It's been 10 years since Sideways came out and everybody has their own personal rant on it by now. I'll get mine out of the way early in the creation of this blog. And I hope to bring a different perspective you may not have thought of before. Or else why bother? It would be redundant at this point, right?
So at some point in the past month Sideways was on television and I was bored so I watched it again. Awesome movie. But it single handedly killed Merlot, the #1 red varietal at the time by far, and started the rise of Pinot Noir sales in America.
That's right. One single line from the movie Sideways ("I am not drinking Merlot!") by a Pinot-loving character that stole $700 from his own mother, drank from a spit bucket, had an affair and acted like the victim in the aftermath of the divorce, changed an entire industry. Merlot sales went down, way down, and Pinot Noir sales went up, way up. Merlot vines were uprooted in an enormous purge and Pinot Noir was planted in its place. It's known as "The Sideways Effect".
Many people will be quick to point out that Miles' prized 1961 Cheval Blanc contains quite a bit of Merlot. I'll point out that in the beginning of the film he states that he likes ALL varietals but hated how California Chardonnay was over handled and way too malolactic.
We're talking about a guy that knows his shit. At the time, oceans of California Merlot were being made and consumed. Demand was so high that it had gotten over produced and flabby. Miles was well aware that Cheval Blanc is mostly Merlot, and he knew the difference between a Right Bank Bordeaux and a Merlot that would be ordered in a 2004 California Central Coast wine bar. There's an enormous difference there.
It turns out that Miles would probably be saying the same thing about the Pinot Noir that's flooding the market right now. It's become the over produced wine that Merlot once was. We're also seeing more and more that it's being loaded with Petite Sirah to the maximum limit that it legally can (while still being called Pinot Noir) to reach a profile that appeals to the masses. Is there a problem with Petite Sirah? No. It's quite delicious, actually. I love it. But if Miles taught us anything from his explanation of why he loves Pinot Noir it's that he's a Pinot Purist. He'd be pissed if somebody ordered Belle Glos Meiomi. So suck on that!
In hindsight, "The Sideways Effect" was probably the best thing to happen to Merlot. The yields are lower and it's planted in better locations for its needs. The wines from the grape variety coming out of California now are fantastic and it clearly provides the best quality wine for any red varietal in the $9-$15 range. Washington State is ABSOLUTELY KILLING IT right now with possibly the best Merlot on the planet. Merlot based blends are actually insanely popular but still have to hide that Merlot is the main varietal in fear consumers will be turned off.
It does still irk me. I STILL get customers that say, quite literally, "I refuse to drink Merlot" and then are unable to tell me exactly why. That's too bad.
Don't be that guy. Merlot is the fucking shit. Drink it.
- Joey Casco