This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, May 12, 2006.

Remember Sideways?

Alexander Payne's wacky romantic comedy about wine is yesterday's news now - you can own the DVD for only about 10 bucks - but the publicity lift that it gave Pinot Noir just keeps on keeping on.

Last month, based on its annual Restaurant Wine Poll, Wine & Spirits magazine declared that the great grape variety of Burgundy has "officially entered the big leagues," jumping from 10 to 14 percent of wine-list favorites at 300 top U.S. eateries.

For the last five years, said Wine Business Insider, commenting on the Wine & Spirits report, "Pinot Noir has been tracking upward, hand-sold by sommeliers. This year, the 40 percent increase in Pinot Noir's share is largely attributable to the continuing influence of the 2004 movie Sideways."

As the national palate becomes more sophisticated, the magazine's Editor Joshua Greene opined, "... most end up at Pinot Noir. The current popularity of the variety shows a significant maturation in Americans' taste in wine."

You think? Call me a cynic, but I'd say the Sideways-generated Pinot boom has more to do with the impact of movies on popular culture than any kind of seismic shift in the national maturity level; if the effect was borne on sophistication, then fine Burgundies wouldn't still have to be hand-sold.

Other highlights from the report, which is available on the Wine & Spirits Website only to paying subscribers:

 Merlot, roundly dissed in Sideways, declined to 6.5 percent of the most popular restaurant varieties, its lowest rank since 1991.

 The Chardonnay boom appears over, too, as it dropped to 16.2 percent, down from 24.8 percent in 2001.

 These 10 restaurant wine brands ranked most popular in the poll, a market-driven listing that varies markedly from retail-shop favorites:

  1. Cakebread Cellars
  2. Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards
  3. Kendall-Jackson Vineyards
  4. Silver Oak Wine Cellars
  5. Jordan Vineyard & Winery
  6. Duckhorn Vineyards
  7. Stag's Leap
  8. Caymus
  9. Santa Margherita
  10. Rombauer Vineyards

Speaking of Pinot, today's featured wine is a decent item from Oregon that gives a sample of the grape's potential at a midrange price.

Henry Estate Henry Estate 2003 "Umpqua Cuvee" Oregon Pinot Noir ($15)

This is a clear ruby-color wine, on the light side as is typical of all but the most extracted Pinot. Also typical of Pinot are the rather delicate aromas; red cherries and spice are pleasant but subtle, far from fruit-forward. It's a bit more assertive on the flavor side, crisp and bright, tart cherries and zippy acidity. (March 20, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: It would work fine with steaks or chicken from the grill, but Pinot's also a masterful match with mushrooms, and it went beautifully with a quick, meatless batch of white mushrooms and porcini over conchiglie (baby shells) pasta.

VALUE: It's actually a fair value at the mid-teens price I paid at the decidedly non-discount Whole Foods Wine Shop, but suggests a street price closer to $10. (The winery Website shows it at $39 plus $9 shipping, which seems almost certain to be a mistake. It would certainly be a mistake to buy it at that price.)

WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink and showing very well. Pinot is unpredictable in the cellar, and this lighter style isn't really designed for aging, but there's no hurry to drink it up.

The Henry Estate Website is loaded with information about the winery and its wines, including online sales, a wine club and international distributor information. Comparison-shop with care before you buy, though, as the winery's online prices appear shockingly high.

Compare prices and find online vendors for Henry Estate Umpqua Pinot Noir on

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