We all know about the impact of the movie Sideways on sales of Merlot (in the immortal words of Miles Raymond, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”). Or at least that’s what I’d heard anecdotally—even from a wine merchant. But last March, wine writer Steve Heimoff said this was not quite the case:
ACNielsen reported, in 2006 (two years after the movie came out), that “the next most popular wine [in America, after Chardonnay] is Merlot,” a fact they said would deal “a blow to all those who relished in the dissing of the varietal in the film Sideways.” Then, two years ago, Nielsen again reported “that Merlot has the single largest consumer base of any varietal wine in the U.S.” Not only that: “More American households purchase Merlot than any other wine variety, red or white.” So, in retrospect, we can see that all those reports of the demise of Merlot were exaggerrated.
Heimoff goes on to list a few of his favorites, such as the Turnbull 2007 Fortuna Vineyard Merlot (from Oakville, 94 points, $55):
“Does what Merlot’s supposed to do, flatter the palate with soft, voluptuous richness. Blackberry pie, red cherry, currant, licorice, mocha, bacon and pepper flavors flood the mouth, leading to a long, spicy finish. Defines the opulent, cult style of California Merlot.”
Add to this a Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Merlot, 2010 vintage, from Sonoma (pictured above), which I was fortunate to sample at, of all places, my neighborhood Thai restaurant, Thai Noy. The owner poured me a glass of it while I waited for my takeout. The Buena Vista isn’t all soft and fuzzy as I expected a Merlot to be—it’s definitely got character, backbone, and a little spice. Unfortunately it’s the kind of wine made available to restaurants and not so much to the public. So look for it the next time you’re out—that is, if you’re willing to order a Merlot. (And let me know if you find it at your local wine shop.)
In other recommended wine reading, Lettie Teague has a funny piece in defense of wine snobs.