Fall is prime pumpkin season, and we’re there for it with four fun holiday dishes that place pumpkin and other winter squash front and center. And we’re pairing them with three Napa Merlot wines made by women. Just what you want for your next gathering of gals or family– and just in time to celebrate Merlot Day Nov. 7!
On Thursday, Oct. 21, I joined the Merlot Rising: #TasteLive where we celebrated #MerlotMe Month with three of Napa Valley’s leading ladies of Merlot in a virtual tasting lead by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and:
- Markham Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls (read about Markham’s Merlot here)
- Peju Winemaker Sara Fowler (read about Peju’s merlot here and here)
- Rutherford Hill Winemaker Marisa Taylor (read about Rutherford Hill Chardonnay here)
I’ve written about these wineries before (see links above), and I was fortunate to also have samples from two of the three winemakers to sample during the event.
The conversation included how Merlot is perceived on the palate spatially, food pairings, and more. Sara pointed out that wine that goes good with food has some acid to make it more food friendly, and that a wine that goes well with food will usually have age ability. Younger wines can go better with food because with the right food pairing, the wine will taste better younger. Sara also suggests trying popcorn with different toppings — think truffle oil!
Talking texture, the consensus is there’s too much focus on fruit while what galvanizes the palate is how it feels, which Kimberlee described as the “3 Rs, ripe, round, rich” yet it is all about texture. When a wine has all of these things, your eyes roll back into your head — that wine takes you someplace special. Sara added that texture starts in the vineyard. Winemaking is like cooking — add a little here and there, and taste along the way.
Vegetarian and Gluten Free Menu
pate, brie, comte, Old Amsterdam gouda, gouda with ginger and pepitas, hazelnuts, cashews
- coconut milk curry squash soup with fresh ginger (recipe below)
- squash souffle (recipe)
- squash salad with dandelion greens, pecorino, bacon (or use a vegetarian alternative), candied pepitas (recipe below)
- squash lasagna (we think this dish in this role would be better with pasta, GF or regular; as a side, it’s very good)
Napa Wines by Women Winemakers
- 2019 Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot
- 2018 Rutherford Hill Limited Release Oakville Merlot
- 2017 Markham Napa Valley “The Altruist” Merlot Blend
- 2014 DUCKHORN VINEYARDS NAPA VALLEY MERLOT THREE PALMS VINEYARD
2017 Markham “The Altruist”
Blend: 68% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc
This wine was perfect with the salad. Winemaker Kimberlee Nichols offers layers of complexity — all 5 grapes with baking spices on finish. The 2017 vintage grapes were approachable and easy. We were both very fond of this wine, enjoying both the complexity on the nose and the palate.
Color: Medium plus density, ruby with a fushia rim, very pink,, very youthful, a bit of cloudiness, could be unfined and unfiltered.
Aroma: Cherry, herbs, light and fresh, cherry tobacco, cherry ricola, fresh mint, green bean, baking spice.
Palate: Youthful, fresh bright tart cherry, Sue got rhubarb on the finish picking up earthen fruit,The earthen on the finish also has an herbasiousness like garden herbs, stemmey, was there whole cluster, grippy, great complexity, the other varietals seem to add interest without being overwhelming to the merlot.
Pairing: Beautiful with Comte cheese, I liked it with the Old Amsterdam cheese, Sue wanted to go straight for the Ginger spice crackers topped with Brie and was not disappointed and so pleased with the combination. I tried it with a bit of pate which adds something nice, but it was not necessary. As an appetizer with this wine a bit of ginger cracker topped with a bit of ripe cheese and topped again with just a bit of pate as a beautiful appetizer with the wine. The wine is perfect with our squash salad. It brings out all of the fruit and sweetness in the wine. The fresh nutmeg in the lasagne with the wine very nice. Both are elevated together. If you are planning a meal with this wine the salad and the lasagne would be perfect and you would not need anything else. It loves all of the spices. The soufflé is so different. With all of the other wines there is a sweetness to both the soiuffle and the wine and they enhance each other. That is not the case the soufflé’s becomes salty and the wine is just bland. The soup is enhanced with the wine with the earthy characteristics of the wine. The wine separates out the individual flavors of the soup.
2019 Rutherford Hill
This wine paired so well with the soup.
Color: Somewhat translucent, red with a pink rim,
Aroma: All about the bright cherry fruit, there is a nice fresh fruit aroma,
Palate: Tart cherry and baking spice, super tart cherry on the front of the palate. There is not a lot of complexity on the finish, but the tart cherry hangs on for a while. nice varietal character nicely plush, tannins up front with plushness on the finish. enjoyable right now, still very young, worth revisiting in a few years.
Pairing: Very nice with our toasted hazelnuts, very nice with the Old Amsterdam gouda, also great with our ginger gouda very fun together such a great finish together. Great with the soup enhancing the kick of the wine. It also brings out the sweetness of the squash and the coconut milk richness. You cant get a much better pairing. The squash salad is so complex and interesting it brings out complexity in the wine that is missing without the meal. With the lasagna it was alright, but not as good as with the other courses. Very nice with the soufflé’s. Favorite course was with the soup.
2018 Rutherford Hill Limited Release Oakville Merlot
Sara said in the ZOOM that there’s a personality to this wine that’s attached to the personality of the winemaker — it’s velvety and so is Marisa.
The wine has a beautiful structure with an acidity that gives it freshness but also preserves it, and so it could lay down for quite a while.
At this point in its evolution, this is your date night home with a cheese plate wine. This was our unexpected discovery, and what a date night it would be.
While perfect with the cheese plate, it also went well with the squash and stuffed squash or squash quesadillas were suggested in the chat.
Color: Very dark, very dense, you cannot see through the glass, ruby with garnet on the rim.
Aroma: Cedar, amber, sandalwood, cherry tobacco, cigar box, very beguiling, seductive, inviting. Very rich.
Palate: Ripe fruit, plum, bold tannins, oak is present, the oak will integrate in time. This is a hefty Merlot. Lots of body, lots of umph, there is a nice spiciness on the palate, the finish is classically cherry, this wine is all about the fruit and the cigar box.
Pairing: Very nice with our pate and brie, good with the old Amsterdam, but not as nice with the ginger gouda, the complexity of the wine handles the complexity of the Comte, great for a date night indulgent cheese plate with an indulgent wine. Gwen liked it with the soufflé’s appreciating the baking spices and how it went with the wine, however Sue found the two to clash a bit and found a harshness between the two. The wine with the lasagne is nice. It loves the richness of the dish. It also plays nicely with the baking spices. While the wine does alright with our squash salad, it is not perfect when going back to the wine. It is a bit spikey. With the soup it brought out all of the fresh spices in the soup and the fresh tart fruit in the wine.
Color: Very opaque, you cannot see through this wine. For it’s age, it has a surprisingly ruby color, garnet rim.
Aroma: Smells very rich, to Sue it was like a cigar den, or a smoking lounge, cherry tobacco.
Palate: Red and black licorice, so very smooth on the palate, with big tannins on the front of the palate, cherry, baking spices, the oak has integrated very nicely into the profile of this wine. There is minerality and herbaceous. To me it was almost like Nori, where the flavors and umami hangs out.
Pairing: This wine also loves the ginger crackers topped with brie and pate. Fantastic with toasted hazelnuts. Chop them up and put them on your salad or soup. The spice of the ginger and the creaminess of our ginger gouda is highlighted nicely by this wine. Rich meet rich, with the soufflé’s, if this is what you want you will not be disappointed. There is not a terrible fight, but it is not a beautiful dance. The soup is just too sweet for the wine. The squash lasagne was not fabulous with the wine but was not terrible. The complexity of the salad matched the complexity of the wine so very well.What we said about 2014 Duckhorn with duck in 2017:
- 2014 95 Points – Wine Spectator #1 Wine of the Year
- 2017 DUCKHORN VINEYARDS NAPA VALLEY MERLOT THREE PALMS VINEYARD–96 Points – WINE SPECTATOR #15 WINE OF THE YEAR
For more #MerlotMe wines and pairings, on October, we joined the Wine Pairing Weekend crew of wine writers to write “October Means #MerlotMe Paired With Instant Pot Bacon Mushroom Merlot Chicken #WinePW” with these wines:
- Course 1: Salad
2017 Nine Hats Merlot Columbia Valley
paired with grilled blue fin tuna belly with herbs of Provence on greens
- Course 2: Soup
2018 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma Valley
paired with roast red pepper olive focaccia and vegan winter squash soup with fresh ginger and coconut milk (yes it’s basically the same one as in the recipe below!)
- Course 3: Main
2018 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley
paired with Instant Pot Bacon Mushroom Merlot Chicken on mashed organic Yukon gold potatoes
- Course 4: Dessert
2020 Ironstone Vineyards Merlot Lodi
paired with Old Amsterdam Gouda and fall fruit lemon curd tart
In the post, you’ll also find links to more Merlot and food pairings from the #WinePW crew.
We’ve found over and over that merlot (as well as Cabernet Franc ) pair exceptionally well with winter squash. This squash salad recipe below is a favorite of Sue and her mom — as you can tell from this well-worn copy of it from its source! Recipe follows:
Warm Winter Squash Salad
Ingredients for Squash
- 1 kaboch or butternut squash
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 T fresh thyme
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds
- Cut into 1/2 inch wedges and remove the peel.
- Mix squash with olive oil, thyme salt and pepper to taste.
- Place on a baking sheet arranging in a single layer.
- Bake 475 degree oven until squash is slightly browned and tender 15 to 20 minutes
Ingredients for Dressing
- 8 oz thick sliced bacon cut into 1 inch chunks
- 3T sherry vinegar
- 2 T olive oil
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t fresh ground pepper
- 1 T minced shallot
- 3 ounces shaved pecorino cheese
- Fry bacon till crisp; set aside bacon
- Remove all but 2T bacon grease
- Mix olive oil and sherry vinegar and salt and pepper together
- Saute shallots in bacon grease for 1 to 2 minutes
- Add olive oil and sherry mixture to the pan for 15 second or so to warm
Ingredients for Spiced Candied Pecans
- 2t butter
- 1/4 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 t ground cumin
- 1/8 t ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t paprika
- 1/8 t cayenne pepper
- 1/8 t salt
- 1 T honey
- Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat
- Add pumpkin seeds and spices stirring constantly untill seeds are browned 2 to 3 minutes
- Add honey and cook for one more minute
- Remove from heat and spread into a single layer on a plate, silpat, or parchment paper. Let cool until no longer sticky.
To make the salad:
- In a bowl place 8 oz dandelion greens or arugula, most of the bacon, squash, pecorino and 2T pepitas
- Pour warm salad dressing over the top and toss to coat.
- Top with the remaining bacon, and 1T pepitas
Fresh Ginger Roasted Winter Squash Soup
- 1 butternut or kaboch squash
- 1 apple cored and chopped into 1 inch cubes
- 1 T butter, ghee, coconut oil
- 1 shallot minced
- 2T fresh ginger grated
- 1t curry powder
- 1 t cardamon
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 can coconut milk
- Cut squash in half, remove seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet.
- Place in 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes till tender.
- In a saucepan melt butter, ghee, or oil; add shallots and saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add spices and saute for another minutes stirring constantly.
- Add squash, apple, ginger and vegetable stock; simmer 20 minutes until apples are soft.
- Puree with an immersion blender or food processor.
- Add coconut milk; heat until warm.
Makes 8-10 cups.