#MerlotMe…while this is my first year participating in this event with the writers at #WinePW, it is the sixth year for this event, where writer’s partner with Merlot producers to celebrate Merlot Month.
The official celebration day is Saturday, October 10th. You will see pieces roll out the day before, and we will all gather that morning at 8 am Pacific time on Twitter under hashtags #MerlotMe & #WinePW. We will discuss Merlot and all the wonderful things you can pair with it. Jeff Burrows of Food Wine Click leads us on this journey into the variety, you can read his invitation post here.
I received 5 Media #Samples, from producers in Washington, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Paso Robles. We will start out with 2 in this post and promise to share more with you about the other 3 later this month. I recieved these bottles as samples, but received no other compensation and the opinions shared here, are my own.
I have always been a Right Bank girl. When it comes to Bordeaux, the right bank Merlot driven wines have always been more appealing than their left bank Cabernet Sauvignon driven counterparts. Perhaps, it’s just my love-hate relationship with Cab Sav. I don’t want to have to wait so long for it to be ready to drink, and I don’t want to spend that much! Or, perhaps I just like the way it tastes more. It’s approachable and nuanced, I don’t care what Miles says.
As this was my first year participating, I was surprised at the range of samples I received. They included L’Ecole 41 2017 Columbia Valley Merlot, Selby 2018 Merlot from Sonoma County, Bonterra 2018 California Merlot, Peju 2016 Merlot from Napa Valley, and LaZarre 2017 Merlot from Paso Robles.
UPDATE* We took this shot and then yesterday 2 more wines arrived from Rutherford Hill, the 2017 Atlas Peak Merlot and the 2019 Rosé of Merlot.
We begin with two wines that, while both are Merlot, are decidedly different. This is the wonderful thing about wine. It can remain attuned to its variety, in this case, Merlot, but through where and how it is grown, winemaking techniques, as well as vintages, it can exude its own personality.
My title says from “elegant to badass”. You will find this difference in the wines, but also in the personality of the two wineries. Both were delicious, but in quite different ways.
Peju Province, Napa Valley
Tony Peju was born near the Caspian Sea. That sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? The Caspian Sea is of course close to the region where we believe wine grapes first evolved. So perhaps wine was in his blood from an early age. He traveled Europe and in 1960 found himself in LA. Here, he and his wife Herta, built a thriving nursery and florist business.
This love of growing things led them to purchase 30 acres in Rutherford, where they could farm, and Tony decided he wanted to grow wine grapes and learn to make wine. A degree at UC Davis and some Garagiste winemaking led them to build a winery in 1991. This winery grew, along with its gardens. Today the 50-foot tower is a landmark in the Valley.
The property sits in Rutherford, east of the St. Helena Highway. The drive is lined with sycamore trees, the gardens are whimsical and transport you to another world. There are sculptures, manicured gardens, a creek, and fountains.
They have 5 vineyards: the HB Estate Vineyard at the winery in Rutherford, two in the Pope Valley, Persephone and Tess, Wappo Vineyard in Calistoga, and one in Oak Knoll. This allows them to have estate fruit in 4 different Napa Valley sub AVAs.
They have been lucky in that they were safe from the recent fires. It’s not been easy in Napa this year. I spoke with Christine Lilienthal at the winery. She said they felt very fortunate.
“The fires came too close for comfort in Calistoga and evened brushed up against several rows of vines. We don’t know what the full results will be but we do encourage wine lovers to show their support for all of Napa Valley Wineries… the best way to do that is purchase Napa Valley wines or visit us in person. Covid regulations and the fires have impacted our small, hard-working community and we appreciate all the support. Also, we are donating 10% of all online wine sales in October to support Fire Relief and our community.”Christine Lilienthal, Director of Marketing Peju Province Winery
They do have another property in Carneros called Calmére, where they focus on Pinot Noir and Viognier.
LaZarre Wines is the wine love child of Adam and Angie LaZarre and is meant to showcase Central Coast fruit. The two are co-winemakers, both with long careers in the industry. They do have a bit of a “Rockstar” vibe. The photo above is for an event that they typically do annually called “Metal & Merlot”. This year, I guess you just need to grab a bottle of their Merlot and crank up the Metal at your house!
Adam worked with Hahn, Villa San-Juliette, and helped to create Rex-Goliath & Cycles-Gladiator labels. Angie has worked in wine from hospitality to hands on work. She is the “boots on the ground”, “get this wine to the people” force at this winery in addition to spending time out in the vineyards, checking and tasting the grapes to see if they are ready. (Check that our on their IG page).
“We invite you to experience the wine we love to drink. After all, wine is a gift from God and should be enjoyed responsibly, or at least naked…”Adam LaZarre, winemaker (from their site)
The Elegant – Peju 2016 Merlot – Napa Valley
This wine is sourced from the Estate vineyard in Rutherford and the Persephone vineyard which is located on the east side of Howell Mountain in the Pope Valley. They practice sustainable farming, and the Rutherford property is Certified Organic. They are working to certify all their vineyards in the next few years. They also have a solar array covering over 10,000 square feet of the winery’s roof.
- 95% Merlot, 5% Cab Sav
- They describe the 2016 season as “near-perfect”
- 17 months in French & American Oak (40% new)
- 4,857 cases produced
- 15% abv
- SRP $48
The Badass – LaZarre 2017 Merlot – Paso Robles
This wine is from the Casa Grande Vineyard in the Adelaida District. They note that this vineyard is on Vineyard Road almost as far as where it meets Adelaida Road. The Merlot is grown on a south-facing slope in this cool-climate vineyard. This is an area I love in Paso. The trees and winding roads make for a heavenly drive.
- 100% Merlot
- 18 months is 60% New French oak, the rest in American Oak
- 160 cases produced
- 14% abv
- SRP $48
What to eat with these?
Before we go into our thoughts on the wine, let’s tell you what we paired them with.
Red meat is a given for this, and we did steaks in garlic and Worcestershire. That’s pretty simple, buy we kicked it up with our sides doing a medley of sautéed carrots and potato swirls with parmesan. The kicker was dessert…
The potatoes were the time-consuming part of the meal; boil, cool, rice, add delicious stuff, pipe into swirls, freeze then bake! Whew! But they were delicious.
Now to dessert which was heaven…. Molten chocolate cake with raspberry mousse!
The chocolate cake? Okay, this felt like a cheat, but man it works well. I did a chocolate mug cake in the microwave. You can find the recipe here. We did this once before, the problem is, it’s too big for one person to eat. It’s just too rich. So, we share. It’s perfect for two.
The Raspberry Mousse was a bit more time and work, gelatin, water, raspberries, sugar, and crème. There is some soaking and boiling and mixing and whipping and folding and chilling. But it’s all worth it. This is lovely and not too sweet, which contrasts beautifully with the rich sweet chocolate cake.
I spooned the warm chocolate mug cake into 2 very fancy dessert glasses (Thanks RuBen!) then topped with the raspberry mousse, fresh raspberries, and mint. This was heaven.
We also did a Day 2 pairing. These are big wines and we could not polish them off in one evening. That was actually perfect though, we could taste these again a second time after they had time to open up. This time we paired them with a steak stir fry with bok choy and peppers.
How did the wines do?
Immediately I noticed the color in the glass, more red tones, and lighter than the LaZarre. Upon dipping my nose in the glass I smelled red fruits like currant or plum and spice. It opened to licorice, white pepper, and a bit of 5-spice. In my mouth, there were tannins, medium in strength but rough in my mouth, like rubbing suede where the grain is not always in the same direction. I felt a lift of alcohol on the back of my palate, that was not unpleasant.
This was 15% abv, I expected it to blow me away and come off hot, but it did not. It was balanced and elegant with good acid. My final impression was “prim, forthright and elegant”. It was beautiful with the food, elevating the steak. It was a stunner with dessert.
The nose was detailed and nuanced, I got multiple spices, light tobacco, and tea leaf with a background of light cocoa and cherries. It opened to cherry cola with bits of cool eucalyptus. In my mouth, this was fuller and came off as sweeter, still dry, but with sweet fruit notes. This is concentrated with fine smooth tannins. Decidedly flashier, it has that Rockstar edge but toned down, this is the songwriter in the group, not the frontman. It is big, but there is depth and nuance here.
This is a wine that demands attention and didn’t want to share as much with the food. However, the second day with the stir fry, this wine sang. I don’t know if it was the peppers or the onions or the seasonings, or if it had just opened up to a happy spot, but it came out on top with this second pairing.
#MerlotMe on #WinePW
We are just getting started! We have 5 more wines we intend to share with you over the remainder of the month! It’s Merlot Month people! What’s in your glass?
In the meantime…take a gander at the pieces written by my colleagues at #WinePW and plan to join us Saturday morning on Twitter!
- Andrea at The Quirky Cork shares “Three Turkish Merlots”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Merlot: A Varietal That Plays Well with Others”
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Sip Merlot with Vegetarian Favorites”
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares “Fall Vegan Menu Paired with 2016 Napa Merlots”
- David at Cooking Chat shares “Merlot Food Pairing: Tips and Favorites”
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “Meatloaf and #MerlotMe with Sonoma’s Selby and Columbia Valley’s L’Ecole No. 41”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Merlot Pairing: Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “A Tale of Two Merlots at the Grill”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “What’s So Special About Merlot?”
- Jennifer at Vino Travels shares “Fall is Here! Warm up with a Merlot and Pot Roast Pairing”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “October is #MerlotMe Month: Here’s What I’ve Been Sipping”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Kicking off #MerlotMe in the Pacific time zone”
- Liz at What’s in that Bottle? shares “Make Room for Merlot!”
- Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass shares “Leaves on the Ground and #MerlotMe in my Glass”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Next Gen Merlot From Where It All Started”
- Martin at Enofylz shares “A Meatless #MerlotMe Redux”
- Nicole at Somms Table shares “5 #MerlotMe Nights”
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Kicking Off Autumn With #Merlotme”
- Pinny at Chinese Wine & Food Pairings shares “#MerlotMe with Markham and L’Ecole No. 41 Merlots and Army Ramen”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “#MerlotMe – Best Food Pairings For Merlot”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Brazilian Merlot Is Always Welcome At My Table”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares “Merlot Me with Noodless Lasagne”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Woohoooooooo….It is #MerlotMe month”
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.