Wine is hitting the headlines as never before with Sideways turning out to be one of the most lauded films of the year.

The movie, a comedy about two 40-something friends on a last bachelor fling in California wine country, has more than 40 best film and acting awards from critics in the US, and has just won three Golden Globes for best comedy, best screenplay and best score.

Sideways, by About Schmidt director Alexander Payne, stars two relative unknowns – Paul Giametti and Thomas Haden Church. Its simplicity is what seems to have captured the hearts of critics worldwide.

US film critic Roger Ebert called it ‘the best human comedy of the year’ and the New York Times described it as ‘a small masterpiece’. Around the world there are very few dissenting voices: the film is seen a small, simple gem – perhaps even more so with overblown multimillion dollar epics like Alexander dominating the movie landscape.

The film is not about wine, but wine forms the backdrop as the two friends make their shambolic way through the Santa Ynez valley. Wine is also responsible for much of the comedy. There are well-observed moments – and some slapstick – particularly in and around the tasting rooms.

As UK wine critic Tim Atkin points out, the film’s strengths are its characters and its simple comedy. The fact he himself is ‘a forty-something bloke wrestling with many of the issues’ facing the characters makes it especially poignant.

He adds that the wine business isn’t that accurate, as one of the characters ‘slags off both Cabernet Franc and Merlot without realising his treasured bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc is a blend of the two.’

Perhaps the best evidence of the film’s success comes from writer Rachel Cooke, who says its theme of male mid-life crisis would not ordinarily be to her taste, ‘but Sideways is so immaculately done, its central performances so brilliant, its ending so piercingly hopeful, you’d have to have a heart of stone to resist.’

Sideways goes on general release in the UK this Friday 28 January

Written by Adam Lechmere