Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are ten years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot. Like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape “berries”, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich Red Color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate to lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the heft rankings.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes – Merlot is the one red wine that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…missjane@prodigy.net

At Long Last…Wine on a Rope

10513848_sJust about everyone in the wine industry has been joking about “adult juice boxes” for years, and now…it seems like this time they really truly are here. Not only that, this wine tastes good and hangs around my neck.  Who can resist?

It seems a company called House Band Wines is making California Wines to the tag line of “hard workin’ wines to rock your taste buds!”  Cute! They make wine in “regular bottles” in several styles, includling California Chardonnay, California Merlot, and California Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also make a blend called “Red+5,” a blend of Merlot and Syrah, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot. Their white blend, “White+3” is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Muscat Canelli.

They all looked like fun wines…but I was distracted, delighted, and just a bit afraid of the wine in the 375-liter pouch.  With wine in a 375-ml eco-pouch, designed and ready to hang around my neck, hands-free, from my rock-n-roll lanyard (or, lets be real, my key fob), would I ever have a productive day again?

chard-merlot-finalAlas, my entire professional career I’ve been able to resist the siren song of a fully-stocked wine fridge humming along next to my desk…but this might be different.  

I tried a California Merlot, a good choice, I reasoned, as it would last all day as I scurried from meeting to meeting, grocery store and conference call. It did indeed dangle well on the end of my landyard (key fob), and the wine tasted pretty darn good.  Fresh, ripe dark fruit, a hint of vanilla, just enough zing.  If you get the chance, try some! 

You can learn more about House Band Wines here…and you’ll most likely see them at your next festival/garden party/barbeque. All places that need good wine (on a rope!)

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles

If you know me, or are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I am definitely NOT a fan of the dry red wine-chocolate food pairing combo.  However, that doesn’t mean that I am against putting the wine in the chocolate and cooking them up together! It’s a whole different world of flavor when cooking with wine, as opposed to the dynamics of pairing. (Sounds like a good idea for another blog post!)

This is a recipe that I use in all of my wine and chocolate pairing classes.  While I still hold true to my (against) stance for dry wine and sweet chocolate pairings, this recipe puts the wine in the chocolate  where the flavors can work wonders together.   

Truth be told, this is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  Take a bottle of Merlot, pour yourself a glass, and use the rest to make these irresistable truffles. 

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles  

First Step:  Prepare to get your hands (and your kitchen floor) covered with chocolate!

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 1 Pound Milk Chocolate (Any good brand chocolate disks or batons)
  • 1 Bottle of Merlot (the bigger and richer the better…I use Blackstone Winery)
  • 1 cup Blackberry Preserves, pressed through a sieve to remove seeds
  • ½ Pound of Chocolate, any type (for dipping)
  •  Ganache, frosting, or fondant for decorating (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Pour yourself one (4-ounce) glass  of merlot; enjoy.
  2. Pour the remainder of the merlot  in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the wine is reduced to about a half a cup.  Set aside to cool.
  3. While the wine is simmering, chop  the milk chocolate into small pieces.  Set aside in a large bowl.
  4. Heat the cream to a simmer.  Whisk in the preserves and carefully  heat back to a simmer.  Remove from  the heat and stir in the syrup you made from the red wine.
  5. Pour the still-hot cream mixture over the chopped milk chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and blended in.  Cool the mixture until it is just  slightly warm to the touch. (Place bowl over a double boiler if you need more fire power to melt the chocolate, although milk chocolate usually melts fairly easily.)
  6. Put the mixture in the freezer for  at least one hour to firm.
  7. Use a spoon or small scoop to  divide the mixture into walnut-sized pieces.  I find it easiest use a small scoop, and to dip the scoop into hot water every few scoops. When they are finished; drop the pieces onto a baking sheet.
  8. Freeze for about an hour, or overnight. 
  9. To form the truffles, roll the scoops one by one between the palms of your hands to round them out.  Place them back onto the baking  sheet.  At this point the soon-to-be  truffles can be frozen until you have the energy dip them.
  10. Melt your dipping chocolate over a double boiler. 
  11. Drop the cold truffles, one at a  time, into your bowl of dipping chocolate.  Remove them with a fork, and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.  Note:  the better the quality of chocolate you use, the easier it will be to “dip” with.
  12. Place the dipped truffles on a parchment-lined tray. If you are feeling creative, decorate the tops with a little drizzle of chocolate or nice purple fondant.  Let stand until the chocolate and  decorations are completely set.
  13. Enjoy immediately, or hold the  truffles in the fridge for up to a week. You can keep the truffles in the freezer for as long as you like, and that way you can have a red wine chocolate fix any time you need one!

If you just must have a wine and chocolate pairing, I would recommend a slightly sweet to very sweet red wine.  Some good examples are late-harvest Zinfandel, Ruby Port, Brachetto d’Acqui, sweet wines made from Black Muscat, and sweeter versions of Sparkling Shiraz. 

My all-time favorite late harvest zin is “Zinnie de Potelle” out of Napa.  Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Porto would also be a great pairing. 

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.  missjane@prodigy.net