Saturday, February 2, 2008

Weekend Wino-ers: Merlot-quacious!

Okay. Everybody whose wine-buying habits weren't affected by the opinions of Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways, hats off to you. The rest of us: Let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Maybe we were naïve; maybe the times made it seem right; who knows. The point is, we can change our minds. After all, it wasn’t Merlot that changed, it was us...

Taster A and I decided it was time to remind ourselves what Merlot was all about with a horizontal tasting of three Merlots from Sonoma County. We opened three very nice single-vineyard bottles, and compared them side-by-side. All had typically soft tannins, plumy nose, and subdued character. Of course, we did wind up with our favorites.

Toad Hollow
2005 Merlot Reserve
Russian River Valley
Richard McDowell Vineyard

Price: $19.99
This was the most oaky of the three but, not offensively so. Slight herbal notes of basil on the nose and bright berry fruit on the palate. The oak fell to the background once introduced to food.

2004 Merlot
Sonoma Valley
Rose Ranch

Price: $37
Taster A found the nose disappointing but the flavor redeeming. I had sort of the opposite reaction: Found the nose pretty interesting with plum, floral, earth, and chocolate notes but, found the wine to be vapid on the palate. No acid to speak of. The palate improved with food.

Bartholomew Park
2004 Merlot (blend: 15% Cab)
Sonoma Valley
Desnudos Vineyard

Price: $32
Most interesting of the three: Refined leather and lots of floral notes on the nose; stewed plums, boysenberry, elderberry, etc. on the palate. The scent in the bottom of the glass had Taster A reminiscing of pine boards being ripped by a buzz saw.

We had a fantastic food pairing for Merlot Night: Stuffed Portobello mushrooms with scalloped potatoes and baby spinach topped with a warm bacon-Bordeaux dressing. We talked about the wine throughout dinner. Merlot definitely has some stiff competition for attention among other varietals yet it has a special character all its own: Sort of a quiet beckoning. Can you hear it calling?

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms:
2 Portobello mushrooms
3 T Olive oil
1/3 C breadcrumbs
2-3 cloves of garlic
3 T red wine
2 oz smoked Gouda
2 oz mozarella
2 t. Oregano
Sea salt to taste

Wash Portobellos and remove outer skin if desired. Pat dry. Turn on broiler and rub outside of cap with olive oil. Place on pan under broiler for about 5 minutes gill side up.
Remove pan from oven. Cut stems from caps and set aside.

Dice mushroom stems and garlic. Heat a pan on the stove and add 1 T olive oil. Add breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of oregano, and a pinch of salt. Allow breadcrumbs to brown then remove to bowl. Add another T of olive oil to pan on low-heat, add garlic, pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon more oregano. Allow garlic to sauté for a few moments, then add diced mushrooms and toss. Pour about 3 T red wine over the mixture, cover and let cook until tender (about 4 min). When wine has reduced remove to bowl. Add about half the breadcrumbs and mix. Place one half of mixture onto each Portobello cap. Top with half Gouda / half mozzarella and remaining breadcrumbs. (Smoked Gouda is a good accompaniment Merlot but, can be too strong. Cutting it with a mild cheese like mozzarella will help keep the flavors from overwhelming the wine)
Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes or until top is melted.


Taster A said...

The problem I was having with the Benziger wine was that I was having trouble coaxing the aromas out of the glass and once sipped, I wasn’t tasting what I was smelling. The wine came more in alignment as it opened up.

The Bart Park pine board burning smell, I’d like to clarify. There is a particular pleasant smell of the vanilla notes that you get in a woodshop when cutting pine. In Colorado, we have Ponderosa pines. In the sunshine, the bark smells of vanilla. These woody characteristics are pleasant.

Dr. Debs said...

The Toad Hollow Reserve Merlot is one of those Merlots that makes me realize--hey, it's not such a bad grape. The thing is, it needs bottle time. Another 6 months and that wine would have been a lot softer and less overtly oaky. I loved the 2004 which I tasted only last summer and which I still haven't opened because even then it needed more time. Thanks for sticking up for a grape that's like the formerly popular girl nobody wants to eat lunch with anymore

Taster B said...

Dr. Debs; you've inspired me to buy another Toad Hollow Reserve and save it for next year. It definitely had the highest QPR of the bunch!
Merlot may not be a top stand-alone grape but, I think it's interesting to get to know the unique flavor characteristics of this grape that is commonly used in blends.

john witherspoon said...

Great minds do think alike taster B as I see Merlot tastings were a common thing recently! haha

I have not tried any of the 3 that you guys tried, but am intrigued by all of them. I always enjoy Benziger wines and am a member of the Imagery wine club of which Mike Benziger is the winemaker.

Also, besides the bacon dressing, that meal looks great for us vegetarians and is very similar to a stuffed portobello dish that we make.

see ya

Taster B said...

Mr. Vaynerchuk bringing back merlot.