"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving, I am NOT drinking any (expletive) Merlot!"
~ Sideways (2004)
Are you a Merlot fan? If so, you're in good company. Wine aficionados generally wax eloquent over Merlot's delicate floral bouquet and leave the "grawlixes" or "profanitypes" (symbol swearing #$@&%*! ) for the latest bête noire of the wine world. Though its name recognition and popularity has increased over the last decades, Merlot is first mentioned by a Bordeaux official in 1784 who pronounced this varietal "one of the finest of its time. " Originally used as a blending grape, it is now the fourth most widely planted grape behind Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.
The popularity of Merlot was impacted by a single line from the black comedy film Sideways (2004), uttered by the ill-tempered antagonist Miles (played by Paul Giamatti), whose passion for Pinot Noir is matched only by his personal disdain for Merlot. Moviegoers thrilled to the film's knowing winks at wine snobbery and Miles' outrageous tasting room antics set in the wine country region of Santa Barbara, California. And although analysis has shown that the film did indeed have a temporary negative impact on the consumption of Merlot, it increased the sales of Pinot Noir (which was praised in the film), with an increase in red wine consumption overall! This phenomena is now known as the "Sideways Effect." Cheers! 🍇🍷
November 7th is a day to celebrate the Merlot grape and wine.
Merlot is a dark blue-colored wine grape, the name of which is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird. Its softness, combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, though it now stands on its own as a popular varietal.
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine and the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions and elsewhere.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tends to be two main styles. The "International style" tends to emphasize late harvesting to gain ripeness and produce the inky, purple colored wines that are full-bodied, with a high alcohol content and lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit notes.
The traditional "Bordeaux style" harvests the grapes earlier to maintain acidity and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavors (raspberries, strawberries) and leafy, vegetal notes.
In the late 1990s, researchers at University of California, Davis showed that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a half-sibling of Carménère, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The identity of the second parent of Merlot was discovered later through DNA analysis to be from vines growing in an abandoned vineyard in Saint-Suliac in Brittany.
Interestingly, the 2004 film, "Sideways" measurably impacted the consumption of Merlot and led to a phenomenon now known as the "Sideways Effect."
The film follows two men in their forties, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), a depressed teacher and unsuccessful writer and Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church), a past-his-prime actor, who take a week-long road trip to Santa Barbara County (California) wine country to celebrate Jack's upcoming wedding.
Throughout the film, Miles speaks fondly of the red wine varietal Pinot Noir, while emphatically denigrating Merlot. Following the film's U.S. release in October 2004, Merlot sales dropped 2% while Pinot Noir sales increased 16% in the Western United States. A similar trend occurred in British wine outlets.
A 2009 study by Sonoma State University (in the heart of Northern California wine country) found that though the film temporarily slowed the growth in Merlot sales volume and caused its price to fall, its main effect on the wine industry was an overall rise in the sales volume and price of Pinot Noir, and in overall wine consumption.
By designer Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan celebrates the hues of grapes, leaves, and vines.
To read the study detailing the "Sideways Effect," click the Merlot grapes.