Walla Walla. It translates to “Water water” or “many waters” The valley is filled with tributaries, although this is a dry climate. This is a place where Bordeaux varieties thrive and can compete on a world stage. In 2014 the L’Ecole No. 41 2011 Ferguson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon took the trophy for the Best International Bordeaux Blend at the Decanter World Wine Awards Gala in London. That of course is made in a left bank Bordeaux style. Today we will take a peek at their Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend that leans to the right bank style.
We are working with L’Ecole No. 41 this year to tell you a bit more about their wines. They provide us with wine to taste and allocate time to speak with us and answer questions each month. But rest assured, all opinions are our own.
L’Ecole No. 41 a little history
If you are not familiar with L’Ecole No. 41, it is one of the early Walla Walla wineries, founded in 1983. Washington is a relatively young region, so when I say early… let me translate. L’Ecole No. 41 was the 3rd winery in Walla Walla and the 20th winery in the state of Washington. Today there are about 120 wineries in Walla Walla.
Jean and Baker Ferguson founded the vineyard and winery as a fun retirement project, moving into the abandoned Historic Frenchtown School and making wine in the basement, the school’s cafeteria/gymnasium. Their daughter Meghan and her husband Marty returned to Walla Walla in 1989 and Marty became the manager and winemaker. Today their children Rebecca and Riley also work in the business.
L’Ecole No. 41 2018 Estate Cabernet Franc-Merlot
This month we want to share with you the L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Franc-Merlot. In house, they refer to this as the Estate Right Bank. It is made in the style of those right bank Bordeaux wines of Pomeroy and St. Émilion that lean to Merlot and Cab Franc. The blend is interesting, in that it is very symmetrical. 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot, with half of each coming from each of the two estate vineyards, Ferguson and Seven Hills.
I do need to let you know that you will have to do some extra legwork and have some luck if you want to taste it. This is a wine that they don’t release every year. It is an Estate wine, as I said, from their Walla Walla Vineyards, Ferguson, and Seven Hills, which, incidentally, are in the Walla Walla AVA, but on the Oregon side.
Not only do they not make this Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend every year, but when they do, they don’t make a lot of it! There were just 298 cases of this wine made. It is sent to their wine club (there’s a reason to join!) and then they have it available from the tasting room. It was released to their club yesterday (March 23rd) and will be available on their site at the end of the month until it is sold out. And it will sell out.
The blend takes the lush and approachable Merlot and adds the floral notes of the Cab Franc. Across the board, the people who tasted this wine wanted to pair it with elevated burgers! This wine is elegant and will age for 8 to 10 years. It is young now, but still drinking well. Just give it a minute. It starts off a little shy then opens up in the glass, with floral notes of violets, peonies, and rose petals.
I found red currant, red cherry, black plum with a jammyness, and a bit of baked fruit on the nose. There was also a bit of eucalyptus and licorice. Spice notes came in with clove and notes of cedar. There are herbal notes that float delicately through, fresh rosemary, and thyme that put me in the mood for Herbs de Provence. I can imagine lavender, sage, and marjoram in the background.
This small-production wine sits at 14.5% abv, but it does not come across as that big, it has a lithe elegance. $39 SRP. Grab it while you can on their site.
Pairings for the L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Franc-Merlot
I mentioned that many of the people who tasted this Cabernet Franc-Merlot craved a burger with it. It is a wine that goes well with meat, but unlike the Left Bank style, which leans heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon, it does not NEED meat. Someone mentioned pairing this with a black bean chili, which pulled out the earthier notes in the wine. This is food-friendly.
We paired the Cabernet Franc-Merlot with Beef Roulade and Melting Potatoes
I found a lovely recipe for spinach and mushroom stuffed beef.
The recipe called for 3 to 3 ½ lbs of beef tenderloin. I will admit, cuts of meat are not my thing. I’m learning, but I had to research a bit. Well, for those of you who, like me are not up to speed on your cuts, a filet mignon is cut from the tenderloin. So I was looking at 6 to 7 filet mignons before they cut them up. Hmmm…that sounds pretty expensive. Of course, when we went to look, I sent Michael to the butcher shop, deciding that way he could determine if that was in our budget today. He returned with a top sirloin roast. I figured, why not? Let’s try it.
If you do know your cuts of meat, you are probably shaking your head right now. This roast did not lend itself to being pounded out. I did the whole, cut it almost in half, and open it like a book thing. It was still too thick, so I tried it again, cutting and folding in open like a map. Finally, it was at a size that worked. We prepared the stuffing of bacon, spinach, shallots, and mushrooms. I spread this on the meat and rolled it up and tied it. This cooks at 350 for 30 minutes, then we increased the heat to 450 and cooks for another 15 minutes until the interior is about 125°. I’ll be honest, this was the timing for the tenderloin. This cut didn’t need this much time. It was fine, but not as rare as I would have liked. We did make the accompanying red wine sauce for this which was so good!
We also made melting potatoes, a recipe I found at Bake at Midnight. This was my first time making these, how have I not known about these? Get some large potatoes, russets, or Yukon golds work. Peel them and cut off the ends and cut 1 inch rounds (flat on the top and bottom) these sear in oil and butter on one side. They flip and add chicken stock, garlic and thyme and top each potato with a bit of butter. This then cooks in the oven for 30 minutes. The potatoes come out crunchy and delicious on top and the bottom soaks up all that butter and stock. Make sure to drizzle them with the melted butter in the bottom of the pan.
This was a great pairing with the Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend. This roulade is not like a big steak, it is softened with the spinach and mushrooms, and the savory notes are kicked up with the bacon.
We also did a small pairing later with a cheese plate with cheddar, raspberries, blackberries, black plum, pecans, and a bit of duck rillettes and morello cherry preserves. While cheddar is supposed to be a good pairing for this type of blend, I’m not a cheddar lover, and pairing it with the wine didn’t change my tune. The cherries and duck, however, were beautiful with the wine.
Things are starting to open up and Walla Walla is a great place to visit. It is off the beaten path, you don’t drive through Walla Walla on your way to any place else, but it is worth the journey. They will be opening a tasting room in Walla Walla. Currently, they host guests at the Historic Frenchtown School. This new tasting room will be in the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla. Check the L’Ecole No. 41 site for all the updates and to schedule a visit.
This roulade is beautiful and delicious filled with bacon, mushrooms, spinach, and shallots. It is finished with a red wine sauce.
It takes a bit of time in the oven and will vary by the cut of meat you use. Our recipe is filled with bacon, mushrooms, spinach and shallots, but as with any roulade, you can switch out the items in the filling as long as they are already cooked. The herbs also can be adapted.
We paired this with a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend from Washington and it was a delicious pairing.
- 3 slices of Bacon finely chopped
- 12 oz of cremini mushrooms finely chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 tbs garlic minced
- 3 cups of beef stock
- 6 ounces of fresh baby spinach roughly chopped
- 1.8 lb sirloin tip roast (okay, pick a better cut, do a tenderloin if you can if not try skirt steak)
- 11/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 cup of red wine
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 tsp all-purpose flour
- 3 tbs Butter
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Make the Filling
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
- Add the finely chopped bacon and cook for 2 minutes (this wants to be soft, not crispy).
- Add the shallots and cook for another two minutes.
- Add the mushrooms, cook for 3 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium-high.
- Add the garlic and sauté for just 30 seconds, until it is fragrant.
- Stir in ½ cup of the beef stock, cook stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost all gone (about 8 minutes).
- Add the spinach and cook just until it wilts, about a minute.
- Prep and stuff the beef
- Make a cut lengthwise down the meat so that you can open it up like a book and pound it out. (If you have skirt steak! Congratulations! You don’t have to do this step!)
- Place the beef on a sheet of plastic wrap and cover it with another. Pound the beef out with a meat mallet (or a heavy rolling pin like I did). Head for ½ inch thick. Mine was closer to ¾ and it worked fine.
- Brush the beef with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Spread the filling over the beef, leaving a ½ inch border around the edge.
- Roll this up. If you have a rectangle, do this lengthwise, so that your roll will be longer.
- Tie this every two inches with cooking twine.
- Brush the outside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Place this on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
- Increase the temperature to 450° F and bake an additional 15 to 25 minutes or until the thermometer registers 125° F. Depending on your cut of meat and the thickness, this time will be different.
- At this point, you will want to start the sauce
- Combine the rest of the beef stock (2 ½ cups), the wine, and sprigs of thyme in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Cook until this is reduced to 1 cup (this will take about 20-25 minutes, keep an eye on it)
- Remove the thyme sprigs and throw them away
- Take ¼ cup of the stock mixture and mix it with the flour in a small bowl to make a slurry.
- Add this mixture back to the pot and whisk it in.
- Return this to a boil and cook for 1 minute. If this gets too thick, add a little more stock.
- Remove from the heat and whisk the butter and season with salt and pepper.
- When your roulade reaches 125° F, remove it from the oven.
- Let this stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then cut across the grain. You should get 12 slices.
- You can plate this with the sauce on the bottom or drizzled on top or heck, do both (the sauce is delicious)
We served this with Melting potatoes.
If we could have, we would have used a beef tenderloin, but couldn’t find one. Michael found a sirloin tip roast so we decided to wing it. It was harder to pound out due to the cut of meat and I ended up carefully carving it open to the right thickness. This worked, but it took much less time to cook due to the cut of meat. This is where you need to keep going back with your meat thermometer to monitor it.
My sauce reduced too far and I brought it back with some additional stock. If you have leftover stock, you can do the same to thin this backup.
Amount Per Serving Calories 539Total Fat 30gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 163mgSodium 2624mgCarbohydrates 10gFiber 2gSugar 3gProtein 48g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
I found this recipe for Melting Potatoes at Bake at Midnight. These are delicious potatoes, crisp on the top and soft and delicious below. I don't know if I will ever make potatoes another way again.
- 3 large russet potatoes (if you can't find russets use yukon golds)
- 10 tbs of butter
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch thick rounds (cut off the rounded ends, they won’t work in the dish, you need flat ends)
- Pat the potatoes dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium-high
- When the skillet is hot add the oil and 4 tbs of the butter
- Sear the potatoes for 4 minutes. Turn them over and remove them from the heat (you are only searing one side)
- Cut the remaining butter into as many pieces as you have rounds of potatoes
- Pour the chicken stock into the pan. Add the thyme and garlic.
- Top each potato with a cube of butter.
- Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Spoon the delicious butter sauce over the potatoes to serve.
Russet potatoes will hold up and not break down in this recipe. I have also seen this made with Yukon Gold.
You want big potatoes to get big rounds.
You can, of course, use other herbs in the recipe.
Amount Per Serving Calories 373Total Fat 24gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 10gCholesterol 52mgSodium 254mgCarbohydrates 34gFiber 4gSugar 2gProtein 5g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.