Any regular wine drinker probably has trouble drinking Merlot and not thinking of the 2004 movie Sideways.

The central character, a brilliant performance by Paul Giamatti as Miles, is a real wine geek and he’s not fond of Merlot. Let’s just say that when his buddy sets up a double date and the girls want to drink wine, Miles makes it perfectly clear in colorful language he will not be drinking any of that deep purple grape.

The one great thing about Merlot is its a great introduction wine. It is a great wine for people who want to step up their wine drinking and trying something more serious.

At parties, large functions, conventions … Merlot and Chardonnay are often the safe choices frequently served.

For the purpose of my newspaper column, I knew I had to talk about Merlot very early on. So during a typical Saturday night dash to Lafayette, Indiana, I stopped at the Bottle Shop in West Lafayette and bought a few things. I struggled to find a Merlot. I just never drink it.

So I followed by own advice: Choose a name you know or ask for advice. Unfortunately, the shop is near Purdue and it was a Saturday evening. So most of the staff seemed to be college age guys ringing up beer. So I went with the name you know philosophy and it paid dividends.

I bought a 2003 bottle of Sebastiani Merlot for $14.95. I threw some nice beef tenderloin pieces on the grill and set out to test a wine I had left in my rear-view mirror.

I had two small pieces of beef tenderloin .. both with fresh ground pepper and sea salt. I put a smoked cherry spice rub on the smaller piece.

The Merlot held up against the steak without the spice, but fell a little short against the cherry rub.

But this was a nice Merlot. They are always described as “soft,” and this one was not different. There is little of the bitterness (tannins) that new wine drinkers find objectionable. It had some body and those deep cherry and dark fruit flavors familiar to Merlot fans.

Sebastiani is a stalwart winery in the Sonoma Valley. The old standbys often produce very good wine even in their less expensive labels. If you can’t find the Sebastiana, which is widely available, I’d suggest Robert Mondavi which you can usually find in yr local grocery.

I don’t know that this will lead me to buying more Merlot. But this was nice wine with some super steak tonight. My tastes run to bigger and much bigger wines, but this was very palatible with the beef.

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