October is #MerlotMe month and the Wine Pairing Weekend group is celebrating with Merlot tastings and pairings. Thanks to our sponsors for generously supplying us with Merlot samples from California and Washington.
Merlot’s varietal characteristics of cherry, plum, cassis, blackberry, herbal, earth, and spice, in addition to medium tannins and acidity, make it a flexible food-friendly wine. Merlot is right at home with the October seasonal autumn flavors of roasted meats, stews, squashes, and mushrooms. Join the #MerlotMe celebration and discover a new Merlot to try alongside a tempting pairing.
Tasting and Pairing Notes
Disclosure: The wines were provided to me as media samples. All opinions are my own.
2016 L’Ecole Merlot Columbia Valley, Washington
14.5% abv | $25.00 SRP (sample) | 78% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec
Medium ruby in color. Medium(+) body, tannins, and acidity. Notes of black cherries, plums, and baking spices. Well structured with good acidity and balanced tannins.
Food Pairing: This wine was my favorite with all the food pairings. The earthy notes in the wine made for a delicious pairing with the mushroom dip, bringing out the umami notes in both the wine and dip. The wine’s acidity and structure stood up to the tartness of the cranberries with the chicken. The lean chicken breasts were perfect with the medium acidity and tannins in the wine.
2014 Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley, Washington
14.5% abv | $41.00 SRP (sample) | 76% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Medium (+) body with medium tannins, and acidity. Notes of coffee, vanilla, chocolate, mint, cedar, and a hint of black fruit. A smooth, soft lingering finish.
Food Pairing: The earthy, smoky mushroom dip brought out more of the fruit notes in the wine. The texture of the chicken cutlets is echoed in the wine, and the tartness of the cranberries was a nice contrast to the overall texture of the wine.
2016 Seavey Merlot, Napa Valley, California
14.5% abv | $65.00 SRP (sample) | 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Medium (+) body and tannins with medium acidity. Notes of cherries, plums, pomegranates, vanilla, and spice. Firm fine tannins with a smooth mouthfeel.
Food Pairing: I tried this wine with chicken cutlets and cranberries. When paired with just the chicken, the pairing worked, but the tartness of the cranberries left the wine stripped of the fruit flavors. I think this wine would pair better with lean lamb, beef, or pork.
2017 Decoy Merlot, Sonoma County, California
14.1% abv | $25.00 SRP (sample) | 96% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon
Bright medium ruby in color. Medium (+) body, tannins, and acidity. Notes of cherries, red currants, and vanilla. Juicy ripe fruit, but balanced with the acidity and tannins.
Food Pairing: The mushroom dip highlighted the fruit elements in the wine. The salad with the sweetness of the roasted butternut squash and smooth texture complemented the fruit-forward and lush characteristics of the wine. I also sampled this wine with some local summer sausage from Pine Street Meats in Atlanta. The summer sausage a blend of pork and beef with “house” spices was a spot on pairing elevating both the wine and sausage. Tip: Make sure your sausage is not too salty; otherwise, the higher alcohol in the wine will be accentuated.
2016 Donati Family Vineyard Merlot, Paicines Central Coast, California
14.3% abv | $22.00 SRP (sample) | 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Medium (+) body with medium tannins, and acidity. Notes of vanilla, caramel, red cherry, and plum. Lean on the palate with a lingering finish.
Food Pairing: Another great pairing with the earthy mushroom dip highlighting the earth and fruit notes in the wine. The cheese in the dip is balanced with the higher alcohol in the wine. The salad with the roasted butternut squash complemented the lush fruit notes in the wine.
2015 Materra Cunat Family Vineyards Right Bank Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California
14.5% abv | $50.00 SRP (sample) | 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium (+) body, tannins, and acidity. Dusty tannins with notes of dried herbs, cedar, and black fruit.
Food Pairing: I paired this wine with seared Italian sausages with roasted cherry tomatoes and shallot and a side of grits. The sausages were a little on the salty side, making the wine taste “hot” from the alcohol. The grits and the roasted garlic and shallots were the real stars of this pairing. Both the wine and food elements were elevated in flavor.
What I learned from my food pairings with Merlot
- Merlot’s medium acidity and tannins call for lean proteins. Lamb, beef, and pork are classic pairings, but chicken breasts or turkey work well too.
- Food prepared with too much salt will make Merlots with higher alcohol taste “hot.”
- Rosemary, thyme, and sage are great bridging elements to similar characteristics found in Merlot.
- Merlot loves mushrooms and other earthy ingredients like garlic and shallots.
- Roasted vegetables bring out fruit flavors found in Merlot.
Warm Shiitake Mushroom and Cheese Dip
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, de-stemmed, and torn into uniform pieces
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup shallots, minced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
- 1 baguette, sliced
- Preheat the broiler.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and sauté for about 8-10 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and have released their water. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and reserve.
- Return the pan to medium heat, add butter and melt. Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme and sauté for about 2 minutes of until soft and slightly golden. Add the flour and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to dislodge any browned bits, cook for about 1 minute.
- Add the heavy cream and soy sauce to the pan, reduce liquid to half, about 3-6 minutes. Add the mushrooms back to the pan, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a broiler-proof serving dish. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Broil until cheese is melted and golden. Serve hot with baguette slices and a glass of Merlot.
Chicken Cutlets with Roasted Cranberries
For the cranberries
- 12 oz. cranberries, fresh or thawed frozen
- 6 garlic cloves, in their skins
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
- 2 sage leaves
For the chicken
- 3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless ( about 1-1/4 lb.)
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 + teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup Panko crumbs
- 3/4 teaspoon mixed dried Italian spices
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed for frying
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
For the cranberries
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the cranberries and garlic cloves in a single layer on the baking sheet. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and honey until warm and runny. Stir and drizzle over the cranberries. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the herb springs and roast until cranberries are slightly charred and shriveled, about 30-35 minutes.
Meanwhile for the chicken
- Butterfly each chicken breast. Place each butterflied chicken cutlet between plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet to a 1/8 inch thickness.
- In a medium shallow bowl beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. In a second medium shallow bowl mix the Panko crumbs with the mixed dried Italian spices and a generous pinch of salt. Season the cutlets with salt.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dip each cutlet first in the egg mixture, coating it completely and then in the Panko crumb mixture. Gently press so the crumbs adhere. Transfer to baking sheet.
- In a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat add the olive oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the cutlets in a single layer. (you may have to fry the cutlets in batches) Cook for about 8 minutes total, turning them once. You may have to add more olive oil for the next batch(s).
- To serve: place cutlets on a platter and spoon the cranberries over the chicken.
For more Merlot and food pairing ideas check out my fellow Wine Pairing Weekend Group’s posts ~
- Jennifer at Vino Travels Italy shares “Merlot Pairings for #MerlotMe Month”
- Jill at l’Occasion shares “Foolproof Pairing for #MerlotMe Month”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “This Food-Friendly Varietal Takes You From Savories to Sweets, Snacks to Cakes“
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares “6 California Merlots Paired with Mexican Food Favorites”
- Lori at Dracaena Wine shares “Onion Pastry on My Plate Makes #MerlotMe So Great“
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “A Month Long Merlot Extravaganza“
- Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “Exploring Meatless Merlot Pairings for #MerlotMe “
- Kat at The Corkscrew Concierge shares “Merlot is the Perfect Dining Companion”
- David at Cooking Chat shares “Vegetarian Stuffed Acorn Squash with a Napa Merlot”
- Pierre and Cynthia at Traveling Wine Profs share “A very well-traveled Merlot with Vietnamese bò kho
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “It’s #MerlotMe month. Where’s the umami?“
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Celebrating Merlot with L’Ecole No 41“
- Sarah at Curious Cuisiniere shares “Hachis Parmentier and Merlot Pairing”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Exploring California in 5 Merlots“
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Game Day? #MerlotMe with Ham and Cheese Sliders”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares “California vs. France #MerlotMe with squash, chard, and bow tie pasta”
- Susannah at Avvinnare shares “Brazilian Merlot with mushroom risotto”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Young Professionals Explore Merlot”