January 21, 2005 was the U.S. theatrical release of the iconic film Sideways. Recently, Geek has seen numerous articles noting this pending 10 year anniversary, and the effect the movie had on Pinot Noir sales, Merlot sales and wine tourism. Of course, Wine Geek has his own opinions.
In case any of our readers have not seen the movie (and you are no longer living under a rock), it follows the escapades of a couple of buddies on a wine-tasting trip to Santa Barbara county and the hilarity and angst that ensues. During the movie, its star (Paul Giamatti) continuously extols the virtues of Pinot Noir and denigrates Merlot (the latter in a notorious hissy-fit where he declares “I’m not drinking any %#@& Merlot”). Everyone in the wine industry knows what happened next: Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed and Merlot sales tanked. With the hindsight of 10 years, it wasn’t as bad for Merlot as some asserted, but the reversal of fortunes was indeed real.
Of course, there were good and bad ramifications to the lemmings’ consumers’ sudden switch: The Pinot boom meant prices for Pinot Noir wines rose—sometimes dramatically. It also led to lots of new Pinot Noir plantings of this fickle grape—unfortunately not much of it was in prime locations for Pinot Noir (Paso Robles Pinot Noir sounds better than it is). Hence there was lots of poor Pinot Noir out there; much of the lower-priced versions were blended with Syrah (to give them some heft), which isn’t exactly a classic combination. In spite of this diminishment of the average quality of a California Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir sales (as measured by shipments from the wineries) have increased by 250% from 2005 to 2013. Merlot’s fortunes were different: shipments in 2013 were 10% less than in 2005. But unlike the expansion of vineyards that Pinot Noir experienced, Merlot plantings receded. The good news about that is that the best sites have remained, and it is mostly the average to below-average sites that were removed; increasing the quality of Merlot ipso facto. Add to this, the prices for Merlot (even the great ones) have stayed flat or even fallen. Indeed, Wine Geek has asserted for several years that savvy shoppers should look at the Merlot section on wine lists—some of the best values can be found there. It should be noted however that, in spite of the dramatic percentage changes in sales of these two wine types, Merlot sales are still almost double what Pinot Noir sales are.
To celebrate this 10th anniversary, Geek and Mrs. Geek will likely open a bottle of Sanford ‘Sta. Rita Hills’ Pinot Noir, and watch Miles & Jack’s romp thru Santa Barbara County. Of course, this leads one to think about other cool wine/food movies and, of course, the proper wine to drink while watching those; here are five more favorites:
- The Big Night—Stanley Tucci’s fabulous & touching story of a 1950’s Italian-American restaurant on the Jersey shore he runs with his brother (Tony Shalhoub). Old-school Italian food and clichés galore; only one wine to turn to for this one: Ruffino Chianti Classico ‘Riserva Ducale’. The wine and the movie are classics.
- Babette’s Feast—a foodie cult-favorite about an extravagant meal put on for the residents of a despondent village by a formerly famous chef that lives among them. If food can be erotic, this movie is porn. The wines to drink while watching this one are easy: the same stuff served in the film’s dinner—Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Clos de Vougeot (we recommend the Jean Grivot). After drinking these, you won’t care how the movie ends.
- Haute Cuisine—a sleeper French film about a woman plucked from her rural French restaurant to become the personal chef for the President of France. Lots of envy from the otherwise all male kitchen staff at Élysée Palace, lots of lessons on food sourcing, and a great scene on picking the wines to accompany one of her menus—lots of Loire wines since the Loire Valley is the President’s birthplace and that is the food he longs for the most. Start this movie with the Domaine Thomas & Fils Sancerre ‘La Crêle’, followed by the elegant ‘Les Pensées de Pallus’ Chinon.
- Mondovino—This documentary ignited a mini-firestorm with the message that the wine press (mostly Robert Parker) and international wine consultants (mostly Michel Rolland) were destroying the uniqueness and individual character of some of the world’s classic wines—making everything taste the same. Featuring the likes Michael Broadbent, Piero Antinori and other wine luminaries (as well as Mr. Rolland himself), the film indeed brought up some legitimate points and made people think. Lots of choices could work here, but in honor of Mr. Rolland receiving the brunt of the criticism, we’ll recommend a great wine from one of his top clients: the Quintessa Rutherford Red.
- Somm—Even though one knows how this movie—about a half-dozen individuals preparing to ‘sit’ the Master Sommelier exam—is going to end, there is plenty of tension, hand-wringing and wincing during this documentary-turned-drama (lots of drama). By the end, you’ll have chosen sides and (spoiler alert) you are probably rooting for the winners. On the wine choice, since we’re watching a bunch of Master Somms at work, only a wine you’ve never heard of will do, so try the Kereskedohaz Tokaji Barrique Furmint from Hungary; a perfect pairing.