“Merlot is the first wine I fell in love with when I arrived in Napa. In my opinion, it is the perfect food wine,” says Markham winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls.
When people ask me for wine recommendations, I ask them what they like and what they’re eating. While they may not know what the menu might be, they do know one thing:
They want a SMOOTH wine.
A smooth wine? I’m guessing they mean not too acidic or tannic — that have a smooth structure, an integrated wine. And they want this out the gate — because most people drink the wine they buy almost immediately; they are not generally going to cellar something intentionally. As a wine writer, smooth is not really a descriptor that I have tended to think about or use in the past, but that I’m thinking about now as that’s what I’m hearing people are looking for.
My experience with people looking for a “smooth” wine is born out by “real” research by Sonoma State Professor Dr Liz Thach MW who reported in a December 2018 WIne Business.com article that 44% of wine consumers want a smooth wine. In August 2019 in Wine Business.com, Dr Liz Thach MW published research that shows smooth as a key taste preference of Gen Z (those born from 1995-2009 and just now coming of age):
“more than 50% of the Gen Z sample reported that they preferred their wine to taste smooth, fruity, and semi-sweet.”
Honestly, if somebody asks me what my preferences are TODAY I’d likely say “racy, rambunctious, complex” but back when I first started tasting wine, I would have probably answered the same: smooth, fruity, and a bit sweet. I loved (and still love) zinfandel and low RS gewurtraminer. Living in the Bay Area as I came of age, I also cut my teeth on Napa merlot which was less expensive than Cabernet AND smoother with a bit more accessible fruit. But merlot isn’t just for young wine drinkers: when my dad was ready to ove on from zinfandel, I suggested merlot. After a few years of dedicated merlot drinking, he moved on to rhone blends too…
This brings me to today’s topic: Merlot Day! After a month of October’s #MerlotMe where we compared and contrasted French and California merlot under $30, then wrote about three merlot under $30 from CA, WA, and Chile; plus wrote about two merlot from Washington’s L’Ecole No. 41, today, Nov. 7, is Merlot Day. And to celebrate smooth and mellow Merlot, try Markham’s.
As an accomplished cook and baker, Markham’s winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls finds inspiration in food and wine pairings where she can create special memories. Kim’s background includes a degree in biology from Willamette University in Oregon. From there she worked at Napa’s Stags Leap Cellars, then she joined the Markham team in 1993. In 1997 she became associate winemaker, and in 2001 she was promoted to winemaker.
2015 – Markham Vineyards, Napa Valley – Merlot – Yountville Estate Vineyard – 14.8% alcohol – SRP $55
75% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc; 10 barrels
Planted on well drained hillside bench land over 140 years ago with Merlot budwood selections from the Three Palms Vineyard, the merlot here produces tiny flavorful berries. The estate grown blend also includes 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and the 7% of Cabernet Franc They say “is a bit of our original “suitcase” clone as well as a La Jota Vineyard selection, which was the first California Cabernet Franc ever bottled. This blend comes together in much the same harmony in which it grows in the field.” The 2014-2015 growing season started with heavy rains and continued with challenges including drought. The wine was aged for fifteen months in 100% new French oak and released Fall 2018.
Color: Dense and deep, very red, not purple, more like a red violet, with a dark ruby rim.
Nose: Very seductive, you smell it, and you immediately want to drink it. Leather, tobacco, cherry, plum, ripe strawberry, raspberry, forest floor, violet, loamy earth, iris.
Palate: Incredibly smooth, silky tannins. Cherry fruit, cherry cola, dark chocolate– lots of complexity on the palate.
Glasses: We sampled this wine in two glasses. First a stemless merlot glass, and then a stemless tempranillo glass. We both overwhelmingly loved the wine out of the tempranillo glass over the merlot glass. So much so, that we drank exclusively out of the temp glass after we discovered how much better the wine tasted and smelled out of the glass. It was just so much more assessable in this glass. It definitely brings out much more complexity in the wine. A glass makes a huge difference in the enjoyment of the wine.
Pairing: Cured meats, olives, strong cheeses, aged gouda brings out a nice milk chocolate in the wine, sharp aged cheddar brings out the fruit in the wine. I was surprised that it liked the drunken goat cheese so well. Fantastic with the dried apricot stilton. So Sue made these amazing oven fried sweet potatoes that were out of this world with this wine. Serve sweet potatoes or squash with Merlot, it is usually a perfect pair. Squash pasta, oven roasted squash, or even BBQ squash, make sure you sprinkle a bit of rosemary for flavoring.
They suggest pairing with duck breast, morel mushrooms, and potato gratin, and I was really tempted to do duck breast which I love and could see with this wine after tasting it but instead I went with a simpler meal — cranberry thyme sausages with polenta, spinach, and sweet potato fries. Tonight I will enjoy the final glass and toast MERLOT DAY– with a beautiful filet mignon and a baked potato!