TNs:16 world class Merlot in defiance of Sideway`s bashing

As Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County and the local wine industry celebrates the 10th anniversary of the movie Sideways, our lunch group chose a theme of Merlot, the much maligned varietal throughout the film.

As usual, we enjoyed the private library dining room at the Santa Barbara Club and were treated to a matching 5 course luncheon from Chef Humberto [see menu].

At a local event in August, I got an opportunity to talk with Sideways actor Paul Giamatti [Miles} and asked how Merlot was chosen as the culprit. The surprising answer was that director Alexander Payne, standing nearby, selected Merlot because it sounded better than any other choice.

So, in deference to Miles` comment, “If anyone orders Merlot I am leaving. I am not drinking f……g Merlot”, we drank it and no one left until we had consumed 16 bottles.

Another Miles quote from the movie re Merlot is funny enough to insert here as well, “It tastes like the back of a f…..g L.A. school bus. Now they probably didnt de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit.”

Fortunately, our wines were devoid of such.

We started with a sparkling wine:

2009 ARGYLE BRUT- nice acidity, pleasant citrus notes and quite palate cleansing and prepping for all that followed.

The 16 Merlot were served in 4 flights of 4:

1998 DUCKHORN NAPA MERLOT- some bricking; earthy forest floor nose; very tasty; it was soft and elegant in a medium body, had some talc join in with dried figs and black currant notes; showing real good and seemingly just at or passed its peak.

2001 DUCKHORN NAPA MERLOT- I loved this wine as much as any on the day; it had lots of upfront fruitiness, beautiful balance, was soft and easy on the palate.

1994 PAHLMEYER NAPA MERLOT- a quite different profile than the 2 Duckhorns having wild, intense red and black fruit that is enhanced by some nice spice and cinnamon and being delivered in a silky, velvety texture all the way to the back end; this would be outstanding on its own.

1996 RIDGE DRY CREEK VALLEY LYTTON WEST VINEYARD MERLOT- this rounded out the flight with a major win; it was so nicely layered with mild explosions unfolding one after another; the fruit was a bit on the tart side, but not to a fault as there was some fine licorice flavored wild black cherries and black currants after an initial ride through on the red side of the same fruit types; it kept expanding and with its deep, rich dark color and structure, has the stuff to go on for many years.


2005 BERINGER BANCROFT RANCH HOWELL MOUNTAIN MERLOT- another Merlot showing really well; the Sideways folks would have to change their selected varietal to bash after these first 5; this was vibrant, had depth in layers and enough fruit and acidity to go a long way; it`s very youthful and delivering immense pleasure along with the soft creamy texture; superb.

2004 SWITCHBACK RIDGE PETERSON FAMILY VINEYARD MERLOT- I have a lot of respect for this producer across the board for all varietals, but this bottle fell way short of my expectations; it was truly an oak bomb with dominate notes of toast and vanilla, talc and sandalwood; some black cherry comes in at the mid palate and stays for a while before dissipating at the finish.

2003 MEDLOCK AMES BELL MOUNTAIN VINEYARD MERLOT- a new producer to me, doing things organically in Alexander Valley, the name was intriguing and I thought of an all star baseball or football player before learning it is the combination of the 2 owners middle and first names; the wine was on the dry side from early on through the end; there`s decent fruit for a short stay, but in this company, the wine had a lot of stiff competition.

2004 LEONETTI CELLAR COLUMBIA VALLEY MERLOT- Ive long admired this producer and many of their wines, especially the Cabernets; this falls in line with the quality expected and gives and gives; its balanced, rich in sweet black cherry flavors and has that Merlot softness to please the palate; a winner.


2005 LARCIS DUCASSE ST. EMILION- another in a lineup of superb wines; this one reeks of elegance and stature; great balance, pleasant mouthfeel and chocolate covered black currant, cherry and berry fruit; some power and lots of grace.

1985 CHATEAU FIGEAC ST. EMILION- unfortunately corked

1998 CHATEAU LA CONSEILLANTE POMEROL- this showed it could stay with the big dogs to a point; it had lots of black fruit still with primary as well as tertiary notes; the taste profile was tarnished by the curry/ cumin spices in the entrée I had so I do not want to diss this for the weird finish it had; it was just a bad pairing.

2010 ANDERSONS CONN VALLEY VINEYARDS “RIGHT BANK” MERLOT- 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc; spicy minty licorice flavored black cherry prevails amidst a well structured wine with good length; delightful especially following an 85 and 98`.


2010 PETROLO GALATRONA TUSCANA- this has been a fav of my dinner group for some time now and Im happy it showed up again with this group as it is drinking so well now and has all of the makings to evolve into even bigger and greater pleasurable things; its already big and bold, but has some elegance that tends to balance out the youthful exuberance; love the spicy notes that accompany some tar and chocolate infused black fruit all the way through; this is one of those wines where it most certainly will mature into magnificence even though it offers a lot presently; the biggest issue is can one keep their hands off of it long enough to allow that eventuality?; and, it`s a great QPR.

2000 FALESCO MONTIANO LAZIO- coffee, leather and spice join in with the still fresh black fruit and provide a splendid experience in this medium bodied wine; it finishes on the dry side, but there`s a lot of pleasure beforehand to enjoy.

2009 QUERCETO di CASTELLINA PODALIRIO TOSCANA- the nose is so welcoming and for a good reason, there`s a lot to behold afterwards; an abundance of wild cherry berry fruit comes in immediately and lingers until the tannins take over and finish it up on the dry side.

2010 TUA RITA REDIGAFFI TOSCANA- I was waiting for this to come around all afternoon as I`ve had a few and loved all; this was no exception; fully loaded and packed with a flavor profile of lavender, mint, chocolate laced black and blue fruit served up in a full body with complexity, depth and structure to carry this on to great magnitudes; a consistent winner.


2013 BRANDER MERLOT ICEWINE- made from frozen grapes, this has 8% alc. and 34% residual sugar; only 50 liters were made; needless to say, this is a serious sweetie to be sipped in small quantities; a little dab will do ya.

2001 CHATEAU GUIRAUD SAUTERNES- our Prince of Sweets did it again with a 750 ml of this dessert in a glass; there`s a hit of coconut to accompany the honeyed peach and apricot that lingers on and on; another one to just sip, enjoy and call it a day which for some, translates into going home for a nap after these lunches. My friend and I went for a glass of fine Champagne.

Doc - Sep 5, 2014, 1-02 PM.jpg

Thanks for the notes. The biggest surprise for me is that Montiano can compete well in that lineup. Any comparative observations, e.g., how the Italians fared against the others?

Wow, great lineup, you even found a Merlot ice-wine - well done!

In the third flight, did the tenderloin prep interfere with any of the wines other than the Conseillante? I also wonder, in light of the recent thread on meds/foods affecting taste, if it could have been the pine nuts that threw things off. But I would think that would affect more than just one wine.

Fantastic line-up, as the resident Merlot-head of my wine tasting group this tasting brings a tear to my glass eye. The last flight would have been pretty special if not bordering on infanticide. :slight_smile:

Barbara, the Montiano held its own, but not to the extent of the other 3 in this flight. IMHO, the Italians win the best of flights although the first flight was really really good. OK, I`ll call it a push.

David, I have to admit, I choose vegetarian options to most of the meat, fish and fowl choices so I did not have the same menu as the others for this luncheon and cant respond to your question. I can easily understand your comments and when I see some of the others, Ill get some feedback and if notable, I`ll report back.

You are definitely correct, there are lots of medications that alter/ effect taste buds as well as our olfactory sense. Obviously, many foods have influences pro or con as well.

Dave, as already stated in response to Barbara`s comment, the last flight was killer good and even though much younger and Italian, it stood tall against all others and for different reasons, was as good as any. We could have had a Masseto and then there is no doubt as to which was the best.

Too bad there weren’t more Washington Merlot in the lineup. Often great quality for the price.

There is so much great Merlot out there. Enjoyed the 99 Clos L’Eglise last evening, though I think the wine has a way to go towards peak. Great note Blake.

Great notes…I enjoyed Sideways and I like Pinot Noir. I wonder, however whether the movie really did adversely affect Merlot sales, as IMO that would be a shame… I’ve always liked a well made Merlot.

I agree Paul. Leonetti was a good one if we were to only have one.

I questioned that as well and found this answer from:

Conclusion: Virtually all the results are consistent with the theory that “Sideways” had a negative impact on the consumption of Merlot, while increasing the consumption of Pinot Noir. However, far from having a “devastating” effect on Merlot, the positive impact on Pinot Noir appears greater than the negative impact on Merlot. In fact, while the main impact of the movie on Merlot was to slow the growth of case volume, the case volume of Pinot Noir increased significantly. We see a similar effect with respect to price, where the price of Merlot falls while the price of Pinot Noir increases. The movie did, however, appear to cause a general increase in wine consumption, as measured by the control group red wines. When examined by price, we see that the negative effects of Merlot are confined mostly to the lower priced segment, under $10 per bottle, while the effects on Pinot Noir are positive across price-points, with the largest impact being on the highest price point of $20-$40 per bottle.

Thanks for that Blake; the depth of your information, so eloquently stated, is a fine demonstration of the limits of Google!

While it does show a piece of the picture, that study only looked at retail chains, which I take to mean the larger chains. If it had included other retailers and on-premise, I am almost certain they would have found adverse effects on the sales of Merlot at higher prices as well, and in a more pronouced way. I’ve never talked to anyone in the business who has said there wasn’t a very significant effect on the sales of Merlot. We’ve all seen it anecdotally, and people continue to say they don’t like Merlot, so many years later (which might also be due to other causes, mainly the flood of crappy Merlot after the French Paradox 60 Minutes story, but I am sure it is partly or mainly because of Sideways).

I bet Merlot sales would have suffered even without the movie. Some of the decline has to be due to changing preferences away from the high abv, extracted California style of 10 years ago. To me the movie isn’t anti Merlot and pro Pinot, so much as it’s a prescient forecast of an impending shift in California winemaking style.

Blake, I’m wondering if the bottle of 2004 Switchback Ridge you had might have been flawed.
We opened one about 2 weeks ago, and it was nothing like your description. The bottle we had seemed to be in a very good spot, with lots of fruit, and integrated tannins.

Did someone tell Miles that his 61 Cheval Blanc is made up of Cab Franc and “Merlot”?

jfont, that’s the snicker of the truly knowledgeable about the whole movie. Miles isn’t as sophisticated as he thinks he is.

Great, killer, note!

This part didn’t seem right…

“2001 DUCKHORN NAPA MERLOT- I loved this wine as much as any on the day; it had lots of upfront fruitiness, beautiful balance, was soft and easy on the palate and all one would expect from this 18 year old delight.”

Is it a vintage typo, an age typo, or is there something I missed?

Thank you again for a note that made me want to go pop a merlot!

Bud, I had a similar thought and kept searching for the compound that were effecting it and never did come up with anything conclusive other than an abundance of oak influence so out of balance and in your face. I accept it was flawed or at least an anomaly and your experience would support such.