Saturday, June 2, 2007

A "Sideways" Insight - Pinot Noir vs Merlot

This insight occurred during our brief expedition cruising Santa Ynez Valley.


As you no doubt know, the film "Sideways" was filmed heavily in the Santa Ynez Valley. And as you also may recall, that film was credited with causing Pinot Noir sales in the United States to jump dramatically while Merlot sales simultaneously plummeted. The critical moment in the film came when the character Miles said to his friend Jack just before dinner: "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any f -- Merlot."

Well, in cruising Santa Ynez Valley, I had a chance to try a bunch of pinot noirs. And a few merlots too. And, I do believe there is one good way to understand Miles' conclusion. To sum it up in a word... terroir.

The pinot noirs from around the area were, in a surprisingly high percentage of cases, intriguing and delicious. The merlots on the other hand, were a mixed lot at best. Keep in mind, the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara County generally are a somewhat cooler growing climate - just perfect for pinot noir and some of the Rhone-based varietals - think syrah, grenache and the like.

These valleys are simply not, for the most part, notable cabernet sauvignon and merlot territory.

So, Miles, given your geographical myopia, I would probably have to agree. But travel a bit more widely, and you'll find some extraordinary merlots here and there in this great big world!

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