Drinking wine without Pride or Prejudice...or Sideways

When your business is selling wine, you pay close attention to people’s wine habits. Knowing what people like to drink helps you serve them better. So does understanding what people don’t like to drink, or, in some cases, vehemently refuse to drink. And this is where things get interesting.

Anyone in the wine biz will tell you it's almost impossible to sell a bottle of merlot. Restaurants avoid them and wine stores accept they only move off the shelves at glacial speeds. On the face of it, this makes little sense. Some wines made almost entirely of merlot, will set you back tens of thousands of dollars a bottle. You’d have to assume they’re good enough to drink, yes?

So why doesn’t Joe Blow like merlot? The answer is funny - and scary - at the same time. It’s all because of a throwaway line in a movie. Seriously.  

In the 2004 film Sideways, actor Paul Giamatti’s character refuses to drink merlot, saying “No, if anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f*cking merlot!”.  And sadly enough, that was that. Due to the popularity of the film (it was quite funny and the other wine bits were excellent), somehow people chose to heed those words literally.

Anyone selling wine before 2004 will tell you how the appetite for merlot dried up following the film’s release, seemingly overnight.

Is it that easy to sway the drinking public? Or maybe that’s how hard it is. To shift wine drinking mentality, all you need is a funny line in a blockbuster Hollywood film. Perhaps vision of a Hemsworth necking a bottle of something obscure would also do the trick. If only the makers of viognier in Australia, could sneak something into the next Baz Luhrmann epic. They would smash it out of the park.

The saddest part is how many people will simply never try merlot because somewhere in the back of their mind they can hear Paul Giammatti having a tantrum. That is just criminal. Wine, all wines, have merit and deserve to be, at the very least, tried, ideally without pride or prejudice. Yes, even merlot (and NZ sauvignon blanc, but let’s save that for another time…).


Ha! That’s quite true. I don’t know much about wine, but I can remember seeing Sideways and must admit I have pretty much avoided merlot since. Be good to see a follow up post on some merlots you recommend and what to look for – thanks!

Robbie April 02, 2018

Interesting theory! Do you similarly attribute the rise in pinot noir’s popularity to Sideways? As much as merlot was derided, pinot was lauded…

Nancy April 02, 2018

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