by Executive Chef Joshua Hebert of POSH

Can a movie affect our views on food and wine? Apparently, yes.

A few years ago, the movie Sideways actually proved this when the main character, a self proclaimed “expert” on wine, maligned Merlots and extolled the relative virtues of Pinot Noir. The movie started a trend, Merlot sales crashed with the “in crowd,” and I can’t keep enough Pinot Noir at POSH. The thing about this movie is that the entire character of Miles is meant to be ironic (in true sense not the Alanis Moressette definition), and his views on wine metaphorical.

The main character in Sideways, Miles, is an alcoholic who disguises his alcoholism in a cloak of wine enthusiasm. The reason we identify with Miles is that he is what we are all afraid of becoming. His entire MO is that he is a failure at love, at writing, and I must say, at understanding wine. His identification with Pinot Noir is less about wine than about himself.

From Roger Ebert’s review of the movie:

They’re talking about wine. He describes for her the qualities of the pinot noir grape that most attract him, and as he mentions its thin skin, its vulnerability, its dislike for being too hot or cold, too wet or dry, she realizes he is describing himself..

A subtle allusion to Miles’ weaknesses is his disparaging Merlot but praising the ‘61 Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Bordeaux, as a great wine. This particular wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc and, you guessed it, Merlot. By the way, Miles is not a fan of Cabernet Franc either.

There were some real world wine experts at the time who felt that the Merlots were overrated, over popular, and over produced (probably still do). They felt the demand for these wines was trumped up and that many vineyards were producing the very popular and profitable wine without standards. That is likely what impacted the character’s view in the flick. There was some truth to that, and because of the reputation and the movie, winemakers have been forced to refocus. In 2008, the wine crush for Merlot was down 25%.* Less Merlot produced means that vineyards have reallocated their efforts more appropriately and that the Merlots that are produced are better wines. Also, just because something is popular doesn’t mean there is not substance.

So, while we have all fallen head over heels for Pinot Noir in the last few years, it may be time to set aside our DVD’s and revisit Merlot. While softer than most Cabs it ripens earlier and is more likely to produce a mature crop. A good Merlot can have a beautiful acidity and great tannins. It ages well in a good vintage, pairs well with food, and drinks well on its own.

Bordeaux wines like the Cheval Blanc never lost their reputation partly because they use a blend and partly because they are… well… French. But Napa and Sonoma make some excellent Merlots. For my money, there really is none better than Duckhorn, which has been the standard bearer in Napa for years. The only problem is that it could set ya back $50 or more. In the $30 price range, the Beringer Knights Valley Merlot is a great buy.

It is almost sad how the comments of a flawed character in decent movie can nearly take down a great grape. At the same time, now that it is down and out, it’s kinda of a good thing that winemakers have had to adjust, and we have the opportunity to check out the values. Who knows, we might be able to try a bottle of 61 Chateau Cheval Blanc, except WE will know it’s a Merlot… shhhh. 😉

* Wall Street Journal Online 2007



To Purchase Merlot Wines Online Click here: Merlot

To Explore Bordeaux Wines Online Click Here: Bordeaux


About Joshua Hebert


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Chef Joshua Hebert is Executive Chef at POSH Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the winner of this years C-CAP Heavy Medal Culinary Competition and a Sommelier. He is nearly a native of Scottsdale.  He began his career at Tarbell’s in Phoenix and spent his 20’s in San Francisco and Tokyo. He returned to head the kitchen at Tarbell’s, North and Dual, before making POSH his obsession.  Joshua is married, has no kids, but an awfully cute pound puppy named Kassy.