#MerlotMe Napa: Duckhorn and La Jota w/ Flat Iron Steak, Blackberries


If you, like me, can’t get enough of #Merlot even after a month of #MerlotMe, you might want to check out “Masters of Merlot: Seminar, Tasting and Walk-around Reception with Merlot’s Biggest Champions” this Thurs. Nov. 1 where you can taste wines from 20 wineries featuring the best Merlot throughout the West Coast at CIA at Copia which will be providing small bites to pair with the wines.

The event begins with a seated seminar and tasting featuring “Wine Wise Guy” Anthony Giglio and four masters of Napa Valley Merlot to showcase some of the most coveted Merlot wines available, including Duckhorn’s Three Palms Merlot, which was named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of Year in 2017.


  • Anthony Giglio, Writer, Educator and Raconteur
  • Cleo Pahlmeyer, President, Pahlmeyer
  • PJ Alviso, VP Winegrowing, Duckhorn
  • Chris Carpenter, Winemaker, Mt. Brave & La Jota Vineyard Co.
  • Ted Edwards, Winemaker, Freemark Abbey


  • 2015 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Merlot
  • 2015 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
  • 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot
  • 2015 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Merlot
  • 2015 Freemark Abbey Bosché Merlot
  • 2015 Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder Merlot
  • 2015 La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot
  • 2015 La Jota W.S. Keyes Merlot

Tickets to both events are $100. If you’ve never been to a guided tasting like this, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a really special experience and absolutely worth the cost to taste and learn with Masters of Merlot. I wish I could be there!

Love Napa Merlot but can’t get to Napa next Thursday?

Keep reading because I’ve got two of those Napa Merlot listed above to share with you today: that coveted Duckhorn Three Palms from Napa Valley and Chris Carpenter’s La Jota from Napa’s Howell Mountain! And stayed tuned for more about the other Duckhorn Merlot soon when we compare and contrast two vintages!

This month I’ve already written about two other Merlot from Napa, Flora Springs and Charles Krug.  And if you haven’t yet, please subscribe because I have more Napa Merlot for you coming up: one from Peju which we’re planning on pairing with RABBIT.



  • 2015 – Duckhorn Vineyards – Three Palms Vineyard – Merlot – 14.7%  SRP $98
  • 2015 – La Jota Vineyard Co. – 15.0% alcohol – SRP $85

It was interesting to see which cheeses went with which merlot — you’d think both wines would go with the same cheeses! Both wines loved the roasted root vegetables as well as the flat iron steak with the blackberry sherry sauce which offers a bright flavor profile and olfactory richness — much like these wines. We did duck with this wine last year with a berry sauce and really loved it so I was confident this would be a successful pairing.

Both of the wines we tasted could not be further from each other in terms of flavors, nose, color, and mouthfeel. Even though both of the vineyards are in close proximity to each other in Napa located only about three mies apart as the duck flies, and they are both 2015 vintages with high alcohol, Duckhorn’s Three Palms is grown in the valley on an alluvial fan of volcanic rock and while the La Jota grows up on Howell Mountain.

Howell Mountain AVA is defined by a 1,400 foot elevation contour line as the lowest point and the highest vineyards at 2,500 feet above sea level. The vines share the mountain with pines, oaks, madrone and coastal redwoods. While fog may blanket Napa Valley. Howell Mountain lies above the fog line, which means slightly warmer nighttime temperatures and cooler mid-day temperatures than the valley floor. Both have plenty of diurnal fluctuations to maintain balanced acidity in the grapes but more even climate on the mountain develops berries with thicker skins to impart more intensity and earthy resins to the wines while the Duckhorn offered more elegance and herbal notes.

2015 – Duckhorn Vineyards – Three Palms Vineyard – Merlot – 14.7%  SRP $98
91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, .5% Cabernet Franc
sample for my review consideration

Ever wonder where the name Duckhorn came from? The winery is named after its founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, One of the first forty vineyards in Napa, Duckhorn has been dedicated to Merlot since the beginning when they produced 800 cases of Merlot and 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1998.

Since their first vintage in 1998, Duckhorn Vineyards has made a vineyard-designate bottling (one of the first in California!) from the Three Palms vineyard to reflect Three Palms’ unique terroir. Lean soils in the vineyard by the iconic Three Palms causes “the vines to send their roots deep in search of nutrients, producing an intense, age-worthy wine with complex fruit and mineral layers,” says the winery.

In 2014, Duckhorn’s Merlot from their Three Palms Vineyard made by Renée Ary was named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of the Year.” While Renée Ary has been a winemaker at Duckhorn in 2003, 2014 was her inaugural solo vintage.

In 2015, the winery says that a “warm, dry spring resulted in any early budbreak, while an extended flowering period brought a return to normal yields after three years of abundant crops… Overall, the quality of the fruit was exceptional, with our white wines showing both richness and complexity, and our red grapes displaying a fine balance between elegance and intensity, with gorgeous dark fruit flavors.” Similar to the 2014, the 2015 spent 18 months in 100% French Oak with 75% New Oak, 25% Neutral which is a shift from 100% new oak that Renée Ary made.

In 2015, the Duckhorns sold a  controlling interest in the winery to an investment group which also purchased the Three Palms Vineyard ensuring that the fruit will continue to be made by Duckhorn. In 2016, the Duckhorns sold their remaining interest as did the investment company and now Duckhorn is owned Bay Area–based equity investment group, TSG Consumer Partners.

Color: Rich red with a copper ring

Nose: Lovely fresh fruit, nicely herbal, sage, fresh grass, walking on leaves in the fall, chaparral, cinnamon, baking spices, chai spices including cardamom.

Palate: Tangy bright stone fruit up front, cranberry and cherry then plum,  lovely finish, lots of tannins in this wine, it’s big and bold,  distinct, dense, earthy yet elegant and refined.

Pairing: Rice creamy cheeses, not great with  strong blue cheese or sharp cheddars.

As almost  3200 cases were made of this wine, it should be available at better wines stores as well as online.

While I love the Duckhorn Merlot, I am looking forward to tasting more of the wines Renee Ary will bring to the table in 2017 which marks their 40th anniversary. I also would like to learn more about their sustainability program and visit!

2015 – La Jota Vineyard Co. Merlot Howell Mountain – 15.0% alcohol – SRP $85
sample for my review consideration

A weathered volcanic “knob,” Howell Mountain has two distinct soils: crumbly white decomposed volcanic ash known as rhyolitic tuff and red, iron-laden soils of clay and volcanic rock. The La Jota vines stubble to grow at elevations of 1700-1800′ and under these conditions, and produce small intense berries.

Founded in 1898 by Frederick Hess, an immigrant from Switzerland who purchased 327 acres of a Mexican land grant called Rancho La Jota on Howell Mountain, the winery was built using local sources: they quarried volcanic ash rock to build the winery and they carved coastal redwoods into fermentation tanks.

Unfortunately , prohibtion turned this thriving concern into a “ghost winery” until 1974 oilman Bill Smith planted vines on the estate, then In 2005, California wine pioneer Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke purchased La Jota.

Today La Jota has 28 acres in three distinct estate vineyards. The winery block, next to the original 19th century stone winery, is planted with St. George rootstock, and comprised of unique, phylloxera-resistant Cabernet Franc vines that date back over 40 years.

A beautiful presentation with an elegant label and a deep punt and rounded shoulders on the bottle.

I could drink this wine all day, every day… While you could cellar it, I bet you’d drink it!

Color: Pretty, velvet curtains, dense, violet ring; this wine leaves such a rich dark residue on the glass, you would think it was a Petite Syrah!

Nose: Violets, mint, plum, berries, vanilla butterscotch, earthy resin amber, frankensence and myrrh.

Palate: This is a very smooth voluptuous wine. At first there is the fruit which is warm and inviting, and then there is a lovely complexity. Very smooth finish yet a tangy acidity. Not overly oaked, the grapes shine through, which is our preference, yet nice structure and tannins. While 15% alcohol, that is not what comes across on the palate– except for a seductive richness.

Pairing: Loves creamy cheeses, this wine is also nice with a creamy blue cheese. delightful with the roasted vegetables and flat iron steak.

Learn more about the winemaker at La Jota, Chris Carpenter who keeps busy making wine at a number of wineries in the Napa area as well as Australia!






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