Though they didn’t get to saunter up the aisle to accept an Oscar, Julian Davies and Roy Gittens, the men who provided the inspiration for “Sideways,” the novel and subsequent film, were nonetheless in high spirits at Sunday night’s Sideways-Centric Oscar Viewing Party/Irregular Wine Tasting at the Echo on Sunset Boulevard.
Davies, the wine buyer for the Silver Lake Cheese Shop (who is thanked in the novel by author Rex Pickett for “educating him about wine, free of charge”), began his unique brand of wine tasting nearly three years ago in, he says, “opposition to the cattle call mode of wine sampling.”
He partnered with friend Roy Gittens -- a DJ who provided the inspiration for Jack, the brusque philanderer played by Thomas Haden Church in the film -- and the two began hosting Irregular Wine Tasting events, drawing hundreds of attendees.
Though Davies and Gittens have managed to remain surprisingly anonymous considering the sleeper hit status of the film (compared to sudden super-seller Pinot Noir and the newly tourist-infested Santa Ynez Valley), the overwhelming success of the movie has helped their events gain traction. And while the pair aren’t exactly the real-life Miles and Jack, the film’s antiheroes, they are self-styled “egalitarian boozers” who share an appreciation, if a little less of the snobbery, for wine.
“OK, knock out the light, and let’s listen to the idiots,” said Davies, thus initiating the evening’s Oscar-watching festivities.
During commercial breaks, Davies kept the crowd’s interest and palates piqued by squeezing in informative tidbits about the four featured wines -- all from Meridian Vineyards. Occasionally breaking away to chug from a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Davies peppered his wry routine with factoids from winemakers, including the fictional Signifier Zero, who warned, somewhat after the fact, that “acute alcohol ingestion can kill brain cells. It’s just a question of how many. And they won’t regenerate.”
Gittens, the night’s DJ, laced the evening with songs by such local L.A. bands as Earlimart and Autolux.
The progressively boisterous crowd snacked on bread and cheese (“You have to eat dinner before one of these things,” whispered one tipsy guest), guzzled vino and cheered on “Sideways” -- credited with boosting the sales of Pinot Noir nearly 18% since its premiere in November -- as echoes of Miles, the overzealous oenophile played by Paul Giamatti, could be heard in Davies’ description of the 2001 Meridian Vineyards Shiraz: “Blueberry jam and dark chocolate combine with essences of cherry liqueur and black pepper for a Sunday-night chugger.”
In case that sounded too esoteric, he then suggested pairing the wine “with diner meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes.”
Sideways-centric quiz questions -- “In ‘Sideways,’ the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard stood in for the fictitious Frass Canyon. What is frass?” -- were sprinkled throughout. Winners received passes to Domaine Chandon’s Tasting Salon in Napa. One such winner even made an impromptu speech, thanking “everyone who ever taught me about termite excrement” (the definition of “frass”).
By the end of the evening, the film they had come to root for had won only one award (adapted screenplay) but everyone seemed elated nonetheless. Or, perhaps, they were simply, as the expression goes, sideways.