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Friday, June 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Mondovino" overflows with wine world's wonders, woes

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Mondovino," a documentary by Jonathan Nossiter. 135 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief pin-up nudity. Northwest Film Forum, through June 15.

Tonight's 7 p.m. show will be followed by a wine tasting and reception; tickets for this special event will be $13 ($10 for NWFF members); see www.nwfilmforum.org.

OK, pour me a nice cool glass of pinot grigio and let's talk about "Mondovino," Jonathan Nossiter's exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) documentary about the world of wine. The film examines the impact of globalization on the wine industry; the influence of powerful wine critics on the price, quality and availability of wine; the plight of the small independent vineyard owner; attitudes toward immigrant vineyard workers; the "Napa-ization" of wine markets; the variety and relative photo-friendliness of winery dogs around the world; and ... hmm, is there any more in that bottle?

You get the idea: "Mondovino," in taking on a vast subject and attacking it from all directions, is far too ambitious for its own good. It's like drinking an entire bottle when just a glass would do; when it's over, you feel just a bit like Miles from "Sideways," groggy and overwhelmed. So resist the temptation to raise a glass before this movie — you'll need your wits about you. There's much of interest in this film, even if you're not a wine scholar. This business, we learn, contains more than its share of drama.

A trained sommelier as well as a filmmaker (he made the 2000 Charlotte Rampling thriller "Signs and Wonders"), Nossiter clearly has a love of the grape and a definite point of view. Those who've been made wealthy by the wine industry are photographed and edited rather mercilessly. Robert Mondavi, whose Napa Valley winery has become a conglomerate, is shown surrounded by fawning staffers and lurking hesitantly behind his son.

Shari Staglin, of the elegant Staglin Family Vineyard in Napa, no doubt regrets telling Nossiter on-camera of her friendly relationship with the winery's Mexican workers, which includes giving them "a T-shirt or a cap" every year. Michel Rolland, a high-powered wine consultant, barks into his car phone and cackles with glee. By contrast, Aimé Guibert, an elderly French winemaker, poses outdoors and speaks lyrically about his passion. "It takes a poet to make great wine," he says. "That's been replaced by wine consultants."

Captured with a hand-held camera that occasionally moves as if it's had a few too many, "Mondovino" takes us around the world, showing us both the sweep of the industry and the way it is shrinking. We see an Italian vineyard called Ornellaia, which is purchased as a joint venture by Mondavi — and suddenly rises to the No. 1 position in the influential Wine Spectator magazine. We meet wine critic Robert Parker, the man whose recommendations have worldwide influence over the price of wine, who shares that his nose is insured for a million dollars. And through it all, we meet the dogs — Nossiter's camera never met a canine it didn't like.

Nossiter seems to assume a great deal of knowledge and interest on the part of his audience — he doesn't offer much explanation of the often complicated issues his subjects are discussing, and the loose, casual pace of the film demands much faith. But, like good wine, "Mondovino" requires time and attention. For wine-loving filmgoers willing to lavish it, and to forgive the film its excesses, it offers refreshment and reward.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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