Sideways vs. Merlot

Miles: [while tasting wine at Frass Canyon] It tastes like the back of a f***ing L.A. school bus. Now they probably didn’t de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit. F***in’ Raid.
Jack: “Tastes pretty good to me.”- Alexander Payne, Sideways



(My note to Will and our readers): As we come to a long break with this blog (we might have one more before I take a very needed rest). I just wanted to say how wonderful it’s been having this hobby with Will. We don’t get a whole lot of time together, so I’ve really cherished our wine swilling and movie watching. I really hope we can keep it up at least bimonthly. Thank you Will and thank you CS5711 for your readership.

(My) Movie Thoughts: I love Sideways. It’s one of those movies that I can watch over and over again. It’s extremely nostalgic for me and whenever I watch it I pine for the Central Coast and the time I spent there. I even miss Solvang and all of its gross kitschy glory. If you haven’t seen Sideways I implore you to stop reading our review, go watch it and THEN re-visit this review. The synopsis is as follows: Two middle-aged college friends take a road trip to wine country to celebrate one of them getting married. Miles is an alcoholic, struggling writer and middle school teacher with a penchant for wine and very little else. Still raw from his divorce and extremely dissatisfied with life in general, Miles writes in his free time and longs to be a published writer. His friend, Jack is a washed up actor, man-child and sex addict, who is finally settling down. Miles sees this trip as a way to get relief from his life, and revisit some of his favorite vineyards–Jack has other plans. Jack wants to get laid before tying the knot. Miles has an ongoing flirtation with Maya, who waitresses at his favorite hole in the wall restaurant, but is so use to being miserable and is such a snob (believes that her job is inferior) that he doesn’t pursue it. Jack picks up a tasting room associate, Stephanie and begins an affair with her. Miles finally begins to pursue Maya, and in spite of himself really likes her. However, Jack complicates the arrangement by lying about why the two are celebrating, saying that Miles’ book has been published. Jack also drops another bomb and tells Miles and that his ex-wife has remarried and will be attending the wedding. Miles goes ballistic and runs off into a nearby vineyard chugging a wine bottle. Maya who clearly likes Miles (for whatever reason) agrees to go out on a double date with Jack and Stephanie. Miles is completely unhinged at this point and utters the famous line that wrecked Merlot sales. They’re having a great time at dinner but because Miles is so self-destructive hSidewaysvsMerlot2e drunk dials his ex-wife. Later on when Maya and Miles are alone they have a wonderful conversation about wine. Maya is studying horticulture and is also a wine enthusiast. Miles is taken aback by her strong palette and informed opinions on winemaking. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Miles tells Maya why he loves wine, Pinot Noir in particular. He says it’s demanding and difficult to cultivate and needs constant care and attention. It’s a picky grape that doesn’t grow everywhere. Pinot is a metaphor for Miles and wine is a way for him to gloat and put distance between himself and others. Maya is the complete opposite. She talks about how wine was an empowering part of her discovering her talent and passion. Her interest in wine helped her realize the truth about her ex-husband, who was a fake, and was into wine for the wrong reasons. In this touching moment, it’s clear that Maya is open and ready to connect and Miles is frightened and unable to. While still very drunk, Miles makes a very awkward pass at Maya. He kisses her and Maya withdraws. Miles gives her a draft of his novel and they both drive away. Miles thinks he’s blown it with her and mopes around the central coast as Jack plays house with Stephanie. Because Jack he lacks a strong identity and is a grown-up Peter Pan, he begins to have doubts about marriage and believes that Stephanie might be the woman for him. They hang out in a group again and Miles and Maya sleep together. Things fall apart when Miles accidentally tells Maya that they need to leave for a reception and she finds out that Jack is getting married. An angry, sobbing Stephanie beats up Jack, breaking his nose in the process. More craziness ensues as Jack sleeps with a married waitress and loses his wedding rings in the process and Miles’ book is rejected and he makes a big drunken scene at Frass Canyon (this is without a doubt my absolute favorite scene). It ends as happily as it can. Maya forgives Miles and gives him hope to continue writing and Jack gets married. As atrocious as Miles and Jack are you find yourself unable to turn away. 5 Stars

(My) Comparison and Preference: Stars As much as I wanted to love this Merlot (I actually like many Merlots), I just couldn’t. It tasted like the Coppola Cab we had and that seems to be my point of reference when I am not into something. It was very acidic and peppery in a bad way. Unlike the characters of Sideways who I realize are deplorable, but their faults humanize them and gain my compassion on some level –I felt extremely lackluster towards the wine. I won’t say it tastes like anything on Frass Canyons level (see quote) but it’s just not for me. My winner is without a doubt Sideways.

(W’s) Wine Thoughts: This week’s wine adventure sent me to the grocery store in search of a fine Central Coast Merlot. In Sideways, our heroes can be seen traversing the Santa Barbara, Solvang, San Luis Obispo areas of California. Santa Barbara and SLO while not famous producers of Merlot, are very well known for their lovely Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Not too far away though are Monterey and Paso Robles (the home of this week’s selection!). My goal was to select a Merlot from the region in the film to better understand Miles’ (Paul Giamatti) hatred for the varietal. If you are unfamiliar with the film Sideways just understand that (be it urban legend or not) Merlot sales were so negatively impacted in 2005-2006 by one line of dialogue that TO THIS DAY I cannot even hint at Merlot wine without someone quoting Paul Giamatti. This is an issue on par with the Sonny and Cher jokes in reference to Charbono. In fact, what I’ve been forced to do now is offer a special taste for some guests of a particularly beautiful 2013 Sonoma County Merlot with the catch of pouring it for them blind. Meaning I do NOT let them know it is Merlot. I just pour and tell them how it’s vinified, where it’s from etc. I do this for 2 reasons: I don’t want to hear the same joke over and over again and also because somewhere deep within me I truly believe media has the power to sway the way we think and feel. Because of this I worry that the one time you watched Sideways it tricked you into hating Merlot. Honestly, 9 times out of 10 people say, “hey that was great! What was that?” That was a Merlot my good sir or madam, “Oh but I hate Merlot!” I know you do. I know. But maybe, just maybe not as much as you thought you did. After all there are around 600,000 acres of Merlot growing worldwide making up many of the blends you drink everyday (Bordeaux blends and Super Tuscans to boot) and growing in all sorts of different climates. It’s so accessible! Ever heard of Chateau Petrus? Merlot. Ever heard of France? …That was a dumb question. I’m sure you’ve heard of France. The French love Merlot, it’s the most commonly planted varietal in their country. Gosh, Merlot is awesome! Ready for me to put my foot in my mouth? I am a Merlot fan. This one though? We are not on good terms.

On the nose: Vinegar (it’s not a spoiled bottle, almost positive), chocolate, blackberries, kind of a dijon mustard thing. It’s not great because it’s probably young and Paso might not be an ideal location for this varietal. Not a lot happening.

Robert Hall Merlot

Taste: Yeah it’s way too young. It’s like having liquid cotton balls in your mouth. Super astringent, it’s thick and heavy and has bright fruit but no oak flavors to speak of. This the wine Twilight Zone. So weird.

I spent under $15 on a bottle of wine you could probably enjoy years from now if stored well. I was not expecting that. Nice surprise but not nice enough. 1/5  stars

(W’s) Comparison and Preference: We all have our own personal preferences. We all don’t like the same music, same brand of sock or even the same shitty snack foods. But it’s understanding that fact that makes it so important. Thinking critically instead of being blindly convinced of something is what sets us apart from animals. It sets us apart from the people who voted Trump into office. Miles’ hatred of something he didn’t even understand is funny…if you don’t understand. Otherwise it’s a sad outburst over a wine that has magical potential. What I’m saying is Miles shows great hatred for not just a wine, but the grape itself. A massively important and famous Bordeaux varietal. One so important in fact that it helped create the 1961 Cheval Blanc (one of the most sought after wines in recent history) he drinks out of a styrofoam cup in a pseudo In-N-Out at the end. He makes such a big damn deal over this 1961 Cheval Blanc but doesn’t even really respect it from my perspective. So where he failed I will attempt to cathart…cathartasize? I will attempt to capitalize on my catharsis: Though I will not be drinking any F****** Paso Robles Merlot again any time soon, there are MANY other regions that produce brilliant Merlot. This didn’t make me not want to drink Merlot, it just made me want to drink Paso Robles Syrah or Zinfandel. You can’t just say no, you have to understand and change and develop and roll with the shitty wine punches. Sideways happens to be a movie about Miles, a man so self concerned and self absorbed that even his friend’s bachelor party is about himself. A person he doesn’t even really understand to begin with. Ask him what his book is about and he can’t even explain it. Because of this movie, Merlot is now just as misunderstood. Whether or not you don’t like it because a movie told you so or because you drank the same bottle I did, well, that is the conversation we should be having! Go out, drink wine, discuss but don’t put your blinders on after one bad experience. I beg of you!

This week I have to say, Sideways is my winner!

The weekly winner is Sideways!


Robert Hall 2014 Merlot (Paso Robles)
Sideways, Dir. Alexander Payne, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004. Film.


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