Tag Archives: Merlot

Pride Mountain Vineyards: Tasting and Picnic

Lulu chilling in the Pride Mountain tasting room.

Lulu’s weekend of wineries concluded with a visit to Pride Mountain Vineyards. Pride sits on the ridge between Sonoma and Napa counties; actually the county line runs through the vineyards and winery. This makes for some painful logistics, having to keep track of which county which grapes come from, and having to do paperwork if grapes and/or juice is transferred from one county to the other. Also, while it’s a winding road up the mountain to Pride (which is at about 2100 feet elevation), if you haven’t been completely turned around, it seems that the counties are on the wrong sides of the line, with Napa on the west and Sonoma on the east. It’s just that the county line is not even close to straight, so it is backwards up there. (I wonder what the history of that line-drawing is, and if it’s documented anywhere.)

Pride Mountain Vineyard tasting room.

We did an initial tasting in their tasting room. Most of the grapes are grown right there, the exception being the Chardonnay, grown in the Carneros region. Lori and I both thought their Viognier was excellent: not too flowery a nose, good acid and fruit, nice body. One of the best that we’ve had. Left there with a bottle of that. They also make a dessert Viognier by just fortifying the Viognier juice. This makes a dessert wine that is not too high in alcohol (less than 14%), not too sweet, not too syrupy. We also left with a bottle of that, and we don’t ever (well hardly ever) get dessert wines. Not that we don’t like dessert wines, just that we don’t usually drink them, so we don’t buy them. We also tried the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which were excellent. And there was a 2001 Merlot open! This one had aged quite nicely; yes we brought home some of the current release Merlot.

Winemaker Sally Johnson-Blum gave us a tour of their cellars.

We then took a tour of their caves with the winemaker, Sally Johnson-Blum. They have about 20,000 square feet of cave space for barrels. As we went through, we stopped at some of the interesting barrels for tastes: Cabernet Franc from two different vineyard blocks, Merlot from different vineyard blocks, Cabernet Sauvignon field blend, and a couple more. A lot of fun tasting with the winemaker and getting her perspective on the different vineyards and varietals, what she likes about each, what she thinks about when she’s blending either the straight varietals or the Bordeaux style blend.

View from the Pride Mountain Vineyard picnic area.

Last, we had a picnic. They’ve got a few picnic tables essentially at the top of their vineyards. Tremendous view, and we had an excellent lunch of quiche, lox, salami, cheeses and fruit, together with one of those Merlots. Beautiful.

No veraison yet (July 30th) in the Pride Mountain vineyards.

By the way, grapes grow differently in different microclimates, different AVAs. Of course we knew this, but here was direct evidence. The previous day we were in the Dry Creek Valley and veraison had started; the grapes had started turning red. Not so at Pride. Sally mentioned that their harvest typically runs a couple of weeks later than that for wineries on the valley floors.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Thanksgiving 2014 – Family, Friends, Food, Merlot

I love Thanksgiving. But really, how could anyone not love Thanksgiving? 4-day weekend, non-religious and non-political holiday, family, friends, food and, of course, wine. Did I mention family? Anything cuter than 21 month old Zinnia helping her Bubie put the final glaze on the turkey?

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving dinner is always interesting from a wine perspective because a) you can’t go wrong, b) you have guests over that appreciate the wine you’re going to serve, and c) you get to serve more than one bottle, allowing some fun wine comparisons. As Lori starts planning the food menu for Thanksgiving, I’m taking a trip into the wine cellar and planning the wine menu for appetizers, the main meal and dessert. I’ve gone in a variety of different directions for the main course in the past: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, even Zinfandel. That’s one of the things about the Thanksgiving meal and wine pairing: with the wide variety of flavors on the table, it’s hard to go wrong. (I will admit that I’ve never had Cabernet Sauvignon with Thanksgiving; not sure that Cab would work. A little bit too big of a wine.)

This year I went into the cellar and the Merlots jumped out at me. Merlots rarely jump out at me for any dinner, and I don’t have a huge selection, but there they were, begging for their opportunity to join the holiday party. OK, why not give it a try? Merlots can be very nice wines, with great flavor and balance and great with a meal. And not quite as big a wine as Cab, usually. I added to the Merlots a bottle of sparkling wine to start, plus some whites, and then some dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

The final lineup was

Bodkin Wines (non-vintage) Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvée Januariis, Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County

Armida Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Durrell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Mitchell Katz Winery 2011 Merlot, Falling Star Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Deerfield Ranch Winery 2008 Merlot, Sonoma County

Meeker Vineyard 2004 Merlot, Sonoma County

Eagle Ridge Vineyard 2005 Mad Lyn (Souzao grapes), Carter Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Peller Estates, 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula

Yes, we did decant all three Merlots. Nice decanters on the table to go with the beautiful dinner, plus it helped the wine. My personal favorite was the 2004 Meeker Merlot, but everyone had their own favorite.

Clockwise from upper left:  pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Clockwise from upper left: pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Thanksgiving dinner had everything (the full 6-burners on the stove were in use, as were both ovens), and we’re still recovering from all that we ate. We hope you had a great Thanksgiving dinner too!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Moroccan and Merlot

On weekends, Lori and I like to take one afternoon/evening and cook. We’ll cook for ourselves, or for friends, or family; it doesn’t matter who, just so long as we can have fun in the kitchen. We’ll open a bottle of wine and get to work, with one of us having come up with the menu early enough so that we could get the necessary ingredients. The twist on that last Saturday night is that we went to a cooking class, where the menu for the night was Moroccan food. (We brought our own bottle of wine.) And the class upped the ante by pairing Moroccan food with the most famous movie set in Morocco, Casablanca.

Pans on Fire, in nearby Pleasanton, does these Dinner and Movie events regularly, it’s just that this summer is when we first found out about it, and this class was the first that we could both go to, and that really appealed to us. The menu for the night was

– Moroccan-Style Chicken Phyllo Rolls served with a spiced tomato sauce
– Moroccan Chicken, Apricot and Almond Tagine, served with vegetable Couscous
– Ghoribas (almost like a Moroccan shortbread cookie)

The nine of us in the class got to help with all the dishes. Some of the class was learning techniques: better knife skills, how to dice an onion, how to preserve lemons (a great alternative to lemon juice in recipes). Some of the class was just hands on work: shredding the chicken for the phyllo rolls, prepping and rolling the phyllo rolls, getting the spices and other ingredients ready for the tagine, making the Ghoribas dough. The best part of the class was eating our work, and watching the movie. We broke up the movie watching with the kitchen work, about 1 ½ hours of initial work, followed by the first half hour of the movie, then another 30 minutes of work on the tagine, followed by another half hour of movie watching, then the final kitchen work and the final bit of the movie. About 4 hours in total.

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

As I was choosing the wine, I thought about the Moroccan spices we’d be using, and not so much about what the meat would be. Moroccan food, which evolved because of its geographical/historical position in the world (on the Spice Route, Mediterranean Sea, Africa), typically uses bold flavors like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, red chilies, and ginger. We needed something that could stand up to the spices, in both flavor and body, but not overwhelm them. Pinot Noir would likely be too subtle; Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah too big. A softer GSM (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah) blend would work, but then I found a great candidate in the cellar: 2006 Regusci Merlot, Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Lori and I are pretty sure this was a gift from our friend Phil, so thank you Phil. (We ought to do better about cataloging our cellar, but there you go, other priorities.) It worked great, as anticipated, and was our mama bear wine: not too small and soft, not to big and bold, but just right.

Linda Wyner, the fearless leader of this class, has an interesting background. She’s a food anthropologist, lawyer, cook, teacher and founder of Pans on Fire. What the heck is a food anthropologist?

The Anthropology of Food is an analysis of food in culture. While the primary purpose for food is nutrition, it also has a cultural dimension by which people choose what they eat not only by flavor or nutritional value but by cultural, religious, historic, economic or social status, and environmental factors. From Archeolink.com.

Well, that makes sense, and sounds like fun. Maybe some food anthropologist will look at our blog in future years as a treasure trove of information. Not!

The last surprise here? I’ve now written about Merlot twice (here’s the first post) in a 2-week span.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Merlot Tasting at WBC14

Merlot has an interesting history. Most closely related to Cabernet Franc, Merlot is extensively planted in the Bordeaux region, and is the predominant grape in the so-called “Right Bank” area, particularly in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. One of the reasons for having so much Merlot planted in France is that Merlot typically ripens 2-4 weeks before Cabernet Sauvignon, resulting in Merlot getting to ripeness every year in France, where Cab grapes don’t always get to full ripeness. There is actually more Merlot planted in France than Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s not even close. The different levels of ripeness, as well as the other varying characteristics of the Bordeaux grapes (taste, nose, body, color, …), allows/enables/demands blending of the grapes to get the best results.

In the U.S., Merlot is the second most purchased wine behind Cabernet Sauvignon, even after the negative effect of the movie Sideways. (See the clip at the end of this post for a reminder.) This high standing with U.S. consumers is most likely due to Merlot not being made to be as full bodied and tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, therefore being very accessible to U.S. wine drinkers. However, in the movie Sideways and in the wine industry press, Merlot was characterized as soft and flabby and not fit for a real wine connoisseur to drink. This is in contrast to the Merlot-based wines of Bordeaux, which include some of the great Bordeaux wines.

At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference, we had the opportunity to taste both styles of Merlot. (I’m not sure if that was the intention, or if everyone else had the same impression from the tasting, but this is my take on it.) Participating in the tasting were Rutherford Hill Winery and Duckhorn Vineyards. Both of these wineries have been in business for about 40 years, making them veterans of Napa Valley.

Merlot tasting at Wine Bloggers Conference, 2014

Merlot tasting at Wine Bloggers Conference, 2014

Merlot is the flagship wine for Rutherford Hill, comprising about 75% of their production. Almost all their grapes are estate grown. We tasted three of their 2010 wines:
• Napa Valley Merlot: a blend from different vineyards and grapes, which is primarily Merlot, but also has some other grapes
• Atlas Peak Vineyard: 100% Merlot
• Club Cuvèe: also a blend, however this is primarily from Pope Valley, and is 90% Merlot (only available for purchase at the winery, only available in magnums)

Merlot is one of the signature wines from Duckhorn. All their grapes are estate grown, and we tasted three from their 2011 vintage:
• Stout Vineyard (Howell Mountain AVA): 3.5% Cabernet Sauvignon
• Rector Creek Vineyard (Yountville AVA): 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
• Three Palms Vineyard (Calistoga AVA): 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc

As a reminder, a wine needs to be a minimum of 75% of a varietal to be called that varietal on the label. So all the blends here qualify to be called “Merlot”.

This tasting reminded me that Merlot can be a wonderful wine. However, just like every other wine, make sure you know what you personally like and are looking for in a wine, and don’t let a movie or popular trends dictate your wine drinking habits. If you want to know my favorite(s) from this tasting, leave a comment for the blog and I’ll respond.

Sideways clip re Merlot

If you’re interested, October is “MerlotMe” month, including a special tasting in San Francisco mid-month.

L’Chaim,

Larry