It’s that time again – the first Saturday of the month, when a group of wine and food enthusiasts come together to discuss menu pairings based on a particular theme. October has us focusing on #MerlotMe, an exercise in which we try out new bottles of an old favorite – Merlot. Jeff Burrows from FoodWineClick! is our host this month, as we don our aprons and head into the kitchen, testing out new recipes to pair with one of the world’s most popular wines. So, forget about Sideways, and the now infamous utterance about Merlot – that’s so last decade. Join us on Twitter this Saturday October 8th at 11:00 a.m. eastern, using #WinePW and #MerlotMe to follow the conversation. If you’d like to share your ideas, jump right in! Just make sure your post includes those two hashtags so we know you’re out there.
As I mentioned, this is a collaborative effort, open to anyone who has an interest in wine and food. Listed below is a preview of what’s on deck for our discussion:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Merlot Shows Its Versatility and Goes +1 With Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate
Amy from Cooking with Amy shares Mushroom Parmigiano Pasta Recipe
David from Cooking Chat shares Garlic Thyme Tuna Paired with a Merlot
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares #MerlotMe Trifecta for #WinePW
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog shares Welcoming Fall with #MerlotMe and #WinePW
Jennifer from Vino Travels – An Italian Wine Blog shares #MerlotMe with Sausage Baked Ziti
Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere shares Exploring Merlot Wine Pairing with Bolognese Sauce
Lori from Dracaena Wines shares Hello, Can you #MerlotMe?
Jill from L’Occasion shares Evenings with Merlot
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares Mercy Monday and Merlot
Gwen from Wine Predator shares #MerlotMe with savory simple fall foods
Jade from Tasting Pour shares Chipotle Chicken Stew and Merlot
Cindy from Grape Experiences shares Wine and Dine: Merlot with Eggplant and Polenta Parmigiana
Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares A Love Affair for Merlot and the Grill
Mercy Mondays and Merlot
Let me start out by saying this was not the post I had planned to write. After signing up to participate in #MerlotMe during the month of October, I looked forward to trying some new bottles of Merlot and leisurely coming up with inspiring new recipes to match. Well, as with most plans, this one did not pan out as anticipated. Part one went off without a hitch: I received three sample bottles – from Duckhorn Vineyards, Grgich-Hills Estate, and Pope Valley Winery – which had me imagining some creative dishes to pair with them. Oh, the things I would make! But then, stuff happened. Hurricane Matthew set his sights on South Florida.
My husband had been on the west coast at a convention and a series of meetings, touching down in Fort Lauderdale late Friday afternoon. By this time all of us in the southeastern United States had been watching Matthew’s progress carefully, wondering if he would be the one – the first major hurricane to strike Florida in more than a decade. We all kept on with our normal activities, perking up slightly whenever there was a mention of Matthew on TV or radio. He seemed so far away, and was moving so slowly. It would probably be another false alarm.
As my husband came in the door, exhausted from almost two weeks on the road, I was loath to tell him about the storm. I helped him unpack his bags and get settled. He flopped down on the couch and turned on the news, and there he was, in all his miserable Category 4 glory: Hurricane Matthew was driving toward Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba. So we had the talk. The one about evacuation. We live across the street from the beach, and a direct hit would mean destruction of property, for sure, and the potential for serious injury or loss of life. As we heard the meteorologist announce that Matthew had been upgraded to Category 5, we knew what we had to do. With his projected path threatening most of South Florida, we had no choice.
Lucky for us, we were able to get on a flight to New York early Saturday morning. My husband’s family lives there, and we would be able to settle in as long as necessary. But that meant we had virtually no time to prepare: to clear the balcony, secure the hurricane shutters, turn off the water, pack up valuable documents, empty the fridge and freezer, move the cars to higher ground. Gosh, there was so much to do and we had to do it immediately! Somehow we managed it all, leaving the apartment as fortified as possible, and hoping for the best. The last thing I did was bubble-wrap my bottle of Duckhorn Merlot and stash it in my suitcase. We were going to have one #MerlotMe dinner come, quite literally, hell or high water.
By the time we arrived in New York, we were both exhausted, worried, and hoping our preparations would be sufficient. Too tired to cook, I suggested we order pizza and go to bed early. It had been a long two days. Monday came along and with it, reports of Matthew’s gaining force and edging just a bit closer to our part of the world. Coastal communities from Pompano Beach to West Palm Beach issued evacuation orders and set up shelters for people who had no choice but to stay in town. We felt lucky that we were away from the madness, but very scared for our neighbors who were still there.
Every once in a while, my husband and I will both be caught up in crazy work schedules that leave little time for planning a beautiful meal and taking a few hours to enjoy it. For some reason, that usually happens to us on a Monday. A few years ago, we were in the midst of just such an occasion and my husband, who finished up his day a little earlier than I did, offered to go get groceries for dinner. When asked what I wanted him to get, I said, “Pick up anything you want. If you’re willing to do the shopping, I will cook whatever you bring home.” And that’s how Mercy Mondays were born. When they happen, he shops and I, at his mercy, will cook whatever he brings home.
We have had some good laughs about that over time. Some of his mercy ingredients have been spectacular, including the gorgeous lamb chops he came up with this past Monday. Other times, they present more of a challenge. For example, the night he went out to get the fixings for a dinner for three. He came back with an entire beef rib roast that weighed 8 pounds! (If you’re wondering how I solved that one, I cut the roast in half, cooking one piece and freezing the other.)
So, back to Monday’s mercy ingredients. In New York we have a Whole Foods just a couple of blocks away, and my husband really loves to shop there. I mean REALLY LOVES it. He enjoys strolling up and down the aisles, looking at the products, some strange, some familiar, some seemingly unnecessary, and he always comes back with way more food than we need. Monday night, though, it was just those beautiful lamb chops, a mixed bag of fresh herbs, a carton of small heirloom tomatoes, and a fresh baguette. Just perfect!
I prepared the lamb chops very simply, marinating them in a plastic bag with chopped rosemary, thyme, and dill, a few cloves of garlic, zest and juice of one lemon, salt and pepper. The tomatoes I halved and dressed with a simple sherry vinaigrette and chopped dill. All went beautifully with the 2013 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot.
After a few days of chaos, stress, and worry, my husband and I sat down to our first real meal together. We appreciated the delicious food and absolutely exquisite wine, and the fact that we were fortunate enough to enjoy them in a safe, secure environment far from Matthew’s mischief. Now that it’s Friday again, I’m happy to say that our little corner of Florida was spared the worst of it. We were much luckier than the folks a hundred miles north. We toasted to our health and happiness and truly savored every bite of that meal. For me, it illustrated the very best reasons we gather around the table with our family and friends, to share food and wine, to tell stories, to be together.
2013 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
88% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc.
Barrel-aged for 15 months in French oak, 25% new, 75% neutral.
Suggested retail price: $54
In the glass, this is a dense, dark ruby red. It presents aromas of black cherry and plum, along with spicy notes of dried fruit and clove. On the palate it is lush, velvety, and smooth, with a decent weight that makes you want to slow down and taste every single drop. The tannins pop quite strongly at first, but it’s all in balance with the fruit and acidity. I felt a little bad opening this so early in its life: it has such potential to develop and evolve with a few years’ time.
NOTE: Once I’ve gotten back home, I will post on my other two #MerlotMe samples from Grgich-Hills Estate and Pope Valley Winery. I’m excited to taste them and share my thoughts with you. In the interim, I went out and bought another bottle of Merlot for Friday night’s bone-in rib-eye steak:
2011 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot
93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon.
63% from Napa County; 37% from Sonoma County
Barrel-aged for 18 months in 40% new French oak.
Retail Price: $64.99, on sale for $54.99
Deep purplish-red almost to the edge, where the color fades just a bit. Enticing aromas of black cherry, blackberry, and a noticeable floral component – rose? A sip shows a load of black fruit leading to notes of coffee, chocolate, and just a hint of rosemary. It is full-bodied and smooth, with well-integrated tannins and nice acidity. A perfect match for grilled rib-eye with rosemary oil.