The 92nd Academy Awards show airs this Sunday. This is my 12th year of presenting the Best Picture nominees and creating hypothetical pairings of wine with the top contenders.
Due to the space constraints of this column, I’ve distilled my list to five of the nine nominees.
The Irishman: Another mob thriller from Martin Scorsese. Except this time, it’s not so much a thriller as it is a cinematic tribute to actors from his older, more vibrant movies. A small-time hitman ascends the ranks of the 1950s mob, making friends and enemies along the way. We find him at the end of his life, remorseful over the lack of love and support of his family.
So too with the Zinfandel grape. It has evolved from a puzzling grape of uncertain origin to ascendency in the American market and then into relative obscurity. It can be elusive in the hands of one winemaker and compliant in another’s. Its best expressions are each unique and complex, yet mysterious and puzzling.
1917: Toward the end of World War I, the German army has mustered a final push in a desperate attempt to defeat the Allies. Two British soldiers are ordered to deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will rescue 1,600 men, including the brother of one of the soldiers.
The film’s plot and technique are captivating and draw you directly into the action on the battlefield. But the groundbreaking slant on modern cinematography, as enthralling as it may be, is not enough to create a deep essence and gravitas to the movie.
The Aglianico wines of southern Italy are a prime example of this multifaceted theme. Grounded in the indigenous character of centuries of national culture and politics, they have evolved to a higher ground. Through dogged commitment and rugged perseverance, this humble wine is taking on an aura of its own.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino at his (almost) best. Using numerous references to the glory days of Hollywood in the 1960s, he uses every cinematic device to tell several storylines simultaneously, packing punch in every minute of the film. A roster of the darlings of today’s Hollywood stars keeps our attention throughout. Sound somewhat contradictory and self-effacing? Yes. Does he succeed in reeling us in and then throw a surprise twist at the end? Yes again.
So too California red wine blends. Americans rave about them but their essence is often devoid of intrinsic character. Fans of their underlying components, typically Zinfandel, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, can’t seem to find a common ground that creates a cogent backdrop to a consistent presentation. Yet they remain wildly popular.
Little Women: How can we not appreciate another version of Louisa May Alcott’s book? The movie flows effortlessly through the lives of Jo March and her four sisters. I particularly enjoyed the dance imagery in several of the key scenes. I compare this to a French Burgundy, in which the fluidity of the individual components adds a unique element to the underlying wine or character. Each sip engages the viewer/consumer in the history of the actors/winemakers as they grow and evolve in complexity and sophistication.
Joker: Wow, is this a psychological thriller or a psychiatric thriller? While the movie setting is a comic book Gotham City, the action is singularly focused on an anti-comic book character. Arthur Fleck is a conflicted and disturbed comedian who takes on and hides behind the persona of a for-hire clown. As he devolves into a world of self-doubt and demonic actualization, we are drawn in by the superb acting of Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Beware of the conflicting meaning of the phrase “put on a happy face.”
Which wine can we experience multiple times, and on each occasion find we are conflicted by its change in character? The answer: German Rieslings. Although having similar DNA, each is unique unto itself. Each is influenced by its surroundings and can be simple or sophisticated, revealing nuances we haven’t previously experienced.
Which movie will win the coveted Oscar? Sit back on Sunday night with your favorite wine in hand and enjoy the festivities.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.