5 Somm (2012)
On the surface, the 2012 documentary “Somm” follows four young men on their quest to become master sommeliers. The Court of Master Sommeliers only granted around 200 such titles in the 40 years or so leading up to the filming and had never opened its doors to cameras prior to this film. To obtain the title of master sommelier, a candidate must pass a grueling examination—only about 3 percent of those who attempt it actually succeed. If you think you know anything at all about wine, this documentary will probably prove you wrong. Along the way, though, it will teach you something about the drive and determination necessary to achieve greatness in any field.
4 Blood Into Wine (2010)
If there’s one thing Arizona isn’t really known for, it’s wine – but Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards aim to change that. The 2010 documentary “Blood Into Wine” chronicles the struggle to succeed in the region’s less than ideal conditions, focusing on the vineyards’ owner, musician Maynard James Keenan, hard-rocking frontman for the band “Tool.” What emerges is a strange but touching portrait of a passionate man’s drive to have a new venture succeed, entertaining for wine lovers and Tool fans alike—even if the two groups seldom overlap.
3 Corked (2009)
What “This is Spinal Tap” was for the music industry, “Corked” tried to be for the California wine industry. The 2009 film was the feature-length debut for writer-directors Ross Clenenden and Paul Hawley, who comes from a winemaking family. Following a similar path to some of the same vineyards visited in 2004’s “Sideways,” the mockumentary takes a lovingly tongue-in-cheek snipe at the pretentiousness of many wine enthusiasts. If you are a pretentious wine enthusiast who also has a sense of humor, you’ll laugh at this satirical send-up of winemakers prepping for a wine competition. If you hate pretentious wine enthusiasts, you’ll probably laugh even more.
2 Bottle Shock (2008)
A fictionalized story taking place in the shadow of a real event, “Bottle Shock” tells the story of the California wine industry’s coming of age. In 1976, American winemakers shocked the world when their wines beat all France had to offer in a blind taste test conducted by a panel of all-French judges. The struggling California vineyard Chateau Montelena, run by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) is the ultimate victor in the event staged by British wine enthusiast Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman). A charming and heart-warming tale about wine, history and triumph against the odds – but mostly wine.
1 Sideways (2004)
Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church star in 2004’s “Sideways,” an Academy Award-winning film about two middle-aged friends who take a week-long road trip through California wine country. Giamatti’s impassioned speech about pinot noir in the film caused sales of the wine to spike 20 percent during the holiday season following the film’s release. Featuring many prominent Napa Valley vineyards and a wine list selected by the director himself, “Sideways” is a veritable love song to fermented grape juice.