If it’s October, then it’s time to celebrate Merlot. For the past five years the Merlot Movement has gained momentum with Merlot tastings and social media sharing during October using the hashtag #MerlotMe across social media platforms. The effort is supported by a group of California and Washington state wineries who have declared October International Merlot Month. You will find details about the month-long celebration on the MerlotMe website.
We are fortunate to have been included in the annual #MerlotMe celebration this year and have been sent a generous collection of Merlot as tasting samples. Duckhorn Vineyards was especially generous and sent two bottles of each of the three Merlots they provided. Thank you for providing the opportunity to cellar the second bottles of Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot and Three Palms Merlot. I look forward to tasting these wines again in a few years and to the changes that have taken place in the bottle. The delightful Decoy Sonoma County Merlot will be coming to a weeknight dinner soon. Wine can be fun on so many levels – delicious now, delicious later!
We cooked up a storm during the month of October with food pairings for these Merlots. Below are the pairings we created for each along with tasting notes for each wine. Merlot demonstrated its great versatility as a food partner in all of these pairings.
2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot — dark ruby in the glass with rich red and dark berry aromas with a hint of toast. Flavors begin with red fruit and gain complexity with dark fruit in the background along with cedar notes. Drying tannins are well integrated with the flavors in this medium-bodied wine. Bright acidity bordering on tartness keeps this flavorful Merlot rather light on its feet. 14.5% abv. SRP $54
2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Merlot — dark ruby in the glass with dense red and dark fruit aromas. Warm red fruit flavors combine with dark fruit flavors of plums and blackberries along with hints of dusty earth and cedar. The flavors are rich and complex without being over ripe. Tannins are drying and smooth in this medium-bodied Merlot that exhibits very good acidity, great complexity and a very long finish. 14.5% abv. SRP $98
Both Duckhorn Merlots paired nicely with grilled steak and roasted vegetables. Both wines have ample flavor and structure for grilled red meat. This food pairing proved that the meal you prepare for these gorgeous Merlots doesn’t need to be complicated. I chose to grill grass-fed New York strip steak. Brussels sprouts roasted with pancetta, and butternut squash roasted with cinnamon and thyme are easy and so delicious. Choose quality ingredients and off you go.
2015 Decoy Sonoma Coast Merlot — medium ruby in the glass with predominantly red fruit aromas and flavors of ripe raspberry and cherry. Tannins are drying and well integrated with the flavors. Hints of cedar add complexity and linger with the fruit and tannins on the finish. This drink-now Merlot from Duckhorn Vineyards is a real charmer. 13.9% abv. $25.
We love pizza and tend to keep the toppings simple. The version I prepared with the Decoy Sonoma Coast Merlot included mozzarella, turkey Italian sausage and fresh tomatoes. A shake of red-pepper flakes added a pop of heat. I sautéed the sausage before baking the pizza and made the dough from scratch. Once again, easy and delicious. If you can find the time to wait for the dough to rise between punch-downs, then you are all set.
J Lohr Los Osos Merlot — ruby in the glass with generous red fruit aromas backed with hints of vanilla and coconut, which dissipate with time in the glass. Red cherry flavors with notes of earth are complex and combine with smooth tannins and nice acidity in a lighter medium body. This Merlot is light on its feet, flavorful and a great food wine. And on day two…yum. 13.5% abv. $15
J Lohr Los Osos Merlot paired perfectly with meatballs prepared from the rest of the turkey Italian sausage I used to prepare the above pizza, I sautéed them with onions and then cooked the combination with tomatoes. Rather than put this flavorful preparation over pasta, I roasted spaghetti squash. The key to this preparation is to (carefully) slice the spaghetti squash into rounds before roasting. This preserves the long squash spaghetti, as they grow around the circumference of the squash not from end-to-end. Another important tip: salt the squash and allow to rest 10 minutes before roasting. This removes excess moisture from the squash and results in firmer, less watery spaghetti. I learned these tips for preparing spaghetti squash last year and now often use it as a substitute for pasta – that way I don’t feel so guilty eating pizza!
2014 Peju Napa Valley Merlot — medium ruby in the glass with a hint of garnet. Very aromatic with blackberry, raspberry and dusty earth. Dark fruit flavors combine with sweet cherries, cedar spice, dusty earth and slate minerality. Tannins are very drying, more tannins that I expect in Merlot, but well integrated with the flavors. Both continue for a long finish in this medium-bodied Merlot. 14.5% abv. $38
We repeated the theme of keeping our pairing simple for this delightful Peju Napa Valley Merlot. We grilled lamb chops, always a treat, and paired them with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and mushrooms. Before roasting organic carrots, they received a massage of olive oil and a seasoning of salt and harissa. Super interesting flavors and delicious with this complex Merlot.
2015 Chelsea Goldschmidt Dry Creek Merlot — medium ruby in the glass with blackberry and caramel aromas. Raspberry and blackberry flavors combine with sweet, wood spice flavors that linger on the palate. Tannins are significant and drying, but well integrated with the flavors. This delightful Merlot is so easy to sip. 14.5% abv.
This meal looks a lot fancier than it really is. Steamed spinach is simple. Hasselback potatoes are pretty easy too. The most difficult part is having the patience to thinly slice the potatoes before drizzling with olive oil, seasoning them with salt & pepper and thyme and roasting them. The smothered pork chop is my variation of a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook around my french table. Dorie’s recipe, chicken breasts diable, is delicious, but last time I prepared it I made the following note in the margin of the cookbook: Easy & good. Try with pork. Done and renamed smothered pork chop. Delicious. The sauce is prepared with butter, shallots, white wine, cream, mustard and a bit of Worcestershire sauce, and poured over a pork chop that was browned and finished in the oven. I’m glad I chose my grandmother’s China for this plating. The elegance of the Chelsea Goldschmidt Dry Creek Merlot and the meal matched perfectly with the China.
2014 Januik Columbia Valley Merlot — medium ruby-garnet in the glass with bright red fruit aromas, hints of spice, earth and smoke. Raspberry flavors, earth dusty minerals and spicy notes combine for a very complex flavor. Significant tannins are drying and well integrated with the flavors which are medium + in length in this medium-bodied wine. 14.4% abv. $25
This beautiful Merlot gained complexity on day two, which suggest to me it might be a good idea to decant this wine. It was a brilliant partner to our meal of hachis Parmentier.
2015 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Merlot — dark ruby in the glass with warmer red and dark fruit aromas along with dried alfalfa and cedar. Red fruit flavors, raspberries and cherries, predominate and are a bit tart. Dusty minerality lingers in the background with juicy acidity and significant drying tannins that linger on the finish. 14.4% abv. $23
A special meal was called for to accompany these beautiful Merlots crafted by winemaker, Mike Januik. While hachis Parmentier looks like a humble dish, shepherd’s pie, this version of the dish takes hours to cook. In the end, though, your home filled with delectable cooking aromas and you will have a delicious meal to enjoy. And there will be leftovers! Once again, this recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s around my french table cookbook. As you cam tell, it is one of my favorite cookbooks. I highly recommend it.
There you have it. A month of Merlot food pairings that were a delight to prepare and enjoy. Thank you, once again to every winery that participated in the #MerlotMe celebration by providing wine as tasting samples.