Pilo’s Street Tacos and Northstar Merlot: a #MerlotMe Pairing from Miami

Washington State Merlot from Northstar Winery in Walla Walla

October is such a delicious month! And I’m not talking about pumpkin spice here. For the past several years, the Wine Pairing Weekend warriors have dedicated their October event to the celebration of Merlot. Known by its hashtag #MerlotMe, the event brings together wine lovers and media pros with wineries that specialize in Merlot.

To see some of the creative ways in which #WinePW bloggers paired their wines, check out the first few paragraphs of my original post; it includes links to their posts – all 20 of them! I promise you’ll find something delicious that tickles your fancy.

Note: The wine featured in this post was provided to me as a media sample. Opinions and tasting notes are my own.

Weeknight Taco Take-Out

Some days fly by so fast they leave you wondering what happened. Admittedly they are fewer and further between in 2020 than in Before Times, but we had such a day last week. So we did what any self-respecting Miami residents would do: we ordered dinner from Pilo’s Street Tacos, right in our neighborhood. Within 30 minutes we had a tasty extravaganza on the table, including homemade guacamole, three pairs of tacos, and a selection of sauces to adorn them.

Who wouldn’t want this as a weeknight dinner?

As for tacos, here’s what we got:

  • Tacos La Pilo – pork al pastor with pineapple, white onions, and cilantro on corn tortillas.
  • Tacos La Elenita – pork al pastor wrapped in a cheese crust, topped with pineapple pico de gallo on flour tortillas
  • Tacos El Güero – grilled chicken with lettuce, avocado crema, and cotija cheese on corn tortillas
Left to right: La Frutal, La Diabla, La Dulce

Special salsas made in-house:

  • La Dulce – raw green tomatillo with honey
  • La Frutal – sweet and spicy tamarind, pineapple, and habanero chili
  • La Diabla – roasted tomato with jalapeno, arbol, and habanero chilis

2016 Northstar Winery Columbia Valley Merlot (14.5% abv; $41 via the winery website)

Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld, who worked previously with Jed Steele, believes that Washington State is the perfect place to grow Merlot: it’s on approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux, where some of the world’s most famous Merlot is grown, but has a longer growing season and cooler overnight temperatures.

Fruit for this Merlot is sourced from high-quality plots around the Columbia Valley and, according to Merfeld, he works closely with the growers, encouraging them to coax the unique aspects of a particular terroir to shine through. All told, the wine represents seven vineyards and 12 individual blocks that are blended together as a picture of the vintage.

In 2016 the growing season began with a very warm spring and early summer, followed by a cooler than anticipated fall. The cool-down extended hang time for the grapes, resulting in the longest harvest ever in Washington State.

The blend is predominantly Merlot (76%) with a little Cabernet Sauvignon (24%) added for the bright cherry and raspberry notes it brings to the final wine. Grapes were destemmed and crushed, with 40% of the crop processed as whole clusters. They fermented on their skins for about a week, undergoing daily punchdowns to extract flavor, color, and tannin. The wine was then transferred to 100% French oak barrels (56% new) for malolactic conversion and aging: over an 18-month period, the wine was racked every three months.

Tasting Notes

I recommend decanting this Merlot to allow all the aromas and flavors to emerge.

Color: Deep purple all the way to the rim.

Nose: Loads of ripe black fruit (cherry, plum, berries) with intense vanilla and coconut. There was a lot happening with this wine so I decanted it and let it breathe for about an hour. Great idea! After it opened a bit, there were fresh herbal notes (mint, eucalyptus) and some hints of chocolate.

Palate: Reflective of the nose with ripe black fruit, with secondary notes of vanilla, baking spices, and coconut. It is full-bodied and rich, with moderate acidity and smooth tannin. The winery website suggests pairing it with herbed leg of lamb, beef, or grilled vegetables; I think they would make fantastic partners with this wine.

My Pairing – Tacos!

As you can see, my pairing went in a slightly different direction. We feasted on tacos from our favorite neighborhood spot and enjoyed the heck out of our meal. While some obvious challenges arose – for example, the super-spicy chili salsa was a little too hot for the wine – there were some suprisingly good match-ups.

Left to right: La Elenita, La Pilo, El Güero

The chicken tacos with avocado crema and cotija cheese hit it off with the Merlot; a truly delicious combo. And the cheesy crust of the La Elenita couldn’t have been more perfect. But my favorite (and probably most unlikely) duo was the Northstar Merlot and the raw green tomatillo salsa with honey. The salsa wasn’t overly sweet; in fact, the tomatillos brought a crisp, citrus flavor that toned down the honey, resulting in a delightful sweet-savory finish.

I put it on everything!

Don’t ask me why it worked, but it did.

My take-away from this meal was a reminder of just how friendly Merlot can be – even with foods that might at first seem at odds with the wine’s flavors. Merlot’s generosity accommodated a bit of spice without complaint, and it positively shone with the umami-laden chicken tacos.

There’s still a week left in #MerlotMe month. Which pairings are you eager to try?


  1. When we can move more safely again, I’m heading to visit family just north of you but scheduling a Miami visit. Dang! The Northstar and the salsa- on my list, hopefully you’ll be in town to partake ;-D

    Liked by 1 person

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