It’s that time of year again when Merlot gets a little extra love and attention. October is #MerlotMe month, and the Wine Pairing Weekend group of writers is celebrating their sixth year of Merlot and food pairings. (If you want to explore more of Always Ravenous #MerlotMe highlights from the last four years, here are the links; Beef Rouladen Paired with Merlot, Merlot Pairing: Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù, Food Pairings with Merlot, Food Pairings for Merlot Lovers, Roasted Pork Loin & Brandy Prune Sauce Paired with Merlot.
My Merlot pairings this year focus on mushrooms and earthy umami flavors. I still dream about the Warm Shiitake Mushroom & Cheese Dip I wrote about for #MerlotMe 2019. That mushroom cheese dip is my inspiration for #MerlotMe 2021, “Mushroom Madness Paired with Merlot.”
My 2021 #MerlotMe Tasting & Pairing Notes
Disclosure: The wines were provided to me as media samples. All opinions are my own.
2018 St. Francis Reserve Merlot, Sonoma Valley
14.9% abv | $42.00 SRP (sample) | 100% Merlot
Deep ruby in color. Aromas of red cherry, plum, vanilla, dried herbs, and a hint of toast. On the palate, full-bodied, medium/medium(+) tannins, and medium acidity. Flavor notes of red cherry, kirsch, and vanilla. Soft silky tannins with a lingering finish of cherries and savory herbs.
Food Pairing: The rich red fruit notes in the wine make for a nice pairing with the sweet earthy leeks, roasted tomatoes, and fresh cheeses in the Mushroom and Leek Lasagna. (recipe below) The lasagna’s herbs, mushrooms, and garlic enhance the underlying earthy flavor notes in the wine.
2018 Northstar Merlot, Columbia Valley
14.5% abv | ~ $41.00 SRP (sample) | 77% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, plum, cedar, and vanilla. On the palate, medium(+) bodied, tannins, and acidity. Flavor notes of black cherry, black raspberry, vanilla, mocha, and plum. The wine is well-balanced and structured.
Food Pairing: The wine’s fruit notes, structure, and overall balance made this a food-friendly wine that pairs well with all three mushroom dishes. The earthy savory notes are highlighted with the Barley Mushroom Soup (recipe below) and the Truffle Mac n Cheese, while the fruit notes pop with the Mushroom & Leek Lasagna.
2019 Decoy Merlot, California (60% Sonoma County, 32% Central Coast, and 8% Mendocino County)
13.9% abv| $25.00 SRP (sample) | 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of cherry, plum, raspberries, vanilla, and herbs. On the palate, medium(+) bodied, medium tannins, and medium acidity. Rich, juicy flavors of cherries and raspberries followed by vanilla and dusty earth. A lingering finish of the red fruit notes.
Food Pairing: The Mushroom & Leek Lasagna is a winning pairing with this fruit-forward wine with medium tannins and acidity. The overall weight and textures of the wine and lasagna complement each other– a deliciously savory match.
2018 Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley (Carneros, Oak Knoll, Calistoga, Napa Valley, Yountville sub-appellations)
14.5% abv | $56.00 SRP (sample) | 82% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.4% Cabernet Franc, .4% Petit Verdot, .2% Malbec
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of cherry, plum, raspberry, cloves, and graphite. On the palate, Medium(+) bodied, medium(+) tannins, and medium/medium(+) acidity. Flavor notes of black cherry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, cloves, and dusty tannins. The wine is well structured and balanced.
Food Pairing: The balance, structure, and weight of the wine work well with the flavor layers of the Truffle Mushroom Mac n Cheese. The lush fruit flavors of the wine shine with the mac n cheese. Ina Garten’s Truffle Mushroom Mac n Cheese
2018 L’Ecole Merlot, Walla Walla Valley (50% Ferguson Vineyard, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard)
14.5% abv | $37.00 SRP (sample) | 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of cedar, tobacco, and blackberries. On the palate, full-bodied, medium(+) tannins and acidity. Flavor notes of blackberry, dark cherry, cedar, savory herbs, dark chocolate, and dusty tannins. The wine is well balanced with good structure.
Food Pairings: The structure, weight, and earthy notes in the wine balance and echo the complex flavors and weight of the mac n cheese. The wine’s acidity helps to cut through the richness of the overall dish.
2018 L’Ecole Merlot, Columbia Valley
14.5% abv | $25.00 SRP (sample) | 80% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of dark cherries, raspberry, cedar, and dried herbs. On the palate, full-bodied, medium/medium(+) tannins, and medium acidity. Flavors of dark cherry, kirsch, raspberry, cedar, with hints of coffee and plum.
Food Pairing: The fruit-forward notes in the wine make a friendly pairing with the Mushroom and Leek Lasagna.
2017 Nine Hats Wines, Merlot
15.6% abv | $25.00 SRP (sample) | 75% Merlot, 11% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
Medium ruby in color. Aromas of cherry, plum, tobacco, gravel, and a hint of bell pepper. On the palate, full-bodied, medium/medium(+) tannins, and acidity. Flavor notes of cherry vanilla, chocolate, and dried herbs.
Food Pairing: This bold, full-bodied wine needs a grilled steak. The three mushroom dishes didn’t have the weight. I thought maybe the Truffled Mushroom Mac n Cheese, but the wine didn’t have the acidity to make the pairing work. So fire up the grill for this wine.
What I learned from My Food Pairings with Merlot
- New World fruit-forward style Merlots pair well with earthy flavors like sautéd sweet leeks, roasted tomatoes, herbs, fresh cheeses, and baked pasta dishes.
- Old World style Merlots with Cabernet Sauvignon blended in have more structure and match with earthy ingredients, and dishes with more complex flavors.
- Bold, full-bodied Merlots need grilled meats like steak or lamb that are cooked on the rarer side.
Mushroom & Leek Lasagna
- 1 lb. "No-Boil" lasagna noodles
- 1/2 + cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled, at room temperature
- 1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 2 cups low moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1-1/2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, rinsed, dried, and thinly sliced I used, shiitake, portobello, oyster, and maitake
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, well rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 1 batch roasted tomatoes, roughly chopped (recipe below)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk, room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 8 medium plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
For the Roasted Tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 300° F. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Cut the plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and squeeze as much juice out as possible of each half.
- Place the tomato halves, cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and the thyme leaves.
- Roast for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the tomatoes are slightly dry and wrinkled and a little darker. Let the tomatoes cool on the baking sheet. The tomatoes can be prepared ahead of time and stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the fridge.
For the lasagna
- In a medium bowl, mix together the goat cheese, ricotta, basil, 1 cup of the mozzarella, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add the egg and thoroughly mix until well combined. Set aside.
- In a 12-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add one-third of the mushroom and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, or until they are softened. Stir in one-third of the minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, sauté for 2 minutes longer. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a medium size bowl. Repeat twice with the remaining mushrooms and garlic, adding 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil to each batch. Set aside.
- In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and sauté for 12-14 minutes ot until softened and golden. Add the tomatoes and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mix well, and set aside.
For the Béchamel Sauce
- In a 3 qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking continuously for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk while continuing to whisk, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to whisk until the sauce has thickened about 5-10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.
- In a 9-inch X 13-inch baking dish, spread half of the béchamel on the bottom of the dish, and top with a single layer of lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping in order to fit in the bottom.
- Scatter half of the mushrooms over the noodles, and top with dollops of the goat cheese mixture. Top with another layer of noodles and spread with half of the remaining béchamel sauce. Spread the tomato and leek mixture evenly over the béchamel sauce.
- Cover with a third layer of lasagna noodles and top with dollops of the remaining goat cheese mixture followed by the remaining mushroom mixture.
- Cover with the final layer of lasagna noodles and spread the remaining béchamel sauce evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese on top.
- Bake for 50 minutes to one hour or until golden brown on top and bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.Lasagna can be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight. To reheat, bring to room temperature, cover with foil, and reheat in a 325°F oven for 25 minutes.
Mushroom Barley Soup
- 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 + teaspoon sea salt
- 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 8 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups vegetable broth(for vegetarian) or chicken broth (non vegetarian)
- 1/2 cup pearl barley (uncooked)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish
- In a 2 qt. saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the dried mushrooms. Remove from heat and cover, let soak for 20 minutes. Strain the mushrooms through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl to remove any sediment and dirt, reserving the liquid. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside.
- In a 6-3/4 qt. dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, stirring for about 4 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, carrots, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir and cook the vegetables for about 5-6 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and thyme, stir to combine.
- Add the wine to deglaze the pot, stirring until the liquid is reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes. Add the soaked chopped dried mushrooms, reserved mushroom liquid, broth, barley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat and cook for about 45 minutes or until the barley is tender.
- To serve; garnish with parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
More #MerlotMe food pairings from the Wine Pairing Weekend group of writers ~
- 2012 Ridge Estate Merlot + Reverse Sear Ribeye Steak by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
- Bonterra and Creamy Lasagna Soup by Our Good Life
- California Dreamin’ for #MerlotMe Month, Part I by My Full Wine Glass
- Celebrate #MerlotMe with a Wine that Hits the Mark by Supporting Veterans by Exploring the Wine Glass
- Experiments with Salmon and Merlot by Somm’s Table
- Ground Beef and Kale Recipe with #MerlotMe Wine by Cooking Chat
- I Melt for Merlot and Chocolate by What’s in That Bottle?
- Kicking off #MerlotMe with 2 Rutherford Hill Merlots and Decadent Burgers with Chocolate! by Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Merguez Sausages and a Debut #MerlotMe Wine from Gürbüz by The Quirky Cork
- Merlot with Chicken in a Mushroom Wine Sauce by Vino Travels
- #MerlotMe and Meaty Asian Sandwich by Chinese Food & Wine Pairings
- Mushroom Madness Paired with Merlot by Always Ravenous
- October Means #MerlotMe Paired With Instant Pot Bacon Mushroom Merlot Chicken by Wine Predator……..Gwendolyn Alley
- One of the Oldest Foods on Earth + 2019 Bonterra Organic Merlot by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Tri-Tip Steak and Duckhorn, a #MerlotMe Classic by Food Wine Click!
- Won’t You Please #MerlotMe? by A Day in the Life on the Farm