It’s time to move beyond the so-called “Sideways Effect” and try Merlot again.
It’s been documented over and over how the 2004 movie “Sideways” wrecked Merlot sales and sent Pinot Noir sales skyrocketing. The truth of the matter is a little less dramatic. Those descriptions were always overstated, but certainly true.
Up until that fun little movie when Miles uttered, “I’m not drinking any ******* Merlot” the grape was one of the nation’s favorites. It was the biggest selling wine in America in 2000. Nielsen statistics showed Merlot consistently holding around 14 percent of overall U.S. wine sales. Merlot even out sold Cabernet in 2001. Pinot Noir was really just a blip on the map.
After the movie Merlot sales dipped, not as dramatically as you may have heard described but dropped nonetheless. According to 2013 statistics Chardonnay remains the grape of choice at 13 percent, Cabernet at 12 percent, then comes revenge of Merlot at 9 percent. Pinot Noir has certainly picked up market share now at 7.5 percent of U.S. Sales. Pinot Grigio and Muscato are surprisingly also in the top five in sales.
But we’re talking Merlot here people. There was a drop, after Sideways was released Merlot sales dropped two percent.
“After Sideways the market got focused,” said Merlot maven P.J. Alviso, Director of Estate Viticulture for Duckhorn vineyards in Napa. “We had to develop a tolerance for no bad wine and there was a lot of it out there. The market was flooded with bad Merlot.”
It might surprise the Pinot-sniffing, Merlot-bashing wine snobs or wine snob wannabes that Merlot is the most widely planted grape in the world at 720,000 acres!
As some might expect, France plants the most Merlot at nearly a quarter a million acres. The wonderful wine blends of Saint Emilion are dominated by Merlot. More surprising, perhaps, is that Italy is the number-two Merlot producer at 93,000 acres compared to the 55,000 acres in the U.S.
Merlot is believed to date back to 1748 in Bordeaux France. The word comes from the French word “merle,’ which means “blackbird.” The grape is genetically linked to Cabernet France and a sibling to Cabernet and Carmenere.
What do you get in a Merlot? The better question is what should you get from good Merlot? The textbook characteristics are black cherry, plum, olive, cedar, blackberry, currant, dark chocolate, cocoa, peppers, and an earthiness.
Merlot of the late 1990s and early part of this century were often flabby, thin wines or terribly out of balance. Many were musty to the taste and unfocused. That’s just not the case any longer.
Growers like Alviso believe Napa has some of the world’s best terroir for growing the grape. “Merlot is relatively easy to grow and that’s why so much is planted,” he said, “but it’s not easy to make great wine.”
You can find Merlot from many different states and parts of the world. Washington winemakers are making great Merlot wine and Merlot blends. If you want to try stunning Merlot at a stunning price for some folks, pick up a Napa Rutherford Hill or Duckhorn Vineyard Merlot. If you want something light with classic Merlot flavors, see if you can find a Northern Michigan cool-climate Merlot.
It’s time to drink some ******* Merlot!