The Unheeded Message of ‘Sideways’: Drink Merlot!

By Tom Wark


Bottom Line: The movie “Sideways” changed the wine industry. It elevated Pinot Noir to an altogether new status, to a place of recognition among casual wine drinkers, so that Pinot’s sales nearly doubled in America in the year after the movie was released.

But if new Pinot drinkers took to the varietal after seeing Ms. Virginia Madsen go on and on about its qualities — and after seeing the beauty of the Santa Barbara wine region — then they just didn’t get the message of the movie.

They should have been drinking Merlot.

Yet clearly they are not. Merlot sales are down because former Merlot drinkers switched to Pinot and, perhaps, because Miles offered that terrible denunciation of the grape: “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot” was the exact phrase.

But consider, when Miles finally climbed his way out of his alcohol-and-pity-induced funk, when he finally began to see his place in the world more clearly, what did he do?

He drank his bottle of Cheval-Blanc, a Bordaux blend that includes….Merlot. And not a drop of Pinot.

I’m not suggesting that Pinot is the wine of drunks and Merlot the wine of those in touch with themselves. Let’s face it, when you need drink, any wine will do. What I am suggesting is that Merlot can be the perfect companion for those moments when you want to immerse yourself in calm and contemplation. Merlot can be the right choice when you need to prove that life is precious. The problem is that fewer and fewer people are taking to the habit of stocking their cellars with fine Merlot.

Yet, one needn’t rely on the Petrus, Le Pin and other otherworldly (price and quality-wise) Merlots of the world in order to appreciate their complexity and pleasure-giving quality. Despite the bad rep that Merlot got after that one utterance in the movie, it’s not hard at all to get your hands on great Merlot.

Among the Merlots from America that Miles should have pulled from his cellar include:

-Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms
-Matanzas Creek Sonoma Valley
-Pride Mountain
-Cafaro Napa Valley
-Cuvaison Carneros
-Havens Napa Valley

The best Merlots do have tannins. The best Merlots do offer a notes of herb along with expressive berry flavors. The best Merlots do age into wines of gentle and appealing demeanor.

Unlike Miles.

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Reader Comments

What is more important to remember about that Cheval Blanc that he guzzled down is that the OVERWHELMING majority of that wine is made with cab franc….a variety Miles insisted should only be a blending grape and could never stand alone. (It only has a spit of merlot.)

… and he drank that Cheval Blanc in a fastfood restaurant from a plastic foam cup.

Frederic: You mean there’s some other way to drink Cheval Blanc?

Sure — from a Riedel plastic foam cup.