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As someone who drinks a fair bit of wine, allow me to make a heretical statement: French wine is overrated. This is not to suggest that the French are not capable of producing some truly fantastic quaffs, but let’s be frank: If money is not an issue, by all means drink French wine. But if you have a few thousand yen on you and are looking for a decent bottle, you will have much better luck, on average, with New Zealand, California, or Italy than you will with France.

French wine has a reputation, and it trades on that in prices that often do not hold up to comparative drinking. (Though one should not underestimate the psychosomatic effect of price and vintage on many imbibers.)

“Red Obsession,” a documentary on Bordeaux wines of the high-end grand cru variety, is entirely sympathetic to the opinion that the region produces the world’s best wines — from vineyards such as Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion — but it nevertheless supplies a lot of evidence for the view that the area is overhyped.

Red Obsession (Sekaiichi Utsukushii Borudo no Himitsu)
Rating
Director David Roach, Warwick Ross
Run Time 75 minutes
Language English
Opens Sept. 27

Russell Crowe provides the voice-over for “Red Obsession,” praising Bordeaux’s “mythical reputation,” terroir and the vines planted here by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Crowe notes that “For many, these wines are considered a work of art,” and to be sure they now command fine-art prices, which, according to the film, have increased by 1,000 percent over the past decade. A case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2008 went out the door priced at $60,000, and it’s presumably worth more now; an analyst helpfully points out that wine has consistently outperformed the stock market over the past three decades.

The film notes that some wines have become too valuable to drink — “investments not pleasures.” One wonders if the world’s best wine can claim to be an “ethereal, dreamy experience” when so few people have actually tasted it.

Noted wine critic Robert Parker is quoted as saying the 2010 vintage was of great quality, but that the vintners are pricing themselves out of the market, which was in retreat after the financial crash of 2008. The solution for the Burgundians was to aggressively market to China, and the film tracks the resulting Bordeaux boom there.

China being China, the filmmakers discover counterfeit bottles, superrich collectors who compare the chateaux to Disneyland, consumers who only care about the “brand” and local producers who hope to grab a large share of the global-wine market in coming years. Typical for China-boom reporting, the look at Chinese vineyards has nothing to say about China’s penchant for excessive chemical pesticide use, or other possible soil contamination. The fact that the featured vintner is located right next to the Gobi Desert — where China did all its nuclear bomb testing — goes unremarked, which is typical for this interesting but insufficiently probing doc.

Oh, but if anyone is interested in proving me wrong by cracking open a bottle of Margaux and pouring me a glass, I won’t say no.

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