The Other Red Wine

I watched two red wine centric documentaries recently — “Red Obsession” and “A Year in Burgundy”; and while they’re both about the traditional production of wine in France, they couldn’t have been further apart in spirit and outlook.


This is a Hollywood slick production, punctuated with lascivious glances into gleaming wine cellars and helicopter shots of stately French mansions on vast vineyard estates, a few of which make Buckingham Palace look a little shabby.

It was like watching a documentary about the explosive growth of Louis Vuitton (and all its logo-clad peers) due to the onrush of status-conscious consumers from China, because the story of Bordeaux, which is the story of “Red Obsession”, is primarily about the intoxicating hot-air of money inflating the party balloons . . . and then the mess to cleaned up after the party’s over.

According to “Red Obsession” (underscored by the sueded growl of Russell Crowe’s narration), 2009 was a banner year for French Bordeaux wines, causing a lucrative flurry of attention from global buyers (i.e., the Chinese) stalking the kind of top tier status items that can sprinkle only the most distinctive fairy dust upon the life of any person buying into the sophisticated images they’re selling.

Then 2010 trotted along, and lo and behold, the quality of the harvest was even better than 2009. Fortunes soared, cash registers rang, and a French wine chateau with a recognised provenance became the latest trophy in a long series of must-have items parading as symbols for success.

Then the lousy 2011 harvest happened and the Chinese gaze got a non-obstructed eyeful of what the top tier French wines look like on a bad day.

As a lesson in hubris goes, it’s slightly titillating and more than a little instructive.


If Bordeaux is the Louis Vuitton of the wine world, then Burgundy is its Hermes — jealous of tradition, devoted to craft, and willing to put up with the attention of sycophants if that means they can keep toiling away at crafting exquisite items for those in the know.

Any nouveau riche with a credit card can splash a fortune on a case of vintage Bordeaux, but it takes a real lover of craft to appreciate the perfect Burgundy . . . or so this documentary leads one to believe.

The French country kitchen visual aesthetic recalls a provincial way of French peasant life and it’s presented with a “this is our glamorous life in the dirt” flourish that even an asphalt-locked consumer can grasp.

Once I escaped the sleek Hollywood clutches of “Red Obsession” banging about my cranium (I watched “A Year in Burgundy” right after watching “Red Obsession”), I have to say that the more subtle, natural charms of “A Year in Burgundy” really started to appeal. Probably, and precisely, because of the tale of Bordeaux excess it followed.

But then, I suppose, it’s all down to personal preference. The Burgundy movie won me over because it didn’t try so hard. I mean, yes, it tried — it jumped through hoops and did its best shimmy in front of the spotlights, but “A Year in Burgundy” was less blatant about the financial transactions that underpin the entire endeavour, extolling the virtues of artistry and tradition while “Red Obsession” was entirely unashamed in its pursuit of simple, global cash.

A interesting duo to watch side by side.