Abandon the Sideways Effect

Abandon the Sideways Effect

Do you hear "Merlot" and roll your eyes? Do you go to the wine store and automatically pass the Merlot by without even consideration? Consider re-wiring your mind, forget the negative connotations brought on by the movie “Sideways,” and some bad rumors about California, and give it another swirl. The movie “Sideways” did a number on Merlot sales in 2004, thanks to Miles Raymond, played by Paul Giamatti. He basically trashed Merlot with one line, when he belted out, “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f#$&!@* Merlot!”

While Merlot got trashed, Pinot Noir became glamorized. He performs a dramatic exposé on Pinot Noir, describing it in a way of mystery, beauty and elegance. After the movie, Merlot sales in the Western United States dropped 2 percent, while Pinot Noir sales increased by 16 percent!  While not all studies point to the movie for the demise of Merlot, it certainly appears to be a symptom. Before the movie, however, Merlot began a decline in the late 90s, due to poor decisions in winemaking. California styles of Merlot were lush, soft, rather flabby, and at times, too sweet.

One great oenological irony is that Merlot has inspired some of the greatest, most sought-after wines in the world. There is the legendary Château Petrus, the grand but pricey Pomerol—a bottle of which from the 2018 vintage can cost $18,000—and Masseto, the all-Merlot Super-Tuscan whose 2018 iteration sells for around $900 if you can find it. These are the overlooked, and under appreciated by the Merlot haters, not due in part to the exorbitant price tag, rather than their uninformed disdain. While its past reputation may have muted Merlot for some, it inspired others to push the envelope and a new destiny. Duckhorn Vineyards, in Napa, for example, created a portfolio of Merlots, and are now well known for such. On Long Island and in Washington state, Merlot has remained popular, in fact, on Long Island it is the most-planted grape and considered a staple. In the Horse Heaven Hills area of Washington state, it is highly sought after.

Merlot can offer more than you may have anticipated. It is one of the most widely planted grapes. The range of possibilities is vast, depending on the region in which it is grown. Merlot is another chameleon of vinifera, exhibiting so many variations, adopting the aura of the terroir. Warmer climates bring fruit forward, and refined tannins and depending on the oak treatment, you may find notes of baking spices, chocolate and coffee. An example of a warm-climate Merlot would be California, Australia, or Argentina. Cool climates inspire more herbal and earthy characteristics. An example of a cool-climate Merlot would be right bank Bordeaux, such as Saint-Émilion or Pomerol, Northern Italy or Chile. Cool-climate Merlots are often mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon in blind tastings. There is a Merlot for everyone! If your expectations of Merlot have been low, perhaps choose one from a region that will elicit the characteristics that match your preference.

This week at City Vino, you have the opportunity to try some Merlots from all over the world. The featured wines will be Merlots from Bordeaux, Paso Robles (California), Israel and Argentina. If you have stuck through this post from beginning to end (some people cut right to the ending of a book …), then you will remember as stated in the previous paragraph, the different characteristics depend on the regions. Each of the wines being presented is from a different climate and environment. If one of the featured wines does not change your opinion, try different regions, or a Merlot heavy blend. So, if you are one of those Merlot nay-sayers, and if that opinion just may have started because of a movie or bad memories of flabby wines, flex your mind and your palate and try, try again! If you are a Merlot fan, we hope this inspires further exploration and endorsement.


Be the first to comment...

Leave a comment
* Your email address will not be published