John Cleese - Wine for the Confused
Koch Entertainment // Unrated // $19.98 // August 9, 2005
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted September 6, 2005
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Maybe it's the accent. Maybe it's his role in the James Bond series as Q, the sophisticated scientist, or in Fawlty Towers as Basil Fawlty, the faux-sophisticated hotel owner. But actor/writer/Python John Cleese just seems like a guy that knows wine, doesn't he?

Oddly enough, he doesn't. Yet here we are anyway, with John Cleese Wine for the Confused, a chance for him and, by proxy, us to learn about all things wine: How it's made, how to describe it and why it costs so much at a restaurant.

The documentary designed to fit snugly into a two-hour block on the Food Network features Cleese learning about the terminology used to describe wine (with several friends, including Brendan Fraser), traveling to different wineries on California's central coast and talking about what wine to serve with what dishes.

Having a wine neophyte host like Cleese adds a different air to the documentary. Usually a narrator's job is to be or sound like an expert, but the charm of Cleese is that it really does sound like he's discovering the information at the same time we are. It's a nice change of pace.

However, the documentary spends a good deal of time focusing on the most popular wine types. There is no substitute for tasting it, though; all the descriptors in the world will not help me decide whether I like merlot better than pinot noir without having some.

In addition, because of the participation of Cleese, a good amount of time is thrown away on useless information. Yes, Cleese does well in the disc's "funny" material, such as the overblown introduction to a faux wine documentary, but there seems to be a lot of information to impart about wine, and at 92 minutes, there doesn't seem to be a lot of substance here.

The DVD

Video/Audio:

John Cleese - Wine for the Confused looks much like it likely did when it originally aired on the Food Network in late 2004. The full-frame presentation is sharp enough, though the colors feel muted when Cleese and company start exploring the wineries. The sound is all that it needs to be; the 2.0 track is clear and Cleese's narration is always audible.

Extras:

Five featurettes make up the special features section of the disc. The best of these is "Additional Thoughts, Tips and Hints about Wine from John Cleese," which is exactly that Cleese, sitting in a wicker chair, talking about what he personally learned from filming the documentary. He is at his most relaxed and engaging here.

There are also longer bits of interviews with the winemakers, along with Cleese and Fraser talking, the latter trying and mostly failing to be funny.

Final Thoughts:

Going into John Cleese Wine for the Confused I was a wine novice. Now I'm still a wine novice. But the Food Network original is a breezy view, and worth checking out from the local video store or home delivery service.



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