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It’s been 13 years, but the impact of a single line tossed casually in a movie set in the California wine region continues to reverberate to this day. The 2004 comedy, Sideways, earned Director Alexander Payne an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, but little did he know that his writing would help shape the way Americans drink wine for years to come. In the film, Jack (played by Thomas Hayden Church) tries to get his wine snob friend Milo (played by Paul Giamattii) to join him in drinking a glass of Merlot. Milo’s reply was classic: "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving, I am NOT drinking any (expletive) Merlot!”That’s it. That’s the line that almost did in one of America’s favorite red wines. After the movie’s debut, Merlot sales (which truth be told had already begun to slide) fell at a rate of 1.4% each year. Simply put, it became “uncool” to drink Merlot.By contrast, sales of Pinot Noir, which is highly touted throughout the film, spiked 16% in the months following the movie’s release and have continued to increase at a rate of 9% each year since. "People called it the 'Sideways effect on Merlot,' " says Steven S. Cuellar, chair of the department of economics at Sonoma State University. "Here in wine country when you speak to people who produce Merlot, there is a lot of conventional wisdom and folklore about declining Merlot sales after Sideways.”Merlot — the easiest drinking red there is!But, there’s so much more to Merlot than being the punch line in a movie. After Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is the most popular varietal in the U.S (even with the “Sideways Effect”). An easy drinking red that’s soft, ripe and elegant, Merlot is a great starter wine for newer red wine drinkers. French for “The Little Blackbird,” the Merlot grape became known in Bordeaux for its ability to add softness and luscious fruit when combined with the region’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon.When the grape first arrived in California in the mid-nineteenth century, American winemakers put their own spin on things and began making wines using 100% Merlot. The idea really paid off—American wine drinkers loved the softness and low tannin levels of Merlot wine.One of, if not the, easiest drinking red wines, Merlot has a pleasant plummy taste and chocolate notes. It is traditionally a bit more affordable than your typical Cabernet and it’s meant to drink now. Right now. No need to cellar—buy it, pour it, enjoy it.Today, one of California’s biggest winemakers, Rodney Strong Vineyards, producers of one of the best selling Merlots sold in the U.S. is trying to help break the “Sideways Effect” and save this noble grape varietal once and for all. Pick up a bottle of Merlot (we recommend Rodney Strong), give it a try with dinner, rediscover the joys of this wonderfully rich red wine and help us Save Merlot… one bottle at a time.
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