We ARE Drinking [expletive] Merlot!
The character shouts “I am NOT drinking any f**king Merlot.” The audience roars with laughter. The collective hearts of Merlot producers sink. Suddenly,seven words from Paul Giamatti’s lips threatened the future of Merlot’s reputation.
I’m of course talking about the 2004 film Sideways, a frequent subject of contention in the wine world. Whether the movie was the root cause or just the tipping point, Merlot became a pariah among mass wine consumers. Admittedly, I found myself under the influence of the “Sideways Effect,” fearing the judgment my peers would bestow upon me if I ever so much as drank Merlot, let alone purchased a bottle or , heaven forbid, actually ordered it in public. Actual Merlot fans found themselves with a dirty little secret on their hands.
Here’s the problem, though. We accepted the condemnation of Merlot as dogma, and left it at that. We didn’t stop to ask why Merlot gets such a bad rap. So join me now in doing just that:
What is the deal with Merlot?
For starters, Merlot is a mover and a shaker in the wine community, used for both blending purposes and as a stand-alone product. This black grape variety tends to produce medium-bodied wines, less tannic than its full-bodied peer Cabernet. It originally hails from Bordeaux and was first documented in the Libournais in 1784, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine. Merlots also tend to have lower acidity and color than other reds. And it can be downright versatile when it comes to climates it will grow in, ripening easier than the Cabernet in cooler conditions. So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that the Merlot grape is one of the most widely planted red varieties in the world.
So if it’s so successful, why the bad rap? Well, if I may apply the rules of the high school jungle here: everyone resents the popular kid. Usually we have to grumble about him or her behind closed doors, but Sideways opened the floodgates for us to air our gripe openly. And when the popular kid gets around as much as the Merlot vine does, well, it’s bound to yield some unsavory offspring.
On the other hand, Merlot is so mild, plays so well with others, is so easy on the palate that at the end of the day maybe it’s just plain …boring. Wine Spectator’s resident California Merlot writer Tim Fish cites this as the reason why Merlot drives him “crazy.” Great for blending, troubled alone.
But one man’s so-called trash is another’s treasure and the same should be said in defense of Merlot. It is, after all, great for blending. It might not be the starting pitcher in the game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn good closer. So if you see Merlot AND Cabernet on a wine label, you might be passing up a real gem.
Wine writer Lisa B. Zimmerman argues Merlot is actually an “essential stepping stone for consumers new to the wine fold.” It’s a gateway to the wonderful world of vino. This year’s Merlot drinker is tomorrow’s Petit Sirah champion. Or, advocate for better Merlots. And there are some excellent Merlots out there awaiting your discovery. Lucky for you, Lot18 wants to take you there.
Our wine procurement specialists curate an amazing selection of wines, and Merlots are no exception. We recently offered a 2007 Pepper Bridge Merlot from Walla Walla Valley voted literally “Best Merlot in the Land” by Food & Wine Magazine. So, in your face, Giamatti!
Sure, there are plenty of “bad” Merlots in the marketplace, but there are also lots of “bad” Cabernets and despite the glowing endorsement from Sideways, Pinot Noir has its share of stinkers too.
Selecting a wine can be daunting, but don’t let the fear keep you from a love affair with a great Merlot.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been at an almost 100% snub-rate of Merlot, but I’m ready to reconcile. Let’s end this Sideways effect once and for all, and say “Tonight, I AM drinking a f**king Merlot!”