Cinephiles and Oenophiles: Sommelier Pairings for Sonoma Valley Fest

Miriam Wolf April 7, 2006

Yes, you can sunbathe topless on the Riviera while at Cannes, or ski at Sundance, but at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, you can drink your fill of fine wine. For the festival’s 9th annual outing, organizers have even hired a specialist to enhance your oenophilic, as well as cinephilic, pleasures — making it the first-ever film festival with an official sommelier. Aside from setting up a roster of wine events in honor of the festival, Chris Sawyer, co-wine-steward at the Carneros Bistro, has created wine pairings to go with each of the more than 70 films in this year’s SVFF.

Like most wine enthusiasts, Sawyer tries to sneak a peek at any labels he sees in movies. He and his wife have been known to pause a DVD so they can go up close to the TV and try to see what wine the characters are enjoying. Before the frog rain of Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Magnolia," characters are seen drinking a wine from — what else? — Napa Valley’s Frog’s Leap.

He notes that his method of pairing for the SVFF is theme-driven. For "Pursuit of Equality," the documentary that covers the magical week when Gavin Newsom married all the same-sex couples who arrived at City Hall, Sawyer chose a gewurztraminer and a pinot noir from Gundlach Bundschu. "Gewurztraminer is a really flowery kind of wine so it goes well with some of these flashy, flowery movies, while the Gundlach Bundschu pinot is really elegant."

Here’s a sampling of what else Sawyer has in store for Sonoma’s filmgoers.

1. ‘The Aviary’
"I think it is safe to say the life of flight attendant is not always an easy task, especially when love is involved at 30,000 feet. A great wine pairing would be a big smooth wine like the Ravenswood 2003 Icon Syrah (Sonoma County), a delicious Rhone-style wine that includes a small touch of Mourvedre. Like the movie, it whets the appetite and makes you want more."

2. ‘Starbucking’
"Driven by passion and caffeine, John ‘Winter’ Smith attempts to visit nothing less than every Starbucks in the world. If he needs a glass of wine along the way, I would suggest the Charles Creek 2003 ‘Las Pasiones’ Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley), a powerful hillside red wine that features a nice hint of mocha flavor on the finish."

3. ‘Kinky Boots’
"This UK-based movie filled with a nice balance of humor, intrigue, and fiery dialogue pairs nicely with the spicy Gundlach Bunschu 2003 Tempranillo, Rhinefarm Estate (Sonoma Valley) that is made with the famous Spanish red grape that has recently found its way to America."

4. ‘Conversations with Other Women’
"The opening scene of this movie features Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham-Carter sipping on bubbly. Thus, it is a fabulous film to watch with a few flutes and a chilled bottle of Gloria Ferrer Brut (Sonoma County) within arms reach."

5. ‘Neverwas’

"‘Neverwas’ is a complex movie with a great cast, including Aaron Eckhart, Sir Ian McKellen, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte and Alan Cumming. The pile-up of great actors reminds me of the Chateau St Jean 2002 Cinq Cepage Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) and the Moon Mountain 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley), two special wines that feature additional layers of flavors due to the smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot used in the blends. Both are tasty and very inviting."