It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Mondovino" applies to the world of wine the same dreary verdict that has already been returned about the worlds of movies, books, fashion, politics, and indeed modern life: Individuality is being crushed, marketing is the new imperialism, people will like what they are told to like, and sales are the only measurement of good. Briefly (although his movie is not brief), the wine lover Jonathan Nossiter argues that modern tastes in wine are being policed by an unholy alliance involving the most powerful wine producer, the most ubiquitous wine adviser, and the most influential wine critic. Together, they are enforcing a bland, mass-produced taste on a world of wine drinkers who fancy themselves connoisseurs but basically like what they are told to like.
This does not surprise me, since I have long suspected that oenophile is a polite word for a trainee alcoholic who has money and knows how to pronounce the names of several wines that have worked for him in the past. I thought "Sideways" was particularly observant as it watched Miles, the oenophile played by Paul Giamatti, advance during the course of a day from elaborate sniffing, chewing and tasting rituals to pouring the bucket of slops over his head. I treasure the Mike Royko column in which he advised the insecure on how to deal with a snotty sommelier: He will present you with the cork. Salt it lightly and eat it. This will clear your palate.
There are people who know good wine from bad, and some of them are in this movie, although you will have to take their word for it, all the time remembering that every wine drinker thinks he knows good wine from bad, even at the level where Paisano is judged superior to Mogen David, as indeed some believe. "Mondovino" says distinctive wines are being punished because they do not taste familiar; the unique local taste of great wines is being leveled by "micro-oxygenization," a mysterious process which is recommended by the wine consultant Michel Rolland, produces wines that are approved by the wine critic Robert Parker, and therefore becomes the standard for mass producers like Robert Mondavi. As Mondavi and other giants march through Europe buying up ancient vineyards, Rolland and Parker are right behind him to standardize the product.
Rolland is described in the movie as "always laughing; you have to like him." Indeed, the man seems bubbling over with private humor as he speeds in his chauffeured car from one vineyard to another, dispensing valued advice one step ahead of the serious, even self-effacing Parker, whose opinion can make or break a vineyard. That Parker is so powerful is proof that countless wine drinkers do not have taste of their own, because by definition there can be no such thing as a wine that everyone values equally; a great wine should be a wine that you think is great, and if you think it's great because Parker does, then you don't know what you like and simply require a pre-lubrication benediction.