Shelter in place from the autumn chill with a seasonal vegetable inspired supper made to pair with warming Napa Valley Merlots.
Disclosure: The wines featured in this post were provided as media samples. All opinions are my own.
October is #MerlotMe month: a celebration of this commonly used but oft overlooked single red wine varietal.
This year, we are toasting 2016 Napa Merlots, an exceptionally good vintage from Duckhorn and Peju wineries.
The 2016 Vintage
Apparently, 2016 was a "near-perfect" vintage for Napa Valley.
Ample rain in the winter followed by a dry spring and summer made for an early harvest for the white wines in August.
Meanwhile, the red grapes received extra sunshine from a cool September, allowing for bright acid and further development of ripe fruit flavors that are the hallmark of big, juicy Merlots.
What Pairs with Big, Strong Merlots?
These are "Make Merlot Great Again" wines that announce their presence boldly, as many California wines do.
I knew these wines would be big, but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened and tried these wines with some vegan foods.
What worked: Walnuts. Just by themselves with the wine gently brought forth the ripe blackberry, plum, and blueberry notes.
What did not work: Dried cranberries, which made me a little sad because I wanted to use them on my salad and did anyway!
What surprisingly worked to my advantage: Tamari sauce. It just took the edge off the Peju wine and umami kicked the mushrooms into action.
What I was going to force to work: butternut squash. By itself without much else, it was just kind of meh with the wines. It would need a sauce to match up to the wine.
What also works well but I didn't use: stewed tomatoes - pasta sauce, etc. or a hearty bean chili would be my choice.
Takeaways: These wines like fat. It coats the mouth and brings forward the lush fruit notes. These wines can also play with a little bit of acid to coax out earthy flavors like baking spices, cocoa, and forest floor.
As suspected, too much sweetness can zap away all the fruitiness in the wine, like Covid to social gatherings.
Last year, I wrote about Merlot and Mexican food pairings. This year, I thought I would try an autumn inspired menu that was also vegan.
When it comes to making a menu, I opt for as simple as possible and try to let the wine do the work for tertiary flavors.
- Warm Spinach Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Cranberries, and Champagne Vinegar
- Butternut Squash Dumplings with Roasted Garlic, Pumpkin Seeds, and Balsamic "dipping sauce"
- Wild Rice Fried Rice with Shiitake Mushrooms, Celery, and Sesame Seeds
- Dark Chocolate Dipped Figs
(Full recipes to be posted soon!)
2016 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot ($56)
Composition: 80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Malbec; Oak Profile: 100% French oak- 40% new, 60% neutral
After letting this air out for a bit, this merlot became supple, silky, buttery, smooth, and not overly acidic.
I liked this wine on its own and definitely towards to the beginning of a meal, so you can really appreciate its complexity.
Since this was the "lighter" of the two Merlots, it really did pair nicely with soft touches of acid in the warm spinach salad and butternut squash dumplings.
The sweetness of the cranberries did not kill the wine too much when paired with the fatty walnuts and a little sprinkle of champagne vinegar.
For the butternut squash dumplings, a good dose of pumpkin seed oil and sweet balsamic vinegar let it play with the red wine when one might be more tempted to pair with a white one.
2016 Peju Merlot ($48)
Composition: 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Sirah
This wine opened with a resounding, lip smacking pop of the cork. Strong aromas of cocoa powder, bay leaf, fig, tobacco, smoke, and leather immediately emerged.
Strong acid flavors made this wine pair quite nicely with food. The earthy wild rice fried rice with shitake mushrooms tamed the acids and tannins in the wine.
I had high hopes for this wine and the chocolate dipped figs. Alas, the figs were just a little too sweet and turned this wine into cranberry juice.
It would have worked better with a thick chocolate sauce or dark chocolate on its own.
But I still loved my hand dipped chocolate figs as a sweet ending to a celebratory fall meal.
2020 vintage to remember?
While 2016 is remembered for its ideal weather conditions, the 2020 vintage may unfortunately be remembered for smoke taint and fatal fires that ravaged several Napa wineries.
To be determined if there will be a 2020 vintage of Napa Merlots at all. In the meantime, the region can be supported through continued purchases of their wines.
More Food Pairings with Merlot
Check out these posts from the Wine Pairing Weekend writers for more scrumptious food pairings for merlot:
- Andrea at The Quirky Cork shares "MerlotMe with Three Turkish Merlots"
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares "Merlot: A Varietal That Plays Well with Others"
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares "Sip Memorable Merlot with Classic Vegetarian Favorites"
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares "Fall Vegan Menu Paired with 2016 Napa Merlots"
- David at Cooking Chat shares "Merlot Food Pairing: Tips and Favorites"
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares "Meatloaf and #MerlotMe with Sonoma’s Selby and Columbia Valley’s L’Ecole No. 41"
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares "Merlot Pairing: Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù"
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares "A Tale of Two Merlots at the Grill"
- Jill at L'Occasion shares "What’s So Special About Merlot?"
- Jennifer at Vino Travels shares “Fall is Here! Warm up with a Merlot and Pot Roast Pairing”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares "October is #MerlotMe Month: Here’s What I’ve Been Sipping"
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares "Kicking off #MerlotMe in the Pacific time zone”
- Liz at What's in that Bottle? shares "Make Room for Merlot!"
- Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass shares "Leaves on the Ground and #MerlotMe in my Glass"
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares "Next Gen Merlot From Where It All Started"
- Martin at Enofylz shares "A Meatless #MerlotMe Redux"
- Nicole at Somms Table shares "5 #MerlotMe Nights"
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Kicking Off Autumn With #Merlotme”
- Pinny at Chinese Wine & Food Pairings shares “#MerlotMe with Markham and L’Ecole No. 41 Merlots and Army Ramen”
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares "Merlot from elegant to badass. Time to #Merlotme."
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “#MerlotMe - Best Food Pairings For Merlot”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Brazilian Merlot Is Always Welcome At My Table”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares "Merlot Me with Noodless Lasagne"
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares "Woohoooooooo....It is #MerlotMe month"
love the comparisons. the what worked and didn't work. Great way to express these wines.
MARTIN D REDMOND says
Thanks for the dos and don'ts for pairing with Merlot Deanna. I love the idea of fall vegan pairings with Merlot!
Linda Whipple, CSW says
Loved this "what worked" and "what didn't work" list. Tamari sauce - who knew?! I definitely will be returning to these helpful hints when pairing big reds. Thanks!
Nice pairing takeaways. That Tamarind sauce and Merlot- Ding! Ding! Ding! Looking forward to your Bnut squash dumpling recipe. I eat less meat these days and drink more red wine in cooler months. Always looking for new ideas and you have great ones!
I love the idea of vegan pairings with Merlot. We're trying to eat more plant-based meals at our house and each of your dishes looks beautiful and delicious. Taking notes for future menus!
Such great tips for Merlot and Vegan pairings! I love that you broke down the elements and mentioned what could be done to make things pair better.
Your - Butternut Squash Dumplings with Roasted Garlic, Pumpkin Seeds, and Balsamic “dipping sauce” sound and look amazing! And regardless of if they paired well or not, chocolate dipped figs seem like a stand out plan at any time. I need those in my life!
Nicole Ruiz Hudson says
The photos look gorgeous and I love your list of bulleted takeaways of what worked and what didn't. The fried rice has particularly caught my eye and am looking forward to seeing that recipe.
gwendolyn alley says
Love the focus on vegetarian foods with merlot! In general, I find merlot works well with squash dishes, but perhaps these were a bit too powerful and complex. Maybe because we did walnuts with our hybrid koibosh squash?
Gorgeous pictures! And I just love this: As suspected, too much sweetness can zap away all the fruitiness in the wine, like Covid to social gatherings."!