“I’ve got this one squash I’d like to use for our pasta,” says Sue on the drive from my house on the coast to hers in Ojai, “and I need help getting it cut out of the fence.”
It actually took three of us because I was busy taking photos, but Sue and Barry wrestled that squash out of the fence and Sue got it roasting because squash and merlot are a match made in heaven, and October is #MerlotMe time!
It was a Friday after work, after a long hard day, after a long hard week, and as she drove to my house and then as we drove up the hill, we figured out what to do for our wine pairing challenge: a super simple fall harvest meal with our Sonoma County Merlot.
With Sue’s garden abundant, and needing to be tended, we decided to start with a chard, apple, pomegranate salad with white balsamic vinegarette using chard and pomegranates from Sue’s yard and apples from Placer County that I was given at the International Food Bloggers Conference.
As Sue has a front and back yard full of squash ready for harvest — and with one squash in particular needing a crew to release it from the fence — and knowing that squash and merlot pair well — we knew that was a key ingredient and while it may seem like a chore, it is really quite easy to work with.
But if you don’t have squash growing in your garden or laying around in your kitchen, you can pick it up already cubed and ready for roasting at most stores these days.
On our way up the hill, we stopped at a local butcher shop and picked up a few fresh ground house made Italian sausage — two spicy and two mild.
Fall Squash Pasta with Italian Sausage
- Slice squash into large chunks.
- Roast at 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes until slightly soft to the touch.
- Let the squash cool on the baking pan for for at least 15 minutes.
- Peel and cube.
- Boil water for pasta and follow cooking instructions.
- We chose a flavorful and colorful Casa Milo Arcobaleno Pasta.
- While water boils, take casing off sausage.
- Saute until golden brown.
PREPARE PASTA SAUCE: Combine in order
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- 3 T butter cubed
- cooked squash
- salt and pepper to taste
Pour over cooked pasta and sausage
Add 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and toss.
Garnish with shaved parmesan and chopped basil.
FALL CHARD SALAD
PREPARE Vinaigrette: combine
- 1/4 cup white balsamic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp grainy deli mustard
- salt and pepper to taste.
Chop a handful of Rainbow chard
Marinate in the vinaigrette.
At serving time, add chopped apple, pomegranate seeds, and roasted pistachio nuts. Toss and serve.
We had about a dozen bottles of Merlot collected, so the next challenge was to decide on which wines to do when.
Because Beaver Creek is biodynamic and organic, qualities that John in particular appreciates, I wanted him to be around on the night that we tasted it so since we were at his and Sue’s house, the next question was to decide what other wines to open. We thought it would be fun to focus on Sonoma County wines for this edition of MerlotMe.
I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention anything about the current fires raging in Napa and Sonoma. In fact, I couldn’t even finish up this blog post until I had written about the fires.
The region is devastated and the best way you can help is to send money (info here).
One way to send money is to buy their wine to help them fund their renewal. So many people work int he wine industry and their jobs are dependent upon the purchase of their wine.
And what better place to start than with Merlot, a truly wonderful wine to pair with fall.
This combo of foods and flavors was super satisfying with the Merlot and friends and family fun. While Sue was putting the meal together, John and his brother Pat played drums with Pat’s daughter. So nice to gather outside on a warm fall evening!
We found richness in the flavors of the pasta and the wine. The meal had a yin and yang kind of thing going on with the tartness and pungent flavors of the salad with the mellow comforting flavors of the pasta. I really enjoyed the combination of zesty pomegranate and rich pistachios.
Meals with simple ingredients and that are simple to make are essential for a simplistic Friday meal. And the right wine of course!
With our cheese plate, you could differentiate between the wines and which wine we preferred with each cheese. But when the pasta came out, each of the wines went beautifully with the wine. All of Them!
2016 – Beaver Creek Vineyards – 100% Organic – Biodynamic – Merlot – Rose Ranch – Sonoma Valley – 14.5% alcohol SRP $24
Following the rule of wine/food/wine, we tasted the wine and took notes, tried it with the cheese and then food.
Our salad made the wine super fruity and cotton candy sweet, but unfortunately it made the salad a bit bitter. But it was amazing with the pasta!
Color – Pretty, dense, most probably not filtered, ruby red
Nose – Bit of earthy funk on the nose that dissipates as the wine is open for a bit, but you still get the loamy soil quality in the nose even after it has opened up. Makes you think of earth. Skin of the plum and sour cherry, there is an underlying characteristic of mint and sage.
Palate – Bright and vibrant with licorice on the finish. Gives you a sense of whole cluster, the sense of the seeds and the stems. Tasted organic to John, and he appreciated that it was “sort of fresh like” and bright. This is a nice wine with a great story and great ethics that I am excited to share here soon! I visited the winery and met the winemaker during my September visit to Lake County.
Pleasing, super enjoyable in the moment Merlot. Enjoy it now! This is a crazy good deal for such a high quality, biodynamic wine. I think it is so affordable because it is from the lesser known Lake County.
PS. Drinking Beaver Creek reminded me of listening to the Grateful Dead!
Note: I bought this wine with an industry discount with plans to taste it as part of MerlotMe.
2015 – Decoy – Sonoma County – Merlot – 13.9% alcohol SRP $30
Sue found the salad to go nicely with the Decoy, but I felt that when there was more chard than pomegranate, pistachio, and apple it did not go as well.
The Decoy was also fabulous with the pasta.
Color – Deep rich, purple
Nose – Dark red stone fruits as well as beet root. John said this wine smelled like a carnival– “cotton candy, caramel apples, and caramel corn.” We got caramelized sugar flavors, baking spices and vanilla, and so could see where John was coming from.
Palate – Pleasing seductive and sensual – same bit of beet root – even and velvety, this wine rolls nicely across the tongue. Easy to drink and super great with the evening meal.
Like an easy listening jazz station. Not elevator, but easy listening.
Easiest to drink right off the bat, most probably the most even of the three and certainly the most fruity of the three.
Easy to drink assessable, good choice for a mixed crowd or when you are not sure what people will like. It is very middle of the road. A good choice for any harvest meal.
Chili flakes in the pasta plays nicely with the mellow fruit and brings a spicy quality.
2015 – Chelsea – Goldschmidt Vineyard – Merlot – Dry Creek Valley – 14.5% alcohol SRP $20
Our least favorite labels of all of these wines. There is a cameo feeling, or a silhouette from Disneyland, but — sorry!– with spilled wine or worse, a bloody mess behind it. We did not care for this label and it would deter us from bringing this wine to someone’s house. Just being honest.
BUT! The salad went super nicely with the Chelsea. All of the complexities of the salad went beautifully with this wine — the best.
The pasta also paired perfectly with this wine. The sweetness of the squash married the fruitiness of the wine. The savory characteristics of the sausage mellows the tannins of the meal.
Color – The most unusual color for a merlot. Bright red orange with coral around the ring. More vibrant than dense.
Nose – Reminds me of a campfire at the beach, roasting marshmallows, with a bit of fruit — because we put blueberries between our marshmallows when we roast them! There is oak on the nose, vanilla and raspberry prevalent, with an interesting smoky quality that we felt came from the oak presence in the wine. It kind of reminded Sue of Patchouli.
Palate – After opening we found that this was the more complex of the three wines we sampled tonight. The oak is prevalent, but mellows, the herbal notes come forth, mint, eucalyptus, The black cherry and blackberry fruit is lovely and bright with tannins of black walnut.
Most complex and interesting of the three after opening up. At the end of the evening, this is the wine that Sue found it to be more entertaining kept going back to.
“Nick Goldschmidt loves to make wine from Dry Creek. In an area known for great Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot from Dry Creek can equally impress. Nick Goldschmidt sourced the fruit for this delicious wine from vineyards located near his residence in the down valley area. The valley’s river soils provide just enough water retention to ward off dehydration but not enough to permit the vigorous Merlot variety to over-produce. Cane-pruning further ensures desired sugar and tannin levels.” Chelsea is the name of one of their daughters.
Could we tell anything about Sonoma terroir from our comparisons? We became more engaged with the food, and we really had no idea where the vineyards might have been to each other and we just didn’t have time to figure it out and bring that info to the table.
Stay tuned for more #MERLOTME this October as we lead up to Merlot Day Tues. Nov. 7, 2017!
We plan to pair duck with the pair of Duckhorn wines, then do a Taco Tuesday with the less expensive wines. On another occasion, we plan to focus on Napa Merlot, and then when the tuna boat comes in, we’ll taste the two from Washington that came in yesterday.
In the meantime…Join Us!
Below you’ll find links to our blogs where you’ll find our posts full of excellent pairing ideas for Merlot. All our blog posts will go live on Saturday morning in time for our 8am chat. We hope to see you there!
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Celebrating the Harvest with Eggplant Lasagna and J Lohr #MerlotMe”
- David from Cooking Chat shares “Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry Merlot Sauce”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “A Paddling of Duck(horn)s”
- Gwen from Wine Predator shares “3 Merlot from Sonoma with Colorful Fall Pasta #WinePW”
- Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere shares “Individual Beef Wellington Paired With Merlot Wine”
- Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares “Grill Braised Brisket with Duckhorn Merlot”
- Nicole from Somms Table shares “Many Merlots Make Marvelous Mediterranean Meal”
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “Roasted Pork Loin with Brandy Prune Sauce Paired with Merlot”
- Nancy from Pull That Cork shares “A Fall Pairing for Merlot”
- Jill from L’Occasion shares “Merlot, the Busy One”
- Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “#MerlotMe and Savory Chicken and Mushrooms”
- Michelle from Rockin Red Blog shares “Celebrating Napa and Sonoma with #MerlotMe”