It’s that time of year again when Merlot takes center stage. The Wine Pairing Weekend group of writers is celebrating our 8th annual #MerlotMe. Join us for our Twitter chat Saturday, October 8th, 2022, at 11:00 AM ET. We will be talking about all things Merlot, from different styles, food pairings, and sustainable farming practices. I’ll share my tasting notes and fall food pairings of four Merlots to try.
Check out this year’s invitation post at FoodWineClick for a summary of the past seven years of Wine Pairing Weekend #MerlotMe articles.
3 Wineries Producing Exceptional Merlot
L’Ecole No 41
L’Ecole is one of Washington state’s top producers of premium Merlot. The grapes for the L’Ecole Merlot Walla Walla Valley come from two of their estate vineyards; 50% from Ferguson Vineyard with fractured basalt soils giving power and minerality to the wine, and 50% from Seven Hills Vineyard with soils of wind-blown loess contributing elegance and old world structure to the blend. Both of these vineyards are certified Sustainable and Salmon Safe. (Learn more about L’ Ecole’s Sustainable Farming Practices.)
Rutherford Hill Winery recognized their vineyards had a similar climate and soils to those found in France’s Pomerol wine-growing region early on. Rutherford Hill is one of the first in Napa Valley to initiate premium Merlot production. The grapes for this wine come from estate vineyards in the Napa Valley, including; Rutherford, Oak Knoll, Pope Valley, and Stags’ Leap District. Rutherford Hill is committed to sustainability. This wine is Napa Green certified for both Winery and Land. (Learn more about Rutherford Hill’s commitment to sustainability and Napa Green Certifications.)
DeCoy Wines was originally a second label for Duckhorn Winery. Duckhorn is known for being the first American winery to produce a premium Merlot. Today Decoy is its own “focused winery,” crafting Merlot and other wines from multiple grape varieties. The grapes come from estate vineyards and select independent growers. Two noteworthy estate vineyards are Ridgeline in the Alexander Valley AVA – Sonoma County’s region known for growing Bordeaux varietals and Brownell Vineyard also in the Alexander Valley AVA.
My Tasting Notes
Disclosure: The wines were provided to me as media samples. All opinions are my own.
2021 Rutherford Hill Rosé of Merlot, Napa Valley AVA
13.8% abv | $35.00 (sample) | %100 Merlot
Pale salmon in color. Medium-bodied with medium acidity. On the palate, dry, with fresh acidity and flavors of white nectarine, apricot, strawberry, and a hint of pink grapefruit, and minerality on the finish.
2019 Decoy Merlot, California (60% Sonoma Coast, 32% Central Coast, and 8% Mendocino)
13.9% abv | $27.99 (sample) wine.com | 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc
Medium ruby in color with a hue of garnet. Medium(+) bodied, medium tannins, and acidity. A soft mouthfeel with flavors of cherry, plum, and a hint of licorice on the palate. The wine has a lingering finish of bright fruit notes.
2019 L’Ecole Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley
14.5% abv| $40.00 SRP (sample) | 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Medium(+) bodied, tannin, and acidity. On the palate, flavor notes of cedar, dark cherry, plums, blackberries, graphite, and dusty tannins. The wine is well-balanced, with good structure and complexity. The wine has a beautiful lingering finish.
2019 Rutherford Hill Merlot, Napa Valley AVA
14.5% abv | $29.99 (sample) wine.com | 77% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Syrah
Medium ruby in color with a hint of garnet. Medium(+) bodied, medium tannins, and medium acidity. A smooth, soft texture on the palate with notes of cassis, blackberry, blueberry, and mocha. A long, flavorful lingering finish with savory richness.
Fall Food Pairings with Merlot
My first Fall Merlot food pairing was a simple classic steak filet, wine sautéed mushrooms, cheese spaetzle, and green beans. The dinner perfectly matched the well-structured and more complex L’Ecole Estate Merlot from Walla Walla Valley. The richness of the filet and cheesy spaetzle was in balance with the wine’s body, tannins, and acidity. The umami flavors from the mushrooms and herbs accentuated the wine’s flavors. A basic rule of thumb is to keep the food simple to highlight the wine when the wine is more complex.
An easy dinner of grilled sausages and roasted vegetables is one of my favorite go-to dinners for weeknights and no-fuss weekends. The sausages and caramelized, concentrated flavors from roasting the vegetables made for a straightforward pairing with the more rustic, fruit-forward Decoy Merlot.
Two of my all-time favorites; tacos and brisket! The Mexican Brisket recipe is adapted from John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table.” The long cook time mellows out any spice that may be too spicy for the wine leaving a brisket with layers of savory, rich flavors. A Merlot like the Decoy of Rutherford Hill with more fruit-forward characteristics pairs well with the Mexican flavors of these brisket tacos. The perfect #MerlotMe Sunday dinner.
- heavy large dutch oven with a tight fitting lid I used a large Le Creuset dutch oven
- 1¼ cups dry red wine
- 1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/4 cup pure chile powder
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 lbs. white onions, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, for sautéing I use California Olive Ranch global blend
- 4 lbs. center-cut beef brisket, trimmed of fat
- fresh flour & corn tortillas, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges, avocado, and fresh feta cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- In a blender add the wine, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, chile powder, serrano chile, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and salt. Blend until smooth.
- In a heavy large dutch oven over medium-high heat add the olive oil. Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Add the brisket to the dutch oven and sear it until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a plate. Scatter half of the onions and raisins to the pot and place the brisket on top of them. Scatter the remaining onions and raisins on top of the brisket and then pour over the chile mixture, using a spoon to spread the mixture evenly over the meat.
- Cover the pot tightly and place in the preheated oven for about 4 hours or until brisket is very tender. Shred the meat with a fork and mix the meat with the onions and juices.
- To serve; warm tortillas and top them with smashed avocado, shredded meat, cilantro, feta cheese, and a squeeze of lime juice.
More #MerlotMe articles from the Wine Pairing Weekend group
▪Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Merlot: Smooth, Savory and Sustainable”
▪Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Comfort Food and Wines for Fall: Savory Slow Cooker Chicken and Classic Merlot”
▪Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Celebrating #MerlotMe with Mushrooms, Truffles, and a Wine
from a Cal Alumna”
▪David at Cooking Chat shares “Everyday Pasta Sauce with Ground Beef and Chickpeas”
▪Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Fall Food Pairings with Merlot”
▪Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “#MerlotMe with figs, cherries and a nice grilled steak”
▪Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Kicking off #MerlotMe month with Napa Valley wine and lasagna soup”
▪Jennifer at Vino Travels shares “Warm up with Merlot and Pappardelle Bolognese”
▪Gwendolyn at Wine Predator…Gwendolyn Alley shares “Smoked Lamb/Beef Meatloaf Says #MerlotMe with Sonoma’s Decoy and Washington’s Pedastal”
▪Susannah at Avvinare shares “Forever A Devoted Merlot Fan”
▪Liz at What’s in that Bottle shares “Three Family-Owned Merlots for Fall”
▪Terri at Our Good Life shares “Provencal Eggplant Stew + Decoy Merlot for #MerlotMe”
▪Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Merlot and 40 Cloves of Garlic”