If you’ve been involved in the sport of wine drinking for as long as I have, you undoubtedly have heard of — or seen — the movie “Sideways.”
Released in the fall of 2004, the story takes place in various areas of California’s wine-producing regions. The plot is entertaining, but unfortunately the movie had immediate, lasting and devastating effects on wines made from the merlot grape, to the benefit of pinot noir.
I have nothing against pinot noir; quite the contrary. And, I won’t get into too many details about the movie itself in this forum. Let’s just say that merlot got a bad rap, although it has since recovered from the negative publicity.
Let’s shine a spotlight on it.
First, etymologically speaking, the word itself probably derives from the fact that merlot is a dark-skinned grape varietal, almost black really. The word “merle” means “blackbird” in French. So there you have it!
Widely planted in many parts of the world, depending on when merlot is harvested (early or later in the season), this versatile varietal can be used as its own single varietal or as a blending grape, which is often the case. This is true in Bordeaux, for example, where it is harvested earlier to preserve a more “Old World” acidic profile, while in the New World (California, for example), it is often allowed to ripen on the vine a bit longer for a more lush and velvety feel in the mouth.
Want to try a nice New World merlot at a bargain?
Check out Humberto Canale Black River Merlot 2019 from the Argentinian-controlled portion of Patagonia. Produced by a winery that’s been family owned since 1909, you cannot beat this wine for the price. The grapes are 100% hand harvested and estate grown in the Upper Valley of Rio Negro. They produce a wine that is intense and fruit-driven with abundant notes of raspberries, cherries, currants, tobacco and chocolate.
It pairs well with lamb, burgers, barbecue and holds both the “Argencert Organic” and “Fit for Life” certifications.
Olivier is a wine broker and freelance writer. A native of France with roots deep in the famed wine-producing region of Burgundy, he is known as “Olivier The Wine Guy” and was featured on a weekly radio segment for 20 years. He’s volunteered as a guest wine auctioneer for charity events and also as a judge for the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Wine Competition. He has lectured to live and online audiences, the San Antonio Museum Association, NPR, the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and for Villa Finale Museum’s “Power of a Legacy” Series.