It’s impossible to hear Miles, the cranky wine snob in Sideways, wax eloquent about wine containing “just like the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of nutty Edam cheese,” and do anything but laugh. But for almost 13 years now, Americans have shamelessly bought the wines Paul Giamatti’s character favors in that 2004 sleeper hit anyway. Miles famously despises Merlot, mostly because his ex-wife liked it, and loves Pinot Noir. Consumers’ lemminglike approach to wine shopping — the so-called “Sideways effect” — has been observed for years, but NPR offers some updated industry figures showing that Pinot Noir production remains up 170 percent even to this day, and that production of California wines in general has climbed about 8 percent since the movie debuted way back in 2004.
Merlot hasn’t had it so good, though, and its demise is partly the result of an especially memorable line Miles yells out. (“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”) One economist’s 2009 study actually found that from 2005 to 2008, Merlot sales fell by about 2 percent, and Pinot Noir’s increased by 16 percent, enough to make it the second-most-common varietal in Sonoma County.
Other industry experts counter that the Sideways effect has more or less run its course, but even if Merlot sales are slightly on the rebound, it’s unlikely they’ll ever catch Pinot’s. One winemaker tells NPR that Merlot is easily among “the best grapes on the planet,” and in fact, a sizable chunk of California’s winemakers agree it’s the best bang for your buck nowadays, because a high-end Merlot will outperform similarly priced Pinots and Cabernets.