House Wine: Obvious Child’s Cheap Anonymous Red

In Nightly Glass, Writing on September 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm


Originally posted on The Nightly Glass

Wine signifies wealth on film. The successful boyfriend in the beer-fueled Drinking Buddies packs wine on a picnic hikeRobocop’s cocaine kingpin drinks it at work. In Say Anything, the heroine’s affluent family grills her blue-collar boyfriend while sipping from crystal glasses.

This connotation obscures a fundamental truth about wine: that it is often the cheapest booze available. A bottle of wine costs as little as a few dollars. Yet many film-goers would not recognize whether a bottle was expensive or cheap just from the look of it. Plenty of cheap wines have fancy labels, while prestigious boutique producers use the same eye-catching, colorful designs as mass-produced corporate brands. (Highly branded wines are the easiest to identify. Many people have a basic understanding that ‘Silver Oak’ is expensive, which underlies its popularity despite its poor price value.) If a glass of wine isn’t known to be high class, its assumed to be aspirational of high class. The same could be said of wine drinkers.

A pile of cans’ or ‘a flask’ visually connote cheap drinking more effectively, but their representation becomes inextricably tied with characterizations of desperation, and recklessness. So chalk it up to Obvious Child, whose heroine Donna finds herself knocked up by a relative stranger after losing her job, apartment, and serious boyfriend, to be the rare movie that documents the reality of the struggling wine consumer. (more…)

Super Tasters– Is This A Thing?

In Nightly Glass, Writing on July 28, 2014 at 11:35 pm

maria ruiz five senses


Originally posted at The Nightly Glass.  Illustration from The Five Senses by Maria Ruiz

A friend asked me the other day, “Are super tasters better wine tasters, or does it not matter?”

Which is something worth thinking about. The super-taster concept is well accepted in the world of wine. So well accepted that the personal taste of one self-proclaimed super-taster, Robert Parker, took hold of the market twenty years ago, and still hasn’t let go. Parker rates wines along the same 50-100 point scale teachers use to grade papers, which is an appealing subversive system to many Americans intimidated by wine. Parker published The Wine Advocate single-handedly for many years, and made or broke wine reputations with his scores. Winemakers began to change the way they made wines, so as to increase the chance of a better score. This would not have worked if Parker’s judgements had seemed to be ‘one man’s taste.’ He had to appear to have a superior sense of taste, to the extent that consumers would let Parker decide for them. In Lawrence Osborne’s words: “Remarkably, Parker’s reputation rests partly on certain purported properties of his own body. His palate is said to be equipped with a unique “cleft.” The Cleft, as it is known, is (one imagines,) a singular ravine over which the wine molecules play with happy freedom… The Cleft never tires…The critic therefore is not just an intelligent man with a  singular passion; he is a deformity of nature equipped with powers that you and I do not possess.” (127)

This is not the description of a critic. This is the description of an athlete: increased lung capacity, longer legs, an extra chromosome. Foodies do not wax neurotic about their inability to taste the difference between local and industrial beef. Music fans do not discount their limited ear-drums– if only they were a super listener!(more…)


Skin Deep: Under The Skin

In Nightly Glass, Writing on July 25, 2014 at 11:44 pm


Originally posted at The Hooded Utilitarian. 

I went to Under The Skin on a date. Poor guy. Before the movie started, I had looked forward to a little kissing, a little hand-on-thigh. I sat in a back row to be minimally obtrusive, and grew bothered when he was late. I confess I had no idea what the movie was about. I had seen the trailer before The Grand Budapest Hotel, and had laughed through it. I assumed it would be pompous, sexed up and non-narrative, thus perfect for some smart guy on smart girl action. If things went really well, we could pillow talk about the cinematography and haute-scifi genre afterwards.

Then the trailers started, and he jumped into his seat as the lights dimmed. The first fifteen minutes are meant for good behavior, and there were neat visuals and key plot information to puzzle out of the silence. Yet as soon as the shadowy protagonist begins to drive her van down the streets of Dublin, the date went cold, and was eaten by the film. The camera begins to follow the paths of everyday men, aging men, frumpy men, men walking alone in crowds. The ‘heroine’ is preying on men, the camera and the audience implicated in the hunt. I wanted every part of this reversal, and the enforcement of the unsympathetic perspective of the spider lady. I sat enthralled, and completely present, and very hungry. The film kept moving into the old horror terrain, but freshly, like someone forced to describe a dream exactly, background details and all. It didn’t skip over the dance of how each man comes to get into the van, and into her house, and into the dark pool of water. It doesn’t shy away from showing what happens underwater either. Remarkably, it makes this spectacle more harrowing than its concealment. It is exhilarating to see a cruel desire spelled out so intimately. (more…)