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The Weekly Dish

Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page F05

AND THE WINNER IS . . . WINE: One of this year's Academy Award-nominated films for best picture continues to star in conversations between wine servers and their patrons.

"Everybody asks me if I've seen " 'Sideways,' " says Kathy Morgan, the sommelier at the Italian-themed Ristorante Tosca in downtown Washington (1112 F St. NW; 202-367-1990). Jeremiah Cohen, the co-owner of the Tabard Inn (1739 N St. NW; 202-331-8528) in Dupont Circle, says the film is responsible for moving "record amounts of pinot noir" at his restaurant. He's selling a case a day of the 2003 Evesham Wood pinot noir, at $8.50 a glass.

Ripe with scenes of people pouring, tasting and debating the merits of various wines, "Sideways" follows the misadventures of two buddies, Jack and Miles, on a road trip to the vineyards of California's central coast. Jack, an oversexed actor, is happy to drink whatever comes out of a given bottle; Miles is a wine geek who detests merlot and worships pinot noir.

That's music to the ears of John Wabeck, the chef at Firefly (1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-861-1310) in Dupont Circle, who says "we've always been a pinot-friendly house," known for offering wines from small but esteemed producers, including the Oregon-based Scott Paul. Since the debut of "Sideways" -- which Wabeck has seen twice -- "pinot just flies out of here," he says. Indeed, more than half his red wine sales this season are of pinot noir.

Buck's Fishing & Camping (5031 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-364-0777) has been another beneficiary of the movie, which until recently played at the nearby Avalon Theatre. "Everyone coming from the show wanted to talk about wine," reports co-owner James Alefantis. "Sideways," he says, "has had the same kind of effect as 'Kitchen Confidential,' " the 2001 restaurant industry tell-all written by New York chef Anthony Bourdain. "People are obsessed with it." (And yes, he's tired of hearing all the jokes pitting pinot noir against merlot.)

Because Italy is not known for its pinot noir, Morgan stocks only one such varietal on the list at Tosca. Still, "Sideways" has been good for business: The sommelier says diners who have seen the movie are more comfortable engaging her in wine discussions, a point echoed by other restaurateurs. Alefantis calls the movie instructional. "People who don't usually think about wine are starting to do so." "Sideways," he adds, "has expanded the way they think about taste."

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