When I heard that Wine & Spirits Magazine awarded L’Ecole No 41 as a Top 100 Winery of the Year, I said “#MerlotMe Baby!”
And they did, sending me two 2016s, one from Columbia Valley (SRP $25) and the other from their Estate Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley (SRP $37). More on these wines follow.
Wine & Spirits Magazine has given L’Ecole No 41 this award fifteen times, a fete achieved by only 15 other wineries in the world. Each year Wine & Spirits selects a list of the Top 100 Wineries of the World by tasting over 11k bottles of wine and determining which winery has the year’s best wines overall.
“This award is a tremendous honor for L’Ecole,” says L’Ecole owner and managing winemaker, Marty Clubb, who, along with winemaker Mike Sharon, were named 2019’s Washington Winemakers of the Year by Seattle Magazine.
“If we could be known for only one thing, I would want it to be our consistent high quality, vintage after vintage. It’s the primary reason for our continuing investment in vineyard development,” he says, “and it speaks to not only excellence of the Walla Walla Valley and Washington State, but also to the commitment of our family, winery team, vineyard crew, and growers.”
Wife Megan Clubb and their children Riley Clubb and Rebecca Olson serve on L’Ecole’s board of directors.
If your French is non-existent or rusty, L’Ecole means “school” and you’ll find the winery in the historic Frenchtown schoolhouse on its label; L’Ecole Nº 41 was located in district number 41.
The name honors the original viticulture efforts by the French who settled there and back in the early to mid 1800s.
The name L’Ecole also reflects the “old school” and French approach they have toward wine. The emphasis on tradition at L’Ecole No 40 extends beyond the name to winemaking practices which includes producing “clean, ripe, stylistically expressive and aromatic wines that let the individual site characteristics of our vineyards shine through.” Wines are unfixed and unfiltered.
While I’ve never been to the school, I have driven by while on press trips to Washington, and I’ve known about L’Ecole’s wines since 2009 when we tasted them as it was announced at the Wine Blogger’s Conference that Walla Walla would be hosting the following year’s gathering. I brought a bottle of L’Ecole home which I wrote about here. The wines left a lasting powerful and positive impression, and I appreciate their sustainability efforts as well; while not organic or biodynamic, they are certified sustainable and salmon safe.
L’Ecole No 41 has been making merlot since 1983 when they were the third winery in the Walla Walla region and the 20th in the state.Merlot is the principal varietal at L’Ecole No 41 (and an important varietal throughout Washington state).
And #MerlotMe is an annual monthlong mania about merlot! The Wine Pairing weekend group of wine writers have participated in #MerlotMe for five years, and Sue and I have participated for four! The group all write about merlot throughout the month and we all publish about it on the second weekend of October.
Looking for more about Merlot– and ideas for food pairings? You’ll find an overview of our six 2018 #MerlotMe posts with links here. For #MerlotMe in 2016 go here and here, and here; for #MerlotMe in 2017 here, and here, and here.
And now it’s time for my regular, OMG #MerlotMe with seared ahi tuna and Washington Merlot!
Washington Merlot is famous for silky tannins– tannins that pair so well with “red” fish like salmon and ahi tuna that seared ahi salad and Washington Merlot are almost synonymous in my mind.
To recreate my favorite Merlot pairing, you’ll need:
- ahi tuna, seared on the outside and pink on the inside, finished with sesame oil
- field greens
- stilton with dried apricots — this wine loves cheese with big flavors!
- fresh blueberries
- toasted walnuts
- drizzle with champagne vinaigrette
On the fish shaped glass plate this year, we included a wild rice blend with a scallop “eye”, and asparagus. YUM! This is one of our favorite meals and during this fall’s heat wave it really hits the spot. (All ingredients can be found at our local Trader Joe’s.)
Tasting these two with Sue and I were our partners, John and Marshall. Marshall’s main note: he could really tell the difference between the two wines and could understand why someone would pay a bit more for the Walla Walla one.
Aside: It was supposed to be an early night so Marsh and I could go see Neil Young’s new film about the making of his new album Colordado, but Sue and I weren’t done taking our tasting notes so Marsh took John to the movie. Who would show up but NEIL YOUNG and members of Crazy Horse! Such a bummer — I’m a big fan of Neil Young… anyway, back to the wines…
While I love Washington merlot with tuna, it also pairs well with other kinds of meat as well as mushrooms and squash dishes making merlot a great choice for vegetarians and vegans.
2016 – L’Ecole Merlot – Columbia Valley – 14.5% alcohol – SRP $25
78% merlot, 18% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot, 3% malbec
This wine combines estate fruit from their two estate vineyards as well as five other vineyards (not all are certified sustainable or salmon safe however). Mild weather during harvest meant longer hang times. The wine was racked into 100% oak barrels with 30% being new. With 4600 cases produced, this wine should be relatively easy to find in the US!
Color: Deep rich red, garnet with a pink rim
Nose: Plum, rich cherries, John thought there was BBQ sauce on the nose,
Palate: Tart cherry, nice minerality on the finish, nice balanced tannins, the mouthfeel is silky and velvety, menthol up front.
Pairing: Rich aged gouda is great with this wine, and tames it nicely– think about this for a dessert cheese plate! Fantastic with the Snowdonia aged cheddar, The wine was also very nice with some salt cured olives with fresh herbs. When we tasted these olives on their own, we felt that the herbs were to overpowering, yet with this wine, it mellows the herbs in the olives. I could see a nice putensca sauce going well. It also loved the little cured meats that were on the plate, Great with stilton with apricot, it also really tames this wine — which could be why I love it so with the seared ahi tuna salad.
2016 – Estate Merlot – Walla Walla Valley – 14.5% alcohol $SRP $37
76% merlot, 18% cabernet franc, 6% cabernet sauvignon
Half of the grapes come from each of their two salmon safe and sustainably certified vineyards: Ferguson which is volcanic and made from fractured basalt and Seven Hills which is wind blown loess (glacial origin). The wine was racked into 40% new French oak barrels.
Color: Dense medium to deep hue of maroon, with violet on the rim.
Nose: Menthol and herbs on the nose up front with underlying cherries and earthy tobacco.
Palate: Cherry and raspberry, wild berry fruit jumps out right up front, the herbs and earthy minerals were subtle and lingering on the back of the palate.
Pairing: Just like the Columbia Valley Merlot, this wine loves big flavored cheeses. The aged gouda and aged cheddar were fabulous (the cheese is amazing on its own, but with this wine it is heaven.) With the dried apricot stilton, it was a dessert. The cured dried meats we brought back from France were also fabulous with the wine.
How’s your #MerlotMe month going? Finding any favorites? Please share! And stay tuned for more #MerlotMe — we have one or two more posts up our sleeve plus Merlot Day is coming up on Nov 7!