"Merlove": A giddy toast to merlot
"Merlove": In response to the merlot-bashing hit comedy "Sideways," Napa Valley-based filmmaker Rudy McClain has crafted a rambling yet humorously good-natured documentary in defense of the wine made from dark-blue grapes grown in California, Bordeaux, Washington, Italy and elsewhere.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Merlove," a documentary directed by Rudy McClain. 98 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences (profanity has been bleeped out). In English and French with English subtitles. Big Picture Redmond.
As a documentary, "Merlove" is a rambling mess. As a documentary for wine lovers, it's essential viewing. So if you favor wine over filmmaking, it's time to pop a cork and see why Napa Valley-based filmmaker Rudy McClain dislikes the popular 2004 comedy "Sideways."
You may recall that Miles, the pinot-noir-obsessed oenophile played by Paul Giamatti in "Sideways," was an unrepentant merlot hater. As its title suggests, "Merlove" is McClain's fun-loving defense of wines made from the dark-blue grapes of Bordeaux, California, Italy and elsewhere. This valentine to merlot is ultimately an impassioned plea for variety as the spice of life, for sampling a broad spectrum of wines to refine one's palette, or simply to appreciate the seemingly infinite selection of quality wines at reasonable prices.
Informative debates about wine are almost always enjoyably stimulating, and McClain interviewed a veritable who's who of expert vintners to extol the virtues of merlot. But while "Merlove" has an aimless, inebriated quality that seems vaguely appropriate to its subject matter, McClain's lack of documentary discipline prevents him from delivering the definitive film on merlot. Instead, the ultra-low-budget "Merlove" is a glorified home video with variable sound and image quality (subtitles compensate for poorly recorded dialogue) that detracts from what is an otherwise captivating exploration of wine as one of life's essential pleasures.
Washington gets a big shout-out for its quality wines (Northwest vintner Chris Camarda is one of countless interviewees). And although McClain's meandering structure can be frustrating, "Merlove" eventually settles down to become a lighthearted, philosophical odyssey — globe-trotting from Napa to Bordeaux in its quest for Merlovian wisdom. This ultimately leads to the prestigious Chateau Petrus winery in the Bordeaux region of France, the Holy Grail of merlot makers where filming is forbidden (McCain's camera continues recording sound with a lens cap on) and the world's most expensive merlots are nurtured to full maturity. (For wine lovers, it's like a peek inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, but we're prevented from actually seeing anything.)
If you're curious or already savvy about terms like "varietals" and "terroir" (the latter refers to the geographical conditions that influence each wine's unique characteristics), "Merlove" is a guaranteed treat. It's not a particularly good documentary in terms of educational eloquence, but there's something so universally life-affirming about merlot that you can appreciate McClain's infectious enthusiasm, if not his too-relaxed skills as a filmmaker.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org
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