by Sarah Shotwell
“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.” - Miles Raymond, Sideways
The myth: Merlot is boring and passé.
Source of the myth: Alexander Payne’s film, Sideways (2004)
Back in the 80s, Merlot was one of the early reds to become popular with America’s first major demographic of wine drinkers: the baby boomers. It was friendly, it was French, it tasted great, and it was in a palatable price point. But when Sideways came out, with Paul Giamatti’s Pinot-swilling male lead disparaging Merlot as déclassé, a generation of Merlot fans left the movie theater, wringing their hands over their now-unfashionable palates. A decade later, this varietal prejudice continues to cling to America’s collective conscience. In tasting rooms on the Central Coast of California, where Sideways was set, it is not uncommon to see wine drinkers still turning their noses up at Merlot.
Merlot is a wonderful varietal with a rich history and has long been adored by beginning and veteran wine drinkers alike. It is one of the noble grapes of Bordeaux, and is found blended into some of the most thrilling, elegant, and expensive wines on earth. On its own, it expresses in a diverse range of styles, from bold and age-worthy to light and drinkable. While varietals go in and out of fashion, one bit of wisdom remains: real wine connoisseurs know not to judge a wine by its label, because any varietal in the hands of a capable winemaker has the potential to shine brightly!
Try an exciting new Merlot from Paso Robles, California or Walla Walla, Washington. For a traditional experience, splurge on a Bordeaux from Pomerol.