The masthead of the Duckhorn Vineyards website features this description:
A Napa Valley classic; an American icon
Demonstrably true, as Duckhorn practically defines top-quality Napa Merlot for many wine lovers. It shows up on fine wine lists everywhere, tribute to both its reputation and name recognition. While perhaps a bit expensive for everyday drinking – at least for me – this wine adds allure to whatever accompanies it.
Needless to say I was delighted to receive a sample of the 2017 Napa Valley Merlot as part of the #MerlotMe celebration.
Note: I received these wines as complimentary media samples; this post reflects my honest opinions.
About Duckhorn Vineyards
Forty years after the inaugural vintage in 1978, Duckhorn has expanded beyond the original 800 cases each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to include a host of offerings: Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc to name a few. There are even late harvest bottlings to pair with your favorite dessert.
Winemaker Renee Ary blends fruit from 200 individual lots, bringing together the unique qualities of Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, Carneros, Yountville, Rutherford, and Saint Helena. Each lot is tended separately, then allowed to barrel age in French oak. The final assemblage differs with every vintage, highlighting the best of what Mother Nature provided.
According to Ary:
There is no recipe or formula. My job is to let the vineyards speak and convey the soul of the vine.
2017 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot (14.5% abv; $56 via the winery site)
Blend: Merlot (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (16%), Cabernet Franc (2.5%), Petit Verdot (1%), and Malbec (0.5%). The wine aged in French oak (40% new) for 15 months.
Color: Deep purple, a little redder at the rim.
Nose: A melange of ripe red-black-blue fruits complemented by dark chocolate, nutmeg, vanilla, and a hint of thyme.
Palate: Full-bodied with rich, ripe berry-cherry fruit, moderate acidity, and smooth, silky tannins. The finish is long, with traces of blackberry, licorice, cocoa, and plum. It carries the high alcohol well, thanks to the balanced structure.
Pairing: Because this wine was a special treat, I wanted to make something I wouldn’t ordinarily prepare. Gabe bought a big rib-eye steak, which we grilled; I topped it with a savory blackberry-cherry compote. Simple to throw together, and much tastier than its appearance might indicate. I melted unsalted butter in a pan with a few sprigs of fresh thyme, then added frozen organic berries and cherries and cooked them down. A little salt and pepper and it was ready to go. The flavors were spot-on, but I will work on achieving a finer texture next time. A great match with the Duckhorn Merlot.
Weeknight Decadence with Decoy Sonoma County Merlot and Homemade Soup
While the Duckhorn Merlot would be wine splurge for me, the Decoy Merlot (part of the Duckhorn family of brands) is an affordable luxury to dress up dinner on a Wednesday.
About Decoy Wines
These wines are all about instant gratification: they’re ready to drink upon release and, at $25 (winery price for the 2018 Merlot) they won’t bust your wine budget. Fruit for the Decoy line comes from a combination of estate vineyards and local growers. The brand was established in 1985 with the launch of the Napa Valley Red, and now includes Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
Sonoma County features prominently in the portfolio, which is overseen by winemaker Dana Epperson. A Sonoma native, she got her first hands-on experience as an intern at Ferrari-Carano, then went on to winemaking gigs in San Luis Obispo and Napa Valley. She worked under Mark Beringer, former winemaker at Duckhorn, leading to her eventual appointment at Decoy.
2018 Decoy Sonoma County Merlot (13.9% abv; $25 via the winery site)
Blend: Merlot (98%), Cabernet Sauvignon (1%), Petit Verdot (1%); aging in 100% French oak barrels.
Color: Deep ruby all the way to the rim.
Nose: First there are red berries and cherries, then come the sweet baking spices. Some sweet vanilla notes.
Palate: Tart red fruit, riper black fruit underpinned by smooth tannins and moderate acidity. The wine has moderate-to-full body, finishing with berry-cherry flavors dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder.
Pairing: I think this Merlot could shine with so many dishes: it’s got enough structure to handle grilled steaks and/or braised cuts of meat, but not so much that it would overpower simpler plates. One of my all-time favorite recipes that delivers a ton of satisfaction in about 30 minutes comes from David at Cooking Chat. His Best Portuguese Kale Soup comes together quickly but tastes as if it has simmered all afternoon. Made for a delicious weeknight meal and worked very well with the Decoy Merlot.
Well, that’s a wrap for #MerlotMe month. Hope you’ve enjoyed my wine pairing experiments and have been inspired to create some of your own. If you missed any of the previous posts, you can find them here: