Sideways' side effects

"If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fuckin' merlot."

About halfway through the wine-loving buddy movie "Sideways," the film's main character shows shocking disdain for merlot, America's most popular varietal of red wine. It was a throwaway line that the movie's writers didn't think would generate much reaction from audiences, but now merlot, a drinkable and uncomplicated Everyman's red, is fighting to be cool again. Its sales growth sputtered a bit when the movie came out and it's been the butt of jokes among the wine-savvy.

On the flip side, in the wake of the success of "Sideways," sales of pinot noir jumped 15 percent in the three months ended Jan. 15, according to ACNielsen. Retailers and wineries, pushing pinot with all kinds of "Sideways" tie-ins, say the movie has prompted the biggest buzz in the wine industry since a 1991 "60 Minutes" program touted the health benefits of red wine.

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