A bonny Merlot, whatever the man in Sideways said

I’ve just opened a bottle of Domaine de Gournier 2003, Vin de Pays des Cévennes, from the Languedoc et Roussillon area west of Avignon. It’s a merlot, and as a vin de pays it’s what the pretentious call an unpretentious little wine. It seems to me luscious. So I have done a little research on this delectable and inexpensive (all right, cheap) red.

“During September 2002, the Nimes area of southern France was absolutely deluged with rain, and the region suffered one of the worst floods in decades. The owner of Gournier, Maurice Barnouin, literally had to be helicoptered off the roof of his house to escape the torrential rain. His house, the adjoining winery, and most of the contents of his cellar, were carried down river.
Since December 2002, Maurice Barnouin, the passionate owner of Gournier, has committed himself to the reconstruction of his life at Gournier, and has re-built a beautiful winemaking facility to receive the excellent 2003 harvest. Now owning over 200 ha of vineyards between Uzes and Nimes, the modern vinification methods and controlled yields ensure the consistency and personality of the range.” http://www.everywine.co.uk/invt/46503

So why has merlot suddenly got a bad name? Ah: it’s that movie. Of course!

‘Live by the fad, die by the fad. That could conceivably go down as the postmortem assessment of the Merlot Boom, which began in the 1990s for largely fortuitous reasons and is now threatened by a stroke of bad fortune: a profane slur leveled against merlot by the lead character in the movie "Sideways”. … merlot is in fact a potentially great grape, as has been proved countless times over many decades by conscientious vintners, especially those in the Bordeaux communes of Pomerol and St. Emilion. Nevertheless, merlot’s profile set it up as a bubble prone to pricking when "Sideways" began showing in theaters last year. The bubble is lanced in a scene outside a restaurant when the character Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, delivers an incensed warning to his friend that "if anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any [expletive] merlot." That line got the biggest laugh of the night when I saw the film, but vintners heavily invested in merlot are not laughing. As Washington Post business writer Margaret Webb Pressler reported on April 10, sales of merlot declined 2 percent in the 12 weeks after "Sideways" was released, whereas pinot noir (Miles’s favorite) increased by 14 percent. … The grape retains all of its strong potential, and though I’ve tasted plenty of unremarkable bottlings during the past few weeks while checking the current crop, I’ve also tasted some standouts in the key price range, between $9 and $18.
‘Here are my top 10 in order of preference: …
[No. 7:] Domaine de Gournier (Vin de Pays des Cevennes, France) 2003 ($9, Kacher): Ripe and intensely fruity, this is bursting at the seams with notes of red and black berries. The juicy fruit notes are effectively balanced by some ripe tannins that contribute structure but no harshness.’
— Michael Franz, Washington Post, Wednesday, May 4, 2005; F05 –http://tinyurl.com/b58tj

Or, a shade less enthusiastically:

Un bon vin sec au nez discret et frais, soyeux en bouche.

I think it’s delicious. I enjoyed Sideways, too, amusing prelude to a memorably vinous tour of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California a few weeks later, the area where the film is set.

I hope this doesn’t label me a champagne (or chardonnay) socialist, or, worse, a merlot marxist.

PS: My one solitary bottle of Domaine de Gournier 2003 came in a case of discounted bin ends from the admirable Wine Society, source of so many good things, including this. Three cheers for merlot, and three more for the brave M. Barnouin, passionate owner of Gournier!


1 Response

  1. burp says:

    I've just inherited several cases of older reds, including the Domaine de Gournier. It's a remarkably well-preserved, tight class of grape with all the trademarks of honest French merlot. Perhaps Sideways the movie was more critical of American merlot which is a murky drop compared to this.    Cheers

    Brian comments:  I envy you!  (And I've drunk some American merlot that was a real morale-booster, too.)  Your good health!