The wine that was mocked in the movie Sideways has staged a comeback
Sideways has a strangely persistent hold on the imagination of the world’s wine trade, even 16 years after the Oscar-winning, California wine country-set buddy movie was released. It’s rare for a month to pass without some merchandising somewhere referencing it. As I started writing this piece, an email arrived from London merchant Jeroboams quoting the film’s most famous line. “If anyone orders merlot I’m leaving!” declares sad sack wine geek Miles, played by Paul Giamatti. (This being the genteel world of London fine wine trading, the next line, “I am not drinking any fucking merlot,” was left to customers to fill in for themselves.)
Legend has it that the film – and those two lines in particular – was responsible for all but killing off sales of the once popular merlot, and encouraging a generational shift to pinot noir. A glance at the sales and grapevine planting statistics (not to mention an academic study from the Sonoma State University) suggest that the Sideways effect was more like the last application of the brake in a gradual slowdown. Merlot was already déclassé in wine geek circles. Sideways just popularised the idea.