The cheese-fest that is Bottle Shock is doubly disappointing because it could have been great. The story of how California winemakers upset the French dominance of the wine industry comes readymade with all-American heroes, villains, and a kickin' '70s soundtrack—but writer/director Randall Miller utterly squanders his material, shoehorning in a romantic subplot and some father/son drama. If that's not enough, Miller shellacs the whole thing with a layer of pretension that, ironically, reinforces the very snobbery the film's subject sought to undermine.
French wines used to go unchallenged as the world's greatest—but in 1976, British wine aficionado Steven Spurrier (a squandered Alan Rickman) set up a blind tasting, officiated by French wine experts, that pitted California wines against the best the French had to offer. The winning white wine was a chardonnay produced by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), an obsessive, iconoclastic Californian whose victory utterly upset the wine industry.
The cultural and enological implications of the "Judgment of Paris" are pretty interesting—but Miller crams his film with contrived drama about Barrett's personal life, from his ex-wife to his relationship with his hippie son, Bo (the ridiculous Chris Pine). There's also far too much screen time devoted to a love triangle made up of Bo, his best friend Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), and wine-loving intern Sam (Rachael Taylor). The three hang out at a dive bar where the crusty regulars say things like, "Any asshole can tell a merlot from a zinfandel." Between that and the plentiful, lovingly shot images of vines and bottles, or the scenes in which Gustavo rants about "worshipping the sanctity of the wine," what should be an interesting film gets mired in sappy clichés.