- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

Local wine and liquor store owners are toasting the Oscar-nominated movie “Sideways” for sparking increased interest in red wine, particularly pinot noir.

The movie, which is up for Best Picture, follows two former college friends as they tour California’s wine country. In the film, the lead character (played by Paul Giamatti) bashes merlot, a dark red wine, and vows to drink only pinot noir, a lighter red.

Store owners said interest in pinot noir has been overflowing since the film’s release in the fall.

“People are coming straight across the street and asking for the pinot noir section,” said Suzanne McGraph, president of the Curious Grape, which is across the street from Loew’s Shirlington Cinemas in Arlington where “Sideways” is playing.

The store has had a 15- to 20-percent sales increase for cases of pinot noir since the movie came out, she said. By the end of the day on Saturdays and Sundays, the store’s pinot noir selection is half empty, she said.

More customers at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill also have been asking about pinot noir since the film came out, although actual sales for the wine have remained relatively the same, wine consultant Jeff Keller said.

“We’ve seen a spike in the number of requests for pinot noir, but I think some people don’t like to admit that’s why they’re buying it,” Mr. Keller said.

Neither store reported a decrease in sales of merlot, and both said pinot noir’s popularity had been rising even before “Sideways” came out.

Merlot, often considered a “safe” wine because of its soft taste, rose to popularity in the late 1980s due to its affordable price, according to Mr. Keller. He described merlot as a “heavier grape with a lot darker fruit flavors.”

In recent years, pinot noir, a grape that is “lighter in texture and weight” and elicits “brighter fruit flavors” than a merlot, has grown more popular, he said.

Ms. McGraph said more affordable brands of pinot noir are being produced, so more people are willing to try it.

M.J. Cavanagh, manager of Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel, said “Sideways” has attracted many people who have never tried a red wine.

“They go to see the movie because of the buzz about it and then they come in and say ‘I’d like to see what the hoopla is all about,’” Mr. Cavanagh said.

Consumption of red wine ” recognized in recent years for its health benefits because of its level of antioxidants ” surpassed that of white wine in the mid-1990s, according to Gordon Murchie, executive director of the Virginia Wineries Association.

The average price for a decent bottle of pinot noir is around $25, with prices ranging to as much as $200, Mr. Cavanagh said. He said most merlots begin around $15 a bottle.

Despite the movie’s effect on wine stores, restaurants aren’t seeing the same trend.

Pierre Chacar, manager of Les Halles on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest, said he hasn’t seen a substantial increase in pinot noir or a decrease in merlot.

He said while the restaurant does have customers “who have seen the movie and they comment that they loved the movie,” pinot noir and merlot are “always strong sellers.”

“People drink a lot of wine anyway, so I don’t think it’s going to affect it one way or another,” said Nick Selimos, manager of the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill, which also has not seen any changes in wine drinking behavior. “I don’t think people’s habits are affected by a movie.”

Richard Ackman, maitre d’ at the Kings Contrivance in Columbia, Md., said he plans to see “Sideways” Monday night because he has heard many of the restaurant’s customers comment about it.

“I’ve heard a lot customers talk about it,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s made any impact on actual sales. Then again, I have a pretty wide, savvy group that comes in here.”

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