October is Merlot Month. It’s also the month of our wedding anniversary here at Crushed Grape Chronicles. 23 years ago, Michael and I tied the knot at Mount Charleston. I don’t know that we realized then, that Vegas would be our home for so long. We now live close enough to have a view of the Mountain.
Merlot has always been one of Michael’s favorite wines, and quite honestly we don’t drink it often enough. #MerlotMe has given us an opportunity to dive back into this variety that too often is overlooked.
The bottle we will open today is from L’Ecole No. 41 in Walla Walla Washington.
The wine in this post was provided as a media sample. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own
L’Ecole No. 41
This 3rd generation winery is actually just outside of Walla Walla in Frenchtown. It is named for the French Canadians who settled in the Valley in the early 1800’s and began the wine making tradition in the region.
The tasting room for L’Ecole 41 is in the restored Lowden School that was built here in 1915. The name “L’Ecole No. 41” comes from the French word for school, the 41 for the school district, and is an ode to the early wine pioneers of the area.
Marty and Megan Clubb run the winery, now, but it was Megan’s parents Jean & Baker Ferguson who founded the winery in 1983 as their retirement project. At the time it was just the third winery in Walla Walla. In 1989 Marty and Megan came to take the helm and grow the winery. Today their children Rebecca and Riley work at the winery as the 3rd generation in this family business.
L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot – Columbia Valley
While this is called a Merlot, it is much more in the style of a Right Bank Bordeaux wine. It is 81% Merlot. In the US (and much of the world), to call a wine by a variety name it must be 75% of that grape. So, this is a Merlot by those standards. It also includes other typical Bordeaux grapes in small quantities with 14% Cabernet Franc and then just drops of Malbec and Petit Verdot.
This wine is a “Columbia Valley” wine with fruit from Estate Seven Hills Vineyard and Pepper Bridge in the Walla Walla Valley, Winebau and Stone Tree which are north in the Wahluke Slope AVA, Bacchus & Dionysus Vineyards which are in the larger Columbia Valley AVA north of the Tri-Cities area and then 2 vineyards in the Yakima Valley AVA: Candy Mountain, which has just become its own AVA, Klipsun in the Red Mountain AVA. So as you can see, this covers a wide area in the Greater Columbia Valley AVA.
- 81% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
- Columbia Valley (from these Vineyards” Estate Seven Hills, Bacchus & Dionysus, Candy Mountain, Klipsun, Weinbau, Pepper Bridge and Stone Tree)
- Racked into small oak barrels – 30% new
- Four rackings over 18 months
- 14.5% abv
- 4,870 cases produced
- SRP $25
Tasting Notes from Winery
“Layered with complex aromas of black cherry, rose petal, baking spices and cocoa. Full bodied with a seamless finish with fine-grained tannins.”
So now…what to pair?
It’s Saturday as I write this and a cold front is coming in. The temperature has dropped and layers of clouds cover parts of the valley. It’s a day to stay in and nest. A simple but delicious lunch of Carne Asada soft tacos is in order, that will pair with this wine, then later, we will try an ambitious dessert and see how it pairs.
Carne Asada & Bleu Cheese soft tacos.
Perhaps these are more wrap than a taco. We took the easy way on this and picked up some pre-marinated Carne Asada from Trader Joes. This cooks on high for 2 to 3 minutes per side (we like our steak on the rare side), on the grill pan on the stove. It rests for 5 minutes, while we warm the tortilla’s one at a time in the rod iron skillet.
Slice the meat thinly across the grain and build your soft taco. We served our bean and rice on the side, but certainly, you could add those and make this a burrito if you wanted. Meat, crumbled bleu cheese, arugula, sliced avocado, and corn relish (also Trader Joe’s, guess you know where I shop).
Now to dessert. We just got an ice cream maker. You would think, that I would start with vanilla and hone my skills. Nope. I dove right in and made a bleu cheese ice cream. Couldn’t help it! My dessert ties in some of the notes from the wineries tasting, we will see how it goes. The idea is to taste and see how these flavors pair. Forget the food shows where you have to scoop it all into one bite, this is flavor and taste experimentation.
Here’s what I plated:
- Ground pistachios
- Balsamic reduction
- Shaved dark chocolate
- Rehydrated cherries
- Fresh plum
- Ground nutmeg
- Dried rose petals
- Fresh mint
- Bleu cheese ice cream
Bleu Cheese Ice Cream
- 1 quart Half & Half
- 1 tbs of black peppercorns
- 5 oz of Bleu cheese
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- Heat the half & half with the peppercorns until hot
- Strain the peppercorns out
- Put 2/3rds of the bleu cheese in a bowl
- Pour the hot milk over and stir until smooth
- Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until dissolved
- Chill overnight, or at least 4 hours
- Add the remaining 1/3 of the bleu cheese and stir lightly (you want the chunks)
- Put in an ice cream maker and churn as directed
I found that my ice cream maker suggested 15 minutes, but that was too soft to make Quenelles, so I put some on a cookie sheet and stuck it in the freezer for 20 minutes. You could also put it in a container and freeze it for about 2 hours (I was hungry and in a hurry).
Make the Quenelles of ice cream with 2 spoons. (or go ahead and use an ice cream scoop if you want!)
You can plate with whatever other flavors float your boat! I chose notes that would pair with my specific wine, but you do you!
So how did the pairings go?
The Carne Asada soft tacos were good with the Merlot. The spices might have kicked up the heat on my palate a little, but the avocado cooled things down and the bleu cheese was just the right kick!
With dessert? You remember we were laying out a tasting plate to experiment. The plum and nutmeg melded and melted away. The cherries, the balsamic, the chocolate? Yeah, all were good together and with the Merlot. The pistachios added texture, but not a lot of flavor. The rosepetals? They were pretty, just not tasty. And the ice cream? Yeah, I’d do that again. It is tasty. Keep in mind we just did a single Quenelle with all the other bits to mix in. I would NOT do a bowl with 3 scoops of this!
I had been worried about the sweetness of the ice cream with the wine and didn’t find that to be a problem. The savory funk of the bleu cheese balanced out the sweetness and I enjoyed this with the wine.
It is Merlot Month so we’ve written done a few other tastings and pairings as we joined in the celebration with #MerlotMe and the writers at #WinePW!
- Merlot from elegant to badass. Time to #MerlotMe with #WinePW
- (in this one you will find all the links to the other pieces by all my colleagues at #WinePW)
- Merlot from 2 big-name companies, that are worth finding for different reasons.
- Celebrating Merlot month with a Selby Merlot from Sonoma County
You can also visit #MerlotMe for lots of great pairing ideas as well as specials and events with wineries!
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.