I like to have music playing in the background when I write — mostly instrumental, because you don’t want someone else’s words cluttering up your brain when you’re trying to write words of your own.
So as I was deciding what to write about for today’s post, I grabbed my copy of the “Sideways”movie soundtrack, popped it into the CD player, poured a cup of coffee (too early in the day for a glass of wine) and sat down at the keyboard.
It took maybe 15 seconds for me to decide on the topic: Merlot!
Why Merlot? Because, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that it includes a scene in which one of the main characters, Miles, goes on a profanity-infused tirade about that variety of wine.
Miles, you see, is a Pinot Noir guy, and believes no wine can come close to a well-made Pinot — especially Merlot. As long as you don’t mind a little colorful language, it’s hilarious.
Me? I’m a Pinot Noir guy as well, but I also am a Merlot guy. I don’t think you have to be one to the exclusion of the other.
In fact, I can offer numerous reasons for embracing Merlot…
* Without Merlot, some of the greatest red wines in the world would not exist. It is a key ingredient in some of the incredible cuvees of Bordeaux, often used by French vintners to make their red cuvees more “accessible” at a younger age.
* One of the reasons Merlot is so important in Bordeaux is that it’s an early-ripening grape. Although Mother Nature makes no guarantees, Merlot is almost always harvested at optimum ripeness before the fall rains arrive. Vintners much prefer having delicious juice from harvested grapes in the tank than grapes continuing to ripen on the vines, as sometimes happens with other varieties.
* Truth be told, more Merlot is grown in Bordeaux than any other variety. We tend to equate Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon, but we really should equate the appellation with Cabernet and Merlot.
* To many critics, the greatest wine in the world — especially in the best vintages — is Chateau Petrus. It is made from Merlot. Legendary singer-songwriter Al Stewart (of “Year of the Cat” fame) built his wine collection, in part, by including a bottle of Petrus as a rider to his concert contracts during the height of his touring days.
* Just as Merlot saw a dip in sales following the “Sideways” harangue, it had enjoyed a spike in popularity as a result of media exposure of a different type: a1991 report by Morley Safer on the CBS News program, “60 Minutes.” Safer loved the good life and all things associated with it, including classical music, fine art and wine. That 1991 story focused on the so-called “French Paradox,” which dealt with the French people’s high intake of saturated fat (butter, cream sauces, cheese) and low incidence of heart disease. Safer reported that the medical/scientific community had concluded that the paradox could be explained by the antioxidant properties of red wine. Almost immediately, there was a run on Merlot because 1) it was red, and 2) it was priced lower than Cabernet Sauvignon.
* Merlot does double-duty as a satisfying sipping wine and a versatile companion to food. It pairs nicely with everything from burgers to steaks, and from meatloaf to pizza. In terms of its versatility, I like to think of it as the red-wine drinker’s Chardonnay.
Well, the last cut of the “Sideways” soundtrack, a delightful tune called “Miles and Maya,” is now playing, so it’s time to wrap up today’s blog… and to start thinking about which bottle of Merlot I’ll uncork for tonight’s dinner.