Compared to Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter’s thorough 2004 global wine documentary, Red Obsession is vin ordinaire – though the cinematography tracking through sunny, pebbled French vineyards, goes down smoothly.
The first 20 minutes play like an infomercial for Bordeaux. Russell Crowe provides the velvety narration as a succession of wine critics and vintners praise the aura, history and magic of a wine region that has been operating since Roman times.
Then a good story emerges: Red Obsession, living up to its pun title, becomes a film about the rise of China and a boom market – 1,000 per cent increases in value in a decade – for top French Bordeaux. Too expensive to drink, the bottles became collectors’ items, status objects, investments and even objects of counterfeiting. The film’s juxtaposition between the French artisans and the Chinese Philistines (replacing the old American Philistines who fell behind after the 2008 crash) feels one-dimensional, even when entertaining. (Peter Tseng, a sex-aid manufacturer who has a wine collection worth $60-million, might be worth his own film.)
Fittingly, it’s finally a film about transience and continuity. By the end of the dud 2011 season, Chinese consumption dropped sharply, but Chinese vintners, trained in France, have begun to win international wine prizes.