In October, Sue and I didn’t get Merlittle but Merlot for a month of #MerlotMe! And for these two Merlot fans, it was Merlot of a good thing!
Puns aside, October was a great month of Merlot here on Wine Predator, and certainly primed the pump for us to really appreciate today, Merlot Day, a day set aside to celebrate all things Merlot. Below read about eleven we tasted last month.
Frequently associated with the Bordeaux region of France and with the film Sideways, Merlot is often part of Bordeaux style blends, but not always. While it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, it is available on its own as the shelf on your local supermarket attests.
Famously maligned and disparaged in the film Sideways, Merlot maintains a solid presence for a number of reasons, not the least may stem from this line from the film: “If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot”). In addition to having a strong presence in Napa Valley, it is doing really well in Washington and British Columbia where it is famous for a smooth and velvety texture and lots of spice. Read about two Merlot from BC here and and more about Painted Rock here. Read about Washington Merlot and salmon here.
With a wealth of Merlot to choose from, we started fairly simply (for us!) with Cannonball Wines Merlot and Hope Family Wines Liberty School, both from 2014 and priced around $15. To make it more interesting, we also tasted and considered the aging potential of $15 Merlot — a 2009 from Smoking Loon plus a 2009 Bordeaux. We paired these wines with simple, savory, fall foods: squash soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, a squash salad. These Merlot loved these foods– and we really enjoyed these Merlot! Nice values for the prices. Read more about it here.
Then we did a fancy French dinner with two fancy Napa Merlot, one from Duckhorn ($55 but you can find it at Trader Joe’s for $45) and one from Peju (around $40).
French food should go with a French wine, right? Unfortunately, not always. And not so much in this case which is surprising because both Sue and I think of Merlot as being a super versatile wine. But there was something about the foods from Jura (funky? acidic?) that just didn’t work with Merlot which taught us an important lesson about regional cuisine: just because it’s French won’t mean it will go with Merlot. If we were going to do it again, we’d explore the cuisine of Bordeaux to pair with Merlot. Read more about the food and wine of Jura.
While we are usually right on with our wine and food pairs, in this case we were all wrong. Not that the wine or the food tasted bad, in fact both were very enjoyable, it’s just that there was no extra pizzazz that comes when the right wine is paired with the right food. When we get a chance we may try a do-over!
Duckhorn 2013 Napa Merlot $55 SRP: closed at first but as it opens, lush with mocha, chocolate covered cherries on the nose and in the palate. Pair with lush foods: duck, brisket, braised meats, as well as roasted vegetables such as squash. This would be a beautiful wine to take to a holiday dinner featuring prime rib. Open it early and let it breathe or decant it. Or buy one now and lay it down for a few years for a future holiday gathering. Available at Trader Joes in California for $45.
Peju 2013 Napa Merlot $40: As you can tell from the image above, the Peju was a favorite for me with a triple cream brie with pear poached in Merlot. (I know how can you go wrong with that?) This is a very enjoyable wine that doesn’t call attention to itself. You know how you have a friend who just makes you comfortable and blends in? This Merlot is like that, friendly, gracious, balanced; full bodied, with dark fruit and mocha. When I asked my friends why they liked this one so much, they basically shook their shoulders and said they just did: it tastes like what they want in a red wine. It is easy to drink and enjoy. What more is there to say sometimes?
Like Flora Springs, Freemark Abbey is a ghost winery which makes it a fun winery to drink wine from in October, the month of Halloween and all things apparitional.
Freemark Abbey Napa Merlot 2013 $35 SRP 14.5% alc: On the nose, cherry, mint, walnut. On the palate, lots of bright cherry, not too tart or too sweet, cinnamon red hot spice candies, velvety texture, lengthy finish with some menthol and leather. This wine is comprised of mostly Merlot but with some others as well: it’s 89.1% Merlot plus 6.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.8% Petit Verdot, 1.2% Cabernet Franc, 1.2% Malbec and was aged in 29.1% new French and American oak for 15.7 months. With over 16k cases produced, this wine is easily available and an affordable luxury. I brought this to a Halloween dinner party that preceded a costume party and it was very nice with a blue cheese gourmet burger cooked on a wood fired grill. The rich dark fruit brought all the flavors on my palate together.
We opened two Merlot on a Friday late afternoon after work thinking that they would be nice happy hour wines. In one case we were right and in the other we found we’d like a more complex, richer meal.
Cliff Creek Cellars – Merlot 2012 – 13.6% alcohol – $22
This wine needs food to be fully enjoyed: it’s not so much of a happy hour wine but better for a meal. It went well with our salame this Friday for happy hour. It has “green” phenolics to it which means smells kind of green in an herbal way which is not really to my taste profile. There is a mocha toffee licorice on the nose.
It is a lean mean green fighting machine that can go toe to toe with meaty meats, and sauces. It does well with fatty foods to tame it, to drive it, like salami.
Later, I paired it with turkey meatballs and turkey Italian sausage in a meat sauce with parmesan cheese, but I think it would be even better with hearty red meat like a steak or a gourmet Angus burger with blue cheese.
Last but not least, Murphy Goode knows how to party.
Murphy Goode – California Merlot – 2013 – 13.5% alcohol $15
This turned out to be a cocktail wine which is exactly what you want for a Happy Hour wine. At $15 it is not too much to spend on a bottle to take to a fun gathering. It has some of the minty, sagey notes that are often associated with Merlot. It has a nice pretty color. It is a drinkable wine, but needs to be served at cellar temperature. If this wine is too warm, it is not as pleasant. There is fruit in this wine that comes through. This is not a high end wine that should be served with a fancy dinner, but it is a wine that can be easily consumed on a Friday after work with friends or paired with whatever red meat you’re going to throw on the grill for dinner.
So how will you celebrate #MerlotDay? Open a bottle and share with the hashtag #MerlotDay on your favorite social media platforms!
Stay tuned for a post on Tempranillo Day which takes place Thursday Nov. 10!
And for Zinfandel Weds. Nov 16 from 6:30-8:30pm, we’re excited to go to Cantara Cellars for a zinfandel tasting curated by Cantara winemaker Mike Brown. And no, it’s not going to just be wine from Cantara (as yummy as that is!) Nope, Mike has procured a number of wines from different winemakers for us to taste! According to the eventbrite invite:
To celebrate National Zinfandel Day, we will be tasting a variety of library and current release Zinfandel wines and blends. Our Winemaker will guide you through multi-year vertical tasting of single vineyard Zinfandels, as well as vertical barrel samples. This event is limited to Cantara Wine Club members and their guests. The $15 event fee includes wine tasting and light appetizers. Cantara Cellars is located at 126 N. Wood Rd. Camarillo CA. 93010 805-484-9600
Also coming up:
We visited the South Mountain Winery of Clos Des Amis for this month’s #WinePW’s hosted by Culinary Cam on “Wine Pairings with Local Vintners and Seasonal Foods” which will be published on Sat. Nov. 12.
And we are planning on joining the French Winophiles for Beaujolais Sat Nov. 19.
Plus posts related to the election — the Federalists’ “Dueling Pistols” anyone? And a wine for Veteran’s Day too.
Yes we’re busy busy busy… and I have a lot of writing to do!
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