Certain People is a Swedish film about a small group of friends – upper class, art world bohemians in their 30’s – who gather at Katinka’s summer house to celebrate her birthday. Katinka’s brother arrives with Linda, a game show hostess whose brusque and liberated manners are entertaining and fresh – at first. During the evening Linda stretches the group’s social rules of hospitality. Contempt starts to grow and hidden prejudices flare up.
Merlot. We’ll just put it out there. This is almost certainly not the wine you order the most. Might you have just a wee bit of prejudice against this grape?
What do people not like about Merlot, other than they have been told it is not chic, not cool, not in fashion? Kind of amazing that a movie – Sideways, released in 2004 – could have so great an affect on the US market for a grape varietal! Pinot Noir took off after this movie, and Merlot suffered greatly.
We will give you that Merlot can be ‘over-cropped’ – yields are too high, which can result in insipid wines that are not exactly full of character. In some ways, Merlot was perhaps a victim of its own success. This is a grape that can make easy drinking wines with pleasurable red fruits, ones without an overtly tannic structure, wines that are not terribly hard to understand. It was considered a good introduction to those who did not drink a lot of wine. It became popular reasonably quickly and more vintners, especially on the West Coast, started producing it. This resulted in some winemakers overdoing the quantities and hence the ‘over cropped’ insipid wines.
These were what Miles, in Sideways, turned up his nose at. Almost overnight, people stopped ordering Merlot, and it became decidedly out of fashion. This is just now beginning to turn around, 8 years after the movie, and even so, there are far less sales of Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
But before you completely ignore Merlot, or refuse to open a bottle a house-guest brings you, consider that it is the most grown grape in Bordeaux. Yes, you say, but that is so that it can be blended – not drunk on its own. Yes, that is true and that is perhaps where it shines. It is one of the 5 major grape varietals in Bordeaux, and is grown on the Left and Right Banks. In Right Bank wines it appears in higher percentages. Those softer tannins combine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc very nicely indeed thank you. The red fruits, hints of cocoa powder, chocolate, plums, along with its plush texture, can produce incredible wines.
Merlot dominates the blend in some pretty opulent wines. Petrus: 95% Merlot (along with Cabernet Franc). How about Chateau Le Pin? 92% Merlot. Both of these wines sell for thousands of dollars a bottle. Oooh, now what to do with those Merlot prejudices? Maybe a brusque introduction to some great wines made from this grape will liberate you from your bias. Of course you could be uncomfortable having to confront your discrimination against poor Merlot. Take the challenge. Join us on Thursday April 27th to taste a few Merlots and decide for yourself. Then go watch the movie and challenge your own social more’s. We’ll taste 4 Merlots: Hanging Vine 2010 ($12), Shafer Vineyards Merlot 2009 ($52), Terra Burdigala Roc de Jean Lys 2008 ($18), and New York’s own Bloomer Creek White Horse Red 2007 ($21).