If you go down the aisle of any supermarket these days and read the labels on any given box, you're more than likely to find that the item in question is heavily processed and that you've maybe never heard of some of the ingredients. However, there's such great pleasure in a jam from a farmer's market that you know has been made by hand, with no artificial sweeteners added. Wine is another product where - usually, if you get something halfway nice - you can also get that same feeling, of tasting something natural and crafted instead of processed, hydrogenated or having gone through some other manipulation.
Although I barely know anything about wine, not being a drinker, I recently tasted some icewine (Jackson-Triggs, http://www.jacksontriggswinery.com), which is a wine crafted from grapes that have been allowed to naturally freeze on the vine. The grapes are then picked and the ice crystals pressed. It was absolutely delicious (for a reasonably priced half bottle), and really one of the most pleasant, smooth wines I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. Little did I know exactly the state of the wine industry until I watched Jonathan Nossiter's interesting, if overlong, documentary.
Having recently enjoyed a bit of a boost from "Sideways", the wine industry is given a much more detailed and informative profile with "Mondovino", which has Nossiter going across the world to learn more about the trends currently going on with wine today. The film's overall position is that wine is turning into a corporate culture, with consultants coming in and small, local manufacturers quickly being bought out and the individuality of their blend taken away. On one side are the massive corporations (such as Mondavi) and on the other, we have small companies doing all of the producing the old-fashioned way, with a minor crew working as a labor of love.
The film itself is both interesting and rather frustrating: while it's interesting to see the kind of battles and changes going on in the wine industry (including a much-discussed, but little-explained process called "micro-oxygenation"), the film goes on for considerably too long at nearly 150 minutes (there are are little subplots and unnecessary shots at times throughout - the movie simply needs a much stronger focus), and the shaky camerawork seems a tad drunken itself. Moreover, despite distinct characters like consultant Michel Rolland and critic Robert Parker, whose reviews are apparently so influential as to give a large boost to sales for wines that are positively reviewed. Those unfamiliar with wine will probably not need to be familiar in order to follow this story of corporations vs. the "little guys".
Overall, "Mondovino" certainly presents a very interesting subject, but the film would have been more enjoyable and involving had it gone through another editing pass.
VIDEO: "Mondovino" is presented by Thinkfilm in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is perfectly adequate; despite being shot in what looks to be fairly low-budget digital video, image quality is still quite good. Sharpness and detail aren't entirely consistent, but the image at least does appear mostly crisp and clear, with only occasional instances of softness. Some minor shimmering was present, but no edge enhancement, pixelation or element flaws were present. Colors looked natural and nicely saturated, with no smearing or any other concerns.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack was crisp and clear, with generally well-recorded and easily understood dialogue. The presentation offers English subtitles, but the actual soundtrack is in a variety of languages.
EXTRAS: Nossiter offers an audio commentary for the film and there's also a bit over 45 minutes of bonus footage.
Final Thoughts: "Mondovino" succeeds fairly often in picking out fascinating elements of the wine industry, and I found the way it showed changes and trends interesting. However, there are times when the film feels unfocused and a bit slow - a good 20-30 minutes of edits could have really tightened the film superbly. The shaky camerawork may also irritate some, but it didn't bother me too greatly. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a couple of nice supplements. Recommended for those who enjoy a fine glass of wine and want to learn more about the state of the industry.
The Film B-