanting decisions. When a teaching title has this little faith in its instructional skills, perhaps it's time for a production shutdown and a rethinking of the fact-heavy approach.
Frankly, the initial material and words of advice in Wine Fundamentals are absolutely superb and sensible. Our strangely distant host -- who always seems moments away from laughing uncontrollably at the scripted snobbery he is forced to feed to the Cabernet clueless in his cool, collected British / Australian accent -- actually offers up some useful advice about learning to like wine. You should treat the beverage like a food, the host suggests, since it's made up of grapes. And just like trying different vegetables or unusual dishes in a restaurant, you should strive to treat the development of a gourmet grog palate by applying a personal preference mentality. Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, said it in a more simplistic fashion: never cook with a wine you wouldn't enjoy drinking.
Wine Fundamentals does a nice job, up front, of convincing us that bold reds and spicy whites are not like ballet or performance art; entities that society compels you to kowtow to in order to seem cultured and refined. No, enjoying wine is primarily about individual inclination and should always stay that way. But then these foundational formulations are tossed aside so that supposed experts (and commentators obviously present solely because of some blatant product placement ideal) can overexplain and ultracomplicate the picture. Biology is just not about humans and apes, birds and their compadres in carnality, the deadly bees. There are billions of baffling permutations that a scholar can utilize to shore up a doctoral thesis, and the same applies to the wonderful world of wine. With the multiple grape varieties, distinct regional differences, unavoidable country peculiarities, aging and preparation positions, and cork vs. screw-top schism, the subject of wine making and manufacturing is extensive. But is the amount of government subsidy the French farmer receives to keep his chateau solvent a need-to-know wine fundamental?
It's not the information that's at fault in Wine Fundamentals (indeed, those in the know may think this is still too basic to properly cover the multiple variables involved being a winehead) -- it's the manner of informing. The dogpile method never works, not when you're cramming for your physics final or trying to remember your testimony before the grand jury. We don't splash the slang sentiment "TMI" lightly, but this DVD dissertation is denser than a New York City cheesecake. There is no reason to discuss the "emotional elements" of drinking wine, especially when you only hint at alcoholism and the impairment aspects of liquors. The whole "what glass to drink from" dung is just an excuse to showcase the omnipresent Wine Shoppe featured throughout the film (guess that's what you get when you help the producers supplement the budget). Many of the talking heads are horribly amateurish, not knowing the first thing about public speaking or persuasive argumentation. Indeed, there is a dominant "because I say so" feeling to most of the Bacchanalian babbling on this disc.
What Wine Fundamentals should have done is economize. It should have kept its initial segment to a short, sweet 20-minute breakdown of the absolute basics. All the other information could have then been divvied up among bonuses, appendixes, and supplements. Unless you have an attention span of several decades and were once part of the upper third percentile in information comprehension, Wine Fundamentals will be a pleasant initial sortie into Champagne and Chardonnay. But once it's done with the ABCs, it's ready to take on every complicated component in the entire realm of Riunite (even on ice? that's nice).
One does have to admit, though, that Wine Fundamentals looks great. A direct-to-DVD transfer from pristine digital video, the 1.33:1 full screen offers a crisp, sharp, and colorful image. There is never a huge variation between indoor and outdoor shots, and the overall presentation is professional and faultless. The audio is also outstanding. Pushing the outer envelope of Dolby Digital Stereo's capacities, the voice and musical elements always balance well together (the soundtrack is especially evocative, sometimes hugely preferable to the patter being plastered by the experts). There's even a nice assortment of extras. We are treated to a few short segments about how to choose wine in specific restaurants, some interesting wine-related recipes (sorry, but any cookbook that leaves out Mogen David's Extra Heavy Malaga Wine with Soda and Lime Juice -- otherwise known as a Malaga Cooler -- is simply incomplete) and a glossary of wine terms (the DVD-ROM features were unavailable to this critic).
Perhaps the makers of Wine Fundamentals hoped you'd be drunk -- or at least a few sheets to the wind -- before you witnessed the onslaught of detailed information on this DVD. That way, it would be easier for you to justify why you've instantly forgotten so much of what was said. There are some decent lessons to be learned here, issues revolving around the enjoyment of wine that may actually get you off your ass and to a sommelier sometime soon. Just don't expect to walk away from Wine Fundamentals an expert. The best you can hope for is a general grasp of the bare essentials. And don't be surprised if you suffer from a little digital hangover when it's all over.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: MVC Productions
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Four Featurettes: Quick Tips for Ordering Wine
* Wine-Friendly Recipes
* Wine Glossary
* Carry Along Business Card with Wine Basics
* DVD-ROM Content: Web Links and Recipes
* Official Site