'Mondovino': Smooth But Not Vintage

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

An hour into "Mondovino" -- far too long, in truth -- filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter at last introduces us to Robert Parker, whom, we are immediately informed, is The Most Influential Wine Critic in the World. The Marylander makes an entertaining cameo appearance in this controversial and intermittently provocative documentary about American corporate culture's increasing dominance of the wine industry, a dominance abetted by not a few Old World allies. Parker is sitting in his simply appointed living room, a wife and two dogs at his side.

"You could have the critic for the New York Times shut down a restaurant or a play," quoth he, "but he doesn't have any effect in Tokyo or Singapore or Paris. . . . The difference with me in little Monkton, Maryland [is]: Here, the impact is worldwide." We're just getting accustomed to the idea of Monkton's stranglehold on the livelihood of Earth's peoples (from the vineyards of Burgundy to the factories of Napa) when one of Parker's dogs -- George, I think -- commemorates the moment by passing gas with such force that the room is immediately cleared.

It's via these sorts of punctuation that "Mondovino" makes its impressions, and there are many vivid ones during the two-plus hours it takes for the film to wind its way from Southern France to Tuscany to California to Brooklyn, all in search of evidence of globalization run amok. "Mondovino" finds it, of course, but like fellow documentarian Michael Moore, Nossiter employs a strategy of unapologetic bias that ultimately undermines his documentary's case. There's much talk of the "vanilla-ization" of wine aged in new oak barrels and the "terroirists" who rail against them (so-called because of their privileging of terroir , the condition of the soil and growth methods, over laboratory finagling). And much fun is generated at the expense of the sublimely obnoxious Michel Rolland, a cigarillo-toting Svengali of a wine consultant who spends his days limo-ing through French vineyards, pleading with his clients to "micro-oxygenate" their vats.

At the center of this vat, we are told, lies the future of wine as we know it, but also the future of the world as we know it; for Nossiter, this is something of a comic book place where greedy conglomerates co-opt powerful individuals (Parker, say) in their headlong quest to produce McProduct. Call it Manichaean Manischewitz, this "Mondovino." A picnic wine, if you will -- more conversation-starter than collector's item.

Mondovino (Unrated, 131 minutes) -- Contains obscenity and occasional nudity. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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