“You like hip-hop? First you got Chardonnay…it’s like the granddaddy of wine. It’s versatile, smooth…it’s like the Jay-Z of wine.
This is how Elijah, played by Mamudou Athie, describes wine in the new Netflix movie Uncorked. It follows Elijah on his unlikely journey from being the next generation to run his family’s Memphis barbeque joint, to the Court of Master Sommelier exam. Given the exceedingly binge-worth Netflix and drinking quarantine-culture we live in now, this movie might quench your thirst for something new to watch and could perhaps turn you on to some fine wines. Written by Prentice Penny, Uncorked will, at the very least, teach you how to read a basic wine label. And it might touch that part of your heart that makes you miss your mama.
When it comes to wine dramas, I’m not usually a big fan. I saw the 2004 movie Sideways before I actually cared about wine, but I resent it for disparaging Merlot and basically decimating Merlot sales for a decade. Last year, Netflix released an Amy Poehler movie called Wine Country, which was funny but taught the viewer exactly zero things about wine. Uncorked has some memorable moments, and you can learn a few things about wine.
I love when people bring wine into the vernacular of the drinker. And this movie does it well in certain scenes. Elijah tells his could-be love interest, Tanya, that Riesling is like Drake because it’s sweet and “in its feelings.” And that Pinot Grigio is like Kanye because it “has a little bit of spice to it … you thought it was just a white wine. I’m about to get stupid.” I love that. Especially because Pinot Grigio is stupid. And I have to admit that sometimes I like it. Like Kayne. “So, Pinot Grigio is going to say ‘slavery was a choice?’” Tanya retorts. Check.
Like with everything else in the United States, there is a huge racial and class divide when it comes to fine wine. But with wine, that divide often looks like the Grand Canyon. That’s what piqued my interest about Uncorked. The world of wine has never been overly welcoming to anybody, outside of a certain class. You add race to the mix, and you are a stranger in a strange land. Probably France. In one scene, Elijah tells his cousin “Low-key, not a lot of Black folks in my school.” That is sadly the truth in almost every wine school. Of all the people I know who work in the world of wine (albeit, that is not a HUGE number of people) only one of them is black. Chef and Level One Sommelier, Michaelangelo Wescott from Shelburne Falls.
“Since we’re talking about a black movie, I’m going to open up a bottle of South Africa Chenin Blanc,” Chef Westcott says. He begins day drinking during our phone chat – one of the many reasons I love the man. Because Uncorked charts a similar path to the one Chef Wescott has taken, I wonder what he thought of the movie.
“The movie was … OK,” he says, “The soundtrack was better than the film. It was like an after-school Hallmark movie. I wouldn’t call it a wine movie with the exception that it was a wine movie. When they compared wine to Jay-Z, it lost me.” Like Elijah in the movie, Wescott did relate to the pushback he received when he started on his culinary journey. But in the movie, most of the pushback is from Elijah’s family, not from the very-white wine world. That has not been Chef Wescott’s experience. “My first cooking job, I pretty much worked for a fucking racist, bro.” Wescott gave me some snapshots from his career. Getting called racial slurs by his boss. People refusing to be served by him because he is a black man. Having to witness a KKK rally after getting off work. Getting different service at Michelin starred restaurants in France because he is black. Being one of the only people of color in the sommelier exam. The racism runs deep. But it is only lightly touched on in Uncorked.
But there was one thing Wescott did like about the movie representation. “As a black sommelier,” Wescott says, “I think a minority watching this movie, who may not have any inclination towards the wine business, maybe it could spark a bit of interest for people who aren’t considering that life.”
He imagines a younger version of himself thinking, “‘Shit, I can learn about wine, drink wine and have a better life?’ That aspect was really good.” Another thing Wescott liked was the cameo appearance by the real-life (and also black) Master Sommelier, DLynn Proctor. Proctor is also listed as a producer on the film. You can follow a little of Proctor’s actual journey to become a Master Somm in the documentary Somm. Both Wescott and I highly recommend that as a wine movie. And Wescott couldn’t say enough good things about the charm and charisma of Proctor, compared to the lack-there-of from Mamudou Athie, the actor who played Elijah. “(Proctor) is fucking intelligent. He knows wine. He doesn’t even need to speak. He’s, like, seeping this shit out of his pores. This kid didn’t have any of that.” Harsh. I kinda liked the kid, but I hear what Wescott is saying.
Perhaps it was a welcome respite from all the heavy news in the world that Uncorked doesn’t go too deep into the world’s harsh realities. Wescott doesn’t agree, “It didn’t feel real. And I hate to say it because it’s a black movie, and I want to love a black movie. But I’d rather love a good movie than a black movie. This was no Black Panther, bro.” Uncorked also just got a few things wrong about wine. Calling Syrah from France “Shiraz.” The EXTREMELY quick route from an entrance test to the ninja-level Master Sommelier exam-doesn’t happen. The surprise from Master Sommelier candidates that there is a grape called Müller-Thurgau. Even I know that!
Then I bring up Sideways. “I fucking love that movie, man,” Wescott says, “Now that movie, brilliant. Right before my man gets married he hooks up with that lady, they’re drunk … To me, that’s a real movie.” I promise to watch it again.
But since we can’t watch Sideways together anytime soon, Chef Wescott and I figure out how we are going to get together and social distance daydrink. He says, “Bring a lawn chair and your own glass-BYOG.” I tell him he’s the O.G. “That’s what I’m saying, son. ‘I love it when you call me Big Papa.’” We ponder what type of wine Biggie Smalls would be. We agree that he’s definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon. “Big and dark, bro.” Maybe Chef Wescott is growing to like the hip-hop/wine comparisons, after all.