It’s hard to get through Sonoma County without tripping over a sommelier. They’re everywhere, haunting the humblest of cafés and teaching sparkling wine classes in caves. It wouldn’t be surprising to find one at the Healdsburg 7-Eleven giving suggestions for your beef jerky-Funions combo. But award-winning wine writer and Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar sommelier Christopher Sawyer stands out because he has combined two of his passions, wine and film, to become the nation’s go-to guy on what to drink while watching movies.
Here are Sawyer’s wine picks for this year’s ten Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. He chooses a varietal and a specific bottle for each film:
1. Up in the Air & Pinot Noir (Schug 2008, Sonoma Coast): Sawyer notes the dichotomy of young and old in this pairing. George Clooney’s character, a corporate hatchet-guy named Ryan, passes his know-how to the young upstart — and they each learn a little something from each other. Similarly, Walter Schug has recently turned over the reins to his son Axel. “You need to look at the heart and soul of Ryan and how it evolves.” Similarly, the wine is a young, vibrant incarnation of a very old grape clone mixed with some of the new adventurous plantings in the Sonoma Coast region,” Sawyer says.
2. Inglourious Basterds & Champagne (Henriot NV Brut Souverain):“This film is about the time period,” Sawyer says. “In World War II, Nazis were well-known for stealing as much Champagne as they could. People would hide Champagne in vaults.” This particular blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes has “a lot going on.” Sawyer notes hints of ripe apple, almond paste and Japanese pear. The Champagne’s class and style help to round out the barbaric attributes of a film fantasy of renegade Jews who kill Nazis.
4. Precious & Petite Syrah (Stags’ Leap 2006, Napa Valley): “Precious,” Sawyer says, is an “amazing, heavy movie that requires a heavy wine. We can compare the wine to a forgotten child in the movie. A lot of things went wrong for her.” Likewise, Petite Syrah was used for about 100 years as hearty jug wine, and yet it wasn’t until the 1960s that mainstream winemakers began revisiting the grape. Originally imported from France in the 1880s, Petite Syrah (a.k.a Petite Sirah) is a cross between the Peloursin and Syrah grape varieties—a combination that Sawyer parallels with the characters of the mother and daughter coming together. Much like the success of Precious, the Stags’ Leap 2006 comes out of nowhere and quickly emerges as a complex and powerful wine with aromatic notes of violet and lavender and flavors that present a subterranean beauty.
5. The Hurt Locker & “Vin de Terroir” (Robert Sinskey Abraxas 2008, Carneros): “The Hurt Locker” is also a geographically inspired match: The refreshing wine complements the hot Middle Eastern spices found in Iraq, where the movie takes place. “In the film, there are three main characters, and the fourth is the Middle Eastern culture,” Sawyer says. “In the fresh and lively Robert Sinskey Abraxas, a white wine blend, there are four grapes: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Like the characters and the theme of the film, all these unique grape varieties work well together.”
8. A Serious Man & Rosé Muscardini 2009 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma Valley): “A Serious Man” requires a serious rosé, Sawyer says. This story is about a Jewish professor in the Midwest in the 1960s, a decade in which the sweet flavors of Lancer’s and Mateus became the nation’s gentle introduction to wine. Cut to 2010: Made with fruit from the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard, the Muscardini 2009 Rosato di Sangiovese is an upgrade to an old idea in dry rosé form. When served slightly chilled, it is all delightful flavor and color, minus the sweetness.
9. District 9 & Pinotage (Fort Ross 2006, Sonoma Coast): Two grapes make up this pinotage: Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The original cuttings were brought to America by the South African family who owns Fort Ross Winery; thus leading Sawyer to connect the wine with the film’s complex, divided society of aliens and humans that echoes apartheid South Africa. “The texture and lovely notes of red berry, black tea, smoke and cedar really grip the palate. You’ve never tasted it before. You didn’t know what you were expecting, as with ‘District 9.’”
10. An Education & Grenache (Gregory Graham 2006, Crimson Hill, Lake County): A pretty and gifted English teen making a beeline for Oxford takes a detour when she meets a much older man who deems himself her cultural tutor. Sawyer says the movie is vibrant and fun to watch, so the wine can’t be too big or too light. The Grenache, he says, “is a youthful, vibrant wine with power and finesse. Also, the hue of the wine is very similar to the color of Jenny’s hair. It’s definitely a wild shade of red!”
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