Poor, maligned merlot, the chardonnay of the ’00s. I wonder if Alexander Payne had any idea what he was unleashing when Paul Giamatti first spat, “If anyone orders merlot I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking merlot!”  The Sideways Effect came swiftly: within months of the release of the 2004 film demand for pinot noir–the varietal beloved by Giamatti’s nebbishy wine dork Miles–were through the roof and merlot sales were in a slump. Now, though, the New York Times argues that this may not have been such a bad thing, if depressed demand for the soft, plummy reds means the ones that make it (like some Washington State wines mentioned in the piece) tend to be pretty good.