Red Obsession review: wine goes east

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Red Obsession green light

Sly, sometimes funny documentary version of Bottle Shock, with China playing the role of 1970s Napa as it creeps up to smack the snooty Old World wine snobs.
I’m “biast” (pro): mmm, wine…

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oooo, I wish I’d had a glass of wine to go with this! Red Obsession — from Australian documentarians David Roach and Warwick Ross — starts out all very much tourist-board-y tour of the Bordeaux countryside, complete with the sun dappling through grapevines and narrator Russell Crowe telling us about how the Romans first planted grapes here and handsome chateaux operators swooning with French accents about the soul of the fruit. And then it gets even better, and morphs into a sly, sometimes funny version of Bottle Shock, except with China playing the role of Napa Valley in the 1970s as it creeps up to smack the snooty Old World wine snobs. The film’s title is, you see, a pun: the red ain’t just for the wine for but the nation suddenly in the grip of “wine fever,” as one Chinese wine journalist terms the preoccupation luxury-conscious China has with outrageously expensive Bordeaux wines. This little glass of cinematic vino is, in fact, a microcosm for the economic state of the world: commodity bubbles driving up prices, Western investors backing off, newly wealthy Chinese with money to burn coming into the market, and finally China just starting up its own side of the biz. (Yes, there are Chinese vineyards now. And yes, they’re winning awards.) All in just the few years between 2008 and 2012 Roach and Ross cover here. Will we all be drinking award-winning Chinese wines in a decade… if we can afford them? I’m a little surprised that the film totally ignores the climate-change factor, which is already impacting wine production, but never mind. This is a fascinating look at how even a business that you might think would be immune to yearly financial ups and downs — given the long game that is wine vintages and the fact that some of the chateaux have been producing wines for sale and export for 400 years — is weathering the seismic cultural and economic shifts of the 21st century.

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Sat, Sep 07, 2013 1:23pm

Vintage wine seems to be largely a game for people with too much money who want to think of themselves as cultured. (Considering how wine critics never agree if they’re actually blind-tested rather than being allowed to look at the label.) This reminds me slightly of Britain in the 1970s, where there was a fear that rich Arabs would buy up all the good art to show off (and similarly with rich Russians in the 2000s).