Pinot Noir vs. Merlot

The relationship between Pinot Noir and Merlot wine doesn’t have to be adversarial.

Miles, from the movie Sideways, refused to drink Merlot (with now infamous emphasis). Within a year of the Academy Awards where Payne & Taylor took home the Oscar for screenwriting adaptation for Sideways, Merlot sales had dropped over 40%. Pinot Noir on the other hand, Miles’ favorite, is enjoying an unprecedented heyday. Yes, this shows the power of movies to influence our lives, but unfortunately it also shows that the subtlety of good storytelling is lost on the general public.

Miles hated Merlot. He also disparaged Cabernet Franc. But remember his precious 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, the wine that was a metaphor for Mile’s life, that he finally guzzles at the end when he has learned whatever it is he learns? It is a little known fact, except among wine geeks, that the Cheval Blanc is a wine made of a 50/50 mix of, you guessed it, Merlot and Cab Franc.

It was a brilliant move on the part of Payne & Taylor, to underline the contradictions inherent in their complicated protagonist. One of those juicy tidbits that makes Sideways a movie to revisit. Unfortunately devastating to California Merlot producers.

Merlot is the most predominantly grown grape in Bordeaux. The hands down most expensive and revered wines in the world, the Bordeaux first growths, are made with differing mixes of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, and a couple other grapes. Lucky for the French, they name their wines after the location from which they are produced rather than after their varietal, so the unwitting American Merlot snob wouldn’t be deterred from spending a small fortune on Merlot. It’s not Merlot… it’s a Chateau d’Whatever.

Is my point that Merlot is actually better than Pinot Noir? No. The moral of this story is that prejudice is always silly. Great wines come from every family of grape, and your particular tastes on any specific occasion often play the most important role in determining if you will love or hate a wine. So go out there and drink some #@%ing Merlot!

Centralas Wine Recommendation:

Try some Frog’s Leap Merlot. Full of hypocrisies and contradictions, rich with metaphor and insight, this vino will appeal to both the undiscerning layperson and those with a taste for subtlety. Pairs well with In-&-Out and an unprejudiced heart. (It’s also dry-farmed and biodynamically grown!)

– Originally posted December 20, 2007

For more about how the movie Sideways changed the wine world forever, check out our post You’ll Never Be Able To Drink That Wine Again.

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