Today we tie together two of our favorite things, Merlot and L’Ecole No. 41. It’s October, so that means #MerlotMe, where we celebrate this grape all month long.
In 2013 the Duckhorn family decided to launch a movement called #MerlotMe. (My friend Liz of “What’s in that Bottle” was there at the time and helped them do this!). The idea is to spend the month of October extolling the virtues of this grape that became so maligned by “Sideways”.
As a member of #WinePW (a group of writers who gather monthly to write about a wine and food pairing) I received multiple samples of Merlots to taste, pair, and share with you.
*While these samples were received free of charge, all opinions are our own, and no other compensation was received.*
Washington Merlot from L’Ecole No. 41
Today we are digging into 2 Merlots from L’Ecole No. 41 in Washington. We’ve been busy this year with a monthly posting on wines from L’Ecole No. 41, and that all began with the samples from last year’s #MerlotMe (that was kind of our first date with L’Ecole)
Since that first date, we have learned so much about this winery and we even had a chance to visit them in August. (We will share some vineyard photos, further down in the post).
On to the wines!
These are the two Merlots that they produce at L’Ecole No. 41. One is in their heritage line and comes from many of the vineyards they source from in the Columbia Valley, the other comes from Walla Walla and their estate vineyards Seven Hills and Ferguson.
L’Ecole No. 41, 2018 Merlot Columbia Valley
While this wine is sourced from many vineyards, these are all established vineyards that L’Ecole has been working with for a long time. The fruit comes from their Seven Hills Estate and their Ferguson Estate (which you will see exclusively in the next wine) as well as Pepper Bridge, all in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, plus Candy Mountain Vineyard in the tiny new Candy Mountain AVA, Dionysus in the new White Bluffs AVA, and Klipsun in the Red Mountain AVA.
While this wine is labeled “Merlot” it is actually a blend. (to be labeled as a variety the wine must be 75% of that variety). This wine is 80% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.
This wine they produce to showcase the expression of the variety. This sees 35% new French oak for 18 months.
Pronounced aromas and flavors of Blackberry, black currant, spice and cedar. This wine was fruit forward, and fresh, perfect with the food. It is not overly complex, but very satisfying.
14.5% abv – 5,300 cases produced – $25 SRP
L’Ecole No. 41 2018 Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley
This wine comes exclusively from their Seven Hills and Ferguson Estate Vineyards and is a 50/50 blend between the two.
The blend here is 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon
The fruit is handled in the same way as the other wine. The difference here is the soils. The soil in the Seven Hills vineyard is wind-blown loess. It’s fine and powdery, making little puffs of dust when you walk in it. Both of these vineyards sit on the Van Sickle Ridge. Seven Hills is at the base of the ridge where these dusty loess soils were dumped by the winds as they came over the ridge. As Ben, the L’Ecole Marketing Manager explains, these mineral-rich soils give a silkiness to the tannins.
Ferguson Vineyard, on the other hand, sits at the top of the ridge, where the soils over the basalt bedrock are thin. Most of them were blown over the edge, down into Seven Hills. Basalt is volcanic and this is one of the biggest basalt lava flows in the world. The basalt is fractured, which lets the roots dig down, desperate to find water. Also because this is the top of the ridge it gets more wind. This wind thickens the skins and makes the berries (the grapes) smaller, this gives them a greater skin to pulp ratio which gives them more powerful tannins.
So you have this tug of war between the tannins from these sites that are so close but so different. This allows for complexity, giving you smooth elegant tannins that glide over your palate from the Seven Hills fruit as well as depth and structure from the Ferguson fruit.
14.5% abv – 1070 cases produced – $36 SRP
The iron in the basalt soil also comes through in the Ferguson, giving a meatier, almost bloody taste as well as notes of smoke and charcoal. The Cab franc in the blend pulls in elegant floral notes and the Malbec and Petit Verdot enhance the blue tones in the color.
You can see the Merlot from the Seven Hills Vineyard below in the foreground of the photo as well as a close-up of that Merlot ripening when we visited.
The Ferguson wall is 30 feet high and shows the basalt rock beneath the Ferguson Vineyard. You can see the swirls of iron in the wall. This vineyard on the top of the ridge also has a spectacular view of the Walla Walla Valley.
What to pair?
When I read the tasting notes before opening the wines, the Columbia Valley Merlot mentioned crushed roses, smoky cedar, macerated berries, coffee, and kirsch. The notes on the Estate Merlot included blackberry, cedar, roasted figs, sage, and bitter chocolate. I pondered on creating two dishes, but time would not allow that so I settled on one, Pork tenderloin with shallots and figs with a balsamic cocoa glaze served with garlic sage mashed potatoes.
I’ll get on to that pairing soon, but I wanted to share with you my other thought for a pairing, which would likely have gone best with the Columbia Valley Merlot. A coffee-rubbed pork shoulder with a black cherry sauce. I think this would have been spectacular, but…I did not have the time and the store did not have the pork shoulder, so it will wait for another day.
Pork tenderloin with shallots and figs and a balsamic cocoa glaze on garlic sage mashed potatoes
I based this on a recipe from Valley Fig, that used beef tenderloin. As beef tenderloin is pretty expensive, I decided to go with pork, as that would tie into what I had hoped to pair with the Columbia Valley Merlot.
In the past, I have tried to butterfly tenderloins at home, I decided to be good to myself and ask the butcher to do it for me. The Butcher asked that I get a pork roast as that would be easier for him to butterfly. Well, easier I’m sure it was! I got home and it was way too small and way too thick for filling, so I got my knife out and trimmed it and used the extra pork for a quick dish. Sadly the loin was not as wide as I would have liked and I didn’t get a good spiral, but ah well, it was still tasty.
The filling was sauteed shallot, dried fig reconstituted with port wine with thyme it is topped with toasted pecans. This gets rolled up in the loin and tied off, then the loin is seared, glazed with the balsamic, cocoa, coffee glaze, and roasted in the oven.
The potatoes were new golden potatoes boiled with 3 cloves of garlic. I put them through the ricer, added butter, sour crème, and dried sage then seasoned them with salt and pepper.
The dish was wonderful with both wines, but especially the Estate Merlot.
More on L’Ecole No. 41
- Frenchtown Fun – Blend of Bordeaux and Rhône Grapes Paired with Taco with Rhône Inspired Salsa
- Steak and chocolate – The best way to enjoy a L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Going to school with a sister city-inspired pairing – L’Ecole No. 41 Luminesce and Temaki
- Chenin blanc from L’Ecole No. 41 – Old Vines and breakfast for dinner
More on Merlot!
- Two easy to find and affordable Merlots to celebrate #MerlotMe Month
- Kicking off #MerlotMe with 2 Rutherford Hill Merlots and decadent burgers with chocolate
- Merlot from 2 big name companies that are worth finding for different reasons
- Celebrating Merlot Month with a Selby Merlot from Sonoma County
- Merlot from elegant to badass. Time to #MerlotMe with #WinePW
Based on a recipe from Valley Fig. We switched out the beef tenderloin for pork tenderloin and did a glaze of cocoa, coffee, and balsamic. This was plated on a bed of garlic and sage mashed potatoes and was topped with a blue cheese butter.
We paired this with a delicious Washington Merlot from L'Ecole No. 41.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot minced (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1/2 cup dried figs, stems removed
- 2/3 cup ruby port
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1- 2 lb pork loin trimmed of fat and silver skin and butterflied
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons toasted pecans chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ounce blue cheese crumbled
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- ¼ cup brewed coffee
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 3 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 lbs baby golden potatoes
- 3 tbs butter
- 1/4 cup sour creme
- 1 tbs sage dried and crumbled
- Parsley (for garnish)
- Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the shallot, and cook until softened 2-3 minutes
- In a small microwave-safe bowl place the chopped dried figs and the port wine. Microwave for 2 minutes and set aside to cool.
- Add the fig and port mixture to the skillet with the shallot, as well as the thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook until thick about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Put on a plate to cool to room temperature
- Butterfly the loin so you can have it laid out flat to fill. Season both sides with salt and pepper
- spread the fig mixture on the inside leaving 1/2 inch all the way around.
- Sprinkle with the toasted pecans
- Roll from long edge to long edge and tie with 4 to 5 pieces of twine
- Rub with olive oil and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hr.
- In a small pot combine the coffee, cocoa, and balsamic, heat over medium-high, and reduce by half
- Heat the oven to 450 F with the rack in the middle.
- Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a rod iron skillet, on medium-high.
- Sear the pork loin on all sides (8 minutes total, 2 on each side)
- Coat the pork loin with the balsamic glaze and place on a rimmed sheet pan
- Roast for 15-20 minutes (an instant-read thermometer should read 145 F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat)
- While the meat is roasting, bring a pot of water seasoned with salt to a boil.
- quarter the baby potatoes, peel the garlic, and boil until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
- Mix your softened butter and blue cheese in a small dish and set aside
- Drain the potatoes and garlic and mash or put through a ricer (the ricer will remove the skins for you).
- add the butter, sage, and sour cream and blend.
- When the loin comes out of the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes before removing the string and slice it into rings
- Plate with the potatoes on the bottom, two slices of the loin on top and top them with the blue cheese butter
- Garnish with fresh parsley
Amount Per Serving Calories 923Total Fat 57gSaturated Fat 22gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 30gCholesterol 241mgSodium 793mgCarbohydrates 34gFiber 4gSugar 15gProtein 65g
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.