We say #MerlotMe with savory squash soup, salad, grilled cheese sammies for #WinePW


This October for Wine Pairing Weekend we say #MerlotMe!

To help us out, a number of wineries in Washington, Oregon and California, including Napa Valley, have sent select wine bloggers bottles of Merlot so we can #MerlotMe all month and pair them with food.

Clearly this was a challenge for Que Syrah Sue and I were happy to undertake!


But with a deadline of today, Sat. Oct. 8, and no idea what wine was coming or when, we shook our heads and held our breath. When one of the first bottles to arrive was a Duckhorn Merlot from Napa, we let out a delighted sigh.

And the bottles keep coming! Counting the one that arrived today, we’re up to eight!  Yippee! #MerlotMe!

But when we could schedule time to taste Merlot and pair the wines with food, we still had no idea what all was coming. We hemmed and hawed with different ideas. Finally, because it was a weeknight and we didn’t have time to do anything fancy, for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend, we settled on tasting two of the wines at the $15 price point and pairing them with easy fall midweek fare– family favorites.

Because Merlot, even with all of the Sideways disparagement and loss of sales, is a solid family favorite that fares well with food.

And, because in moving my cellar around to fix the sump pump motor, I found two 2009 bottles of Merlot, we decided it that we’d taste those too and compare merlot of the same price point 2014 versus 2009. How long do they last?


2014 VS 2015: how well does a $15 bottle of Merlot last?

  • 2014 Liberty School – Central Coast Merlot – Hope Family Wines – 13.5% alc – SRP $16
  • 2014 Cannonball – Merlot – 2014 – 13.8% alc – $14.99
  • 2009 Smoking Loon – Merlot  – 13.9% alc– under $15
  • 2009 Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux  – 14.5% alc –around $15

Note: all wines received as samples for my review consideration.

For our easy warm fall evening dinner to pair with Merlot, we prepared:

  • fresh roasted Pumpkin Soup with homemade rosemary cornbread and bacon crumbles
  • Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (Brie, Seasoned Brie, Smoked Gouda with Bacon, rosemary Asiago)  all on Rosemary Sourdough bread,
  • warm roasted squash with bacon salad
  • simple green salad with basil and garlic vinaigrette (with bacon!)
  • homemade pumpkin caramel ice cream (no bacon but we should have saved some for it!)

grill roasted home-grown by Sue pumpkin soup  with BACON garnish

Here’s the recipe for Warm Kabocha Squash Salad
1 Kobocha squash (about 1 3/4 lbs)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1T fresh thyme
3/4 t salt
1/2t pepper
3T sherry vinegar
8 oz spinach or dandelion greens
8 oz smoked bacon cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c shallots thinly sliced
3 oz pecorino Romano cheese
Candied pepitas (recipe to follow)

Cut squash in half vertically and scoop out seeds. Cut halves into 1/2 inch thick wedges. Trim and discard peel from each wedge. Mix squash with 2 T olive oil and thyme until coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange pieces in a single layer. Bake at 475 until squash is slightly browned and tender when pierced. 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk together vinegar, remaining 2 T oil and 1/4 t salt. Place greens and squash in a large bowl.

In frying pan over med heat, stir bacon until browned and crisp, about 5 min. Transfer to paper towel to drain. Discard all but 2 T fat from pan. Add shallots to pan and stir constantly over med heat.until limp.about 4 min. Remove from heat and carefully stir in olive oil mixture. Pour mixture over greens and squash, mix gently to coat. Divide salad among six plates. Using vegetable peeler, shave pecorino cheese over top of each, sprinkle salads with bacon and pepitas

Candied pepitas
In an 8 to 10 inch frying pan over med heat, melt 2 teaspoons butter. Stir in 1/2 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds. 1/4 t ground cumin and 1/8 t each cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, ans salt. Stir constantly until pumpkin seeds are browned about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 Tablespoon honey and continue to stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and spread in a single layer on a plate. Let cool until no longer sticky 12 to 15 minutes. Use immediately or store in airtight container up to 3 days.

This recipe was printed in Sunset Magazine September 2004

Because it was SUCH A HOT NIGHT, we didn’t want to turn on the stove or the oven, so everything that we could Marshall grilled or roasted on the BBQ– including the butternut squash, the pumpkin, the grilled cheese sandwiches–we even baked the cornbread in the BBQ!

We found that the fall elements of our meal went beautifully with the Merlot wine no matter the vintage. Our experiment brought us to the opinion that Merlot wines at this price point are meant to be enjoyed within the first two years of release. They just do not have the complexity to stand the test of time.

However, all four wines were delicious with the menu and did well with the food.


Liberty School 2014- Merlot – Hope Family Wines – 13.5% alcohol – $16

We have appreciated the price for the quality of the Hope Family Wines in the past and were excited to experience this Central Coast wine composed of 80% from loamy soils in Paso Robles and 20% from cooler sites in Santa Ynez valley.

First impression is that this is a nice wine. It is even and easy to drink, it does not need, but can easily tame food.  But as we tasted more and paired it with food, we stood up  and saluted this nice wine. It went beautifully with this meal. However, we suspect this wine does not have enough structure to hold up to the cellar, but it is a nice wine to be enjoyed within the next two years, possibly 3 to 5 years.

This is just a really nice wine full of blue and black fruit on the nose, with some cherry and herbal notes of sage and lavender, and on the palate, more of the same fruit. It compliments a meal nicely, it can handle strong flavors of garlic, fresh tomatoes and basil. It sucks up these flavors nicely and handles them well.

There is a lively presence of fruit and oak; the winemaker used neutral French and American oak and then put 50% of the wine into new French barrels for two months and inoculated for maloactic fermentation. The oak in the wine makes this wine accessible now. It is also tamed by the raw garlic in the salad and the umami of the tomato. this wine is fruit forward.

As we continued to taste, we marveled at the red fruit flavors; Cherry, red plums, and cranberry. This also has bright fruit on the nose as it opens up more, with Cranberry and tart cherry.

These wines should be enjoyed at a reasonable (cool or cellar not warm house temperature). When we prepared this meal, we were having a heat wave and had to refrigerate the wines before opening and enjoying them.

Purchase and enjoy right away. It faded substantially the second day.



Cannonball – Merlot – 2014 – 13.8% alcohol – $15

Share a Splash – Dive In! We loved Angels and Cowboys so much that we had great hopes for this wine.

Another nice, even, easy to drink wine. The Cannonball is $1 less than the Liberty School, however these are both nice wines The label and the playful marketing of this wine are very fun, and the wine is good. This wine also stood up to this meal nicely.

This wine exhibits tart red fruits and is a bit more fruit forward than the Liberty School. Cannonball is fruit, flavor, and fun with a bit of oak stave finish on this wine. This is not an oak barrel finish, it is an oak stave finish. Not quite as bold as an oak barrel would be and not as subtle as a used oak barrel would be. This wine is meant to be drank before 2020. It is not structured enough to lay down well.

It went well with our fall fare. Pumpkin and pumpkin spices, winter squash, bacon, and cheeses. These flavor profiles go great with these foods. Root vegetables and earthy cheeses pastas, and the grill will all go beautifully with this wine. More red fruit on the nose which is different from the fruit on the palette which is more blueberry. The Cannonball has a toasted oak on the nose; it’s also rounder fruit on the nose. Not so tart.

Grapes in this wine come from Sonoma County: from their “Adam and Eve” estate vineyard in the Northern Russian River Valley plus other vineyards in Sonoma County. It’s composed of 91% Merlot with the remainder petite sirah and syrah.

With an alcohol of 13.8, and an RS of .2, this works well as a cocktail or midweek dinner wine as well as a weekend wine.

Both wines went very well with the food. Side by side there were differences, but they both went well, paired well with our meal.

Smoking Loon – Merlot – 2009 – 13.9% alcohol

Would you hang on to this wine? If you open up a bottle of this wine, you’d  think you’d need to drink this wine that night.

There is a bit of an oaky earthy quality to this wine even after all these years. There is cigar box on the nose that’s still present after all of these years that is worth saying, “Hello my name is Smoking Loon.” There is  cherry on the palette but overall the wine is thin and disappears quickly. With a rich meal it will not dissipate immediately. Sue thought we would totally dismiss this wine however upon reflection it is not so easily dismissed.

This wine has been cellared pretty well. If you do not have the ability to cellar this wine corectly, it will not last. This wine is still very drinkable, It would have been better three years ago, however we are pleasantly surprised. It hasn’t gone past, it does not have any funky flavor, and it is very drinkable. It pared beautifully with these fall flavors,

It made us feel like we should sample the 2015 to make a better analysis and comparison.

Also, this wine went fine with dessert because it was mild enough to not fight the sweetness of the dessert– which for ice cream was not that sweet because we made it ourselves!

Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux – 2009 – 14.5% alcohol 

Sue smelled oak on the nose immediately and I got violets and mint “forest floor” on this one. If you swirl the wine in your glass and smell and then swirl the wine in your glass again you get a beautiful bouquet on the nose. with blueberries and cherries. The color is not all that attractive, it is kind of coral and muddy, kind of red. Not the best color for the wine, but considering it is a 2009, it’s doing well.  There is a bit of earthy funk on the nose, some vanilla.

On the palette you get the fruit but there is nothing lingering. There is not a great finish on this wine. At first we found this wine somewhat flabby. It did not go past, there was not any horrible flavors to this wine, however after time it did not have enough structure to stand the test of time. It is not a bad wine, but needs to be consumed within the first five years of release.

There is a lot of funk, truffle, mushroom, barnyard in this wine. It is alright to drink, it is not off in flavor, but it is really thin in substance. This wine may have been a bit harsh in 2010 or 2011. It has held up in flavor as far as nothing being odd about it, it is just very thin and without structure. If you purchased this wine in 2010 or 2011, drink it now! it is not going to get any better, it is not bad, it could be much worse.

Not all Bordeaux are made better by laying down. It all depends on the fruit, the winemaker, and the treatment on the grape. It also depends on your very own interest. We do not promote laying this wine down. Most Bordeaux are meant to be layed down to mellow out the tannins and let the flavors marry, but this wine barely held up to the test of time. The flavors did not go off or parish, but they fell away to a wine that is ok but not exceptional. This wine is again thin for most consumers. It held up to the food fine.

With the dessert, I liked the flavor of the caramel with the wine, but it needed to be chilled a bit more to reflect the cool temp of the dessert to truly be appreciated.

Would I seek out to find this wine that has been cellared? NO! But would I drink a bottle of this that someone has overlooked in their wine cellar? Of course, it is not a bad wine, it is not a very special wine, but it is a wine deserving of drinking and enjoying with  a fall harvest fare.

However, I was impressed with its staying power. I pumped and refrigerated it and had a glass on two more nights and it was still definitely worth drinking.

It’s just that the Cannonball and the Liberty Canyon were so good!

Stay tuned for more #MerlotMe! Last night we prepared a Finally Friday Happy Hour with the Murphy Goode and the Cliff Creek (which I also paired with spaghetti and turkey meatballs and roasted eggplant smothered in bruschetta ), we are talking about doing a Napa Merlot dinner with the Freemark Abbey (which is a ghost winery!), Duckhorn, and Peju, and then one of my favorite pairings is seared ahi tuna with Washington Merlot.

Next month on the Second Saturday: DRINK LOCAL! And in December, we are exploring Cabernet Franc.

For over a dozen excellent pairing ideas for Merlot, from simple weeknight fare like my post to more elaborate menus, go no further than the blogs listed below:



16 thoughts on “We say #MerlotMe with savory squash soup, salad, grilled cheese sammies for #WinePW

    • It was really fun to taste these older Merlot. Often people will hold onto wine that doesn’t need to be –like Champagne. I had tasted that Smoking Loon back in 2010 or so and it was not that remarkable. But years later, there’s an interesting story and the wine held up surprisingly well!


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    • Oh no those 2009 Merlot weren’t part of the 2016 #MerlotMe sample program — they were samples that I found in my cellar when I was doing some organizing and thought they’d be interesting to see how or if they’d developed and compare them with similar wines/price points to see whether it was worth holding on to them! PS I think 2009 was a special time to get good merlot because of the Sideways backlash.)


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