When I spoke with Alan Rickman on July 27, 2008, it was in the course of a press junket at Chateau Montelena, a key location in, BOTTLE SHOCK. These junkets are usually the fluffiest of proceedings, with lightweight questions and limited time being the rule. Hence, questions about the mystery of wine and finding just the right expression, I brought up a specific theater piece that Rickman had directed and co-written. Based on diaries and e-mails, “My Name is Rachel Corrie” is based on the life and death of an American peace activtist in the Gaza Strip accidentally killed by Israeli troops while protesting the bulldozing of Palestinian houses there. I’d waited for years to ask him why he would want to take on such controversial subject matter, and for his reaction to how it was received. His answer was worth the wait.
BOTTLE SHOCK is a pleasant enough film well served by an excellent cast that amplifies the script’s virtues while minimizing its flaws. Based on the true story of a 1976 blind wine tasting that shook the world, it brings together a perfect storm of underdogs who, each hoping to prove something to themselves and to the world at large, decisively challenge the heretofore unassailable supremacy of French wine. A smart move on the part of the writers, who have conjured up a first-rate device to create the proper dramatic tension even for those who know the outcome of what came to be known as “The Judgment of Paris.”
Underdogs come in many varieties, the first and foremost being the demiurge of the piece, Stephen Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British ex-pat in Paris running a failing wine shop that doubles as an academy of wine. Snubbed badly by the French wine folk, he comes up with a radical idea to publicize his operation by organizing a blind tasting between French wines and the upstart and wholly unrespected product of the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma in California. He also dreams of it bringing him a measure of acceptance among his Gallic peers, or at least a better table at official wine society functions.