Taste

Why Merlot Could Be The Most Underrated Wine In The U.S. Right Now

You can blame the movie "Sideways."
08/09/2017 06:01am ET | Updated August 9, 2017

Merlot isn’t the first varietal many people think of when picking up a bottle of red these days, but maybe it should be.

“Merlot from Napa Valley is underrated,” Jessica Brady, a wine importer for Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, firmly told HuffPost.

“When I go to a restaurant the first thing I do is look at the wine list and if I see Napa and I see a merlot, boom that’s what I’m getting. It’s the best value because of what pinot noir did.”

What did pinot noir do, you ask? It got a big endorsement from a movie that also seriously dissed merlot.

Merlot was doing just fine over a decade ago. In the early 2000s, it held 14 percent of the U.S. wine market (more than cabernet and way more than pinot noir). But it had a fall from grace in 2004, and many folks blame it on a short scene from the award-winning film, “Sideways.”

They call it the Sideways Effect, and it all has to do with this scene:

That scene crushed merlot.

And the following scene elevated pinot noir:

Brady recounts a funny encounter with the star of the film, Paul Giamatti.

“I actually ran into him on the subway in New York and I had my wine bag. I was like, ‘Thanks for my pinot noir sales,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, how’s your merlot doing?’ and i was like, ‘Not so good.’”

The thing is, merlot is a great wine, and Napa Valley produces some really good bottles. But people became less apt to order it because of that scene. The good news? This drives down the prices of merlot.

How is it that such a great wine can lose so much enthusiasm from wine enthusiasts?

“It ebbs and flows,” Brady explains, “Five years ago it was shiraz from Australia, 10 years ago it was malbec from Argentina. I think 12 years ago it was pinot noir because of ‘Sideways.’ And now, not a lot of people are drinking merlot because it’s not trendy or fashionable. Everybody ripped up all their merlot plants, and put pinot noir even in places where pinot noir sure as hell should not be growing, and they just kind of ran down the quality of it. That’s what happens.”

That’s not to say that you can’t find a good pinot noir from Napa Valley now, because you surely can. But you can also find a great bottle of merlot ― even better now, as a result of the film ― for a better price because it isn’t fashionable again ... yet.