Remember the Campbell’s soup jingle, Mm Mm good? That’s kind of how I feel about Merlot. It’s velvety tannins, plum and blackberry flavor and soft character make it easy to enjoy and very popular. It’s one of the “noble grapes” of France or cépage noble and is used as a blending grape but also as a single varietal. It’s planted all over the world and of course its character varies depending on the region.
In France where it’s a primary grape in Bordeaux Merlot tends to have more acidity, in Italy it can be lighter and more herbal, in the US it was so lush and delicious it led to a craze in the 90’s and the quality dropped as winemakers scrambled to plant it everywhere. It’s still the second leading variety planted in California, just behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Fortunately today it’s better than ever. I particularly like Merlot from California and Washington where the best examples combine the fruitiness you expect from a New World wine and yet the structure of an Old World wine.
When it comes to pairing, it’s actually pretty easy to find food that goes well with Merlot. I recently opened a bottle of J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot, 2014, a blend with 15% Malbec, as part of #MerlotMe. It’s a big red wine, but smooth with supple tannins and plenty of plum, a hint to spice and a long finish. It was awarded 95 points and Gold-Best of Class of Region from the 2016 California State Fair Competition. It’s a great value for $15.
You might think this wine would only pair well with beef, but it’s actually terrifically versatile and works with much lighter dishes than you might expect. In general, Merlot is a good wine for vegetarian dishes, especially if they have umami flavors (think eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes). I tried the wine with two dishes. It was good with roasted game hens I seasoned only with salt and pepper and some basil leaves under the skin. It was even better with a pasta dish I created with lots of mushrooms and Parmigiana-Reggiano.
Note: Choose a younger Parmigiano-Reggiano for this recipe, since it will melt bettter, preferably 24 months or less.
Mushrooms & Parmigiano Pasta
Makes 2 servings
4 ounces tagliatelle, spinach or plain
1 Tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces coarsely chopped oyster and cremini mushrooms, about 2 1/2 cups
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup broth —chicken, vegetable or mushroom
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 2 tablespoons reserved
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Boil a pot of water for pasta. Add a pinch of salt and cook the tagliatelle al dente, per package instructions. Drain and set aside. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook stirring frequently until mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 3 minutes then add the broth. Cook for a few more minutes or until the liquid is almost completely evaporated. Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta water. Cook and toss to coat with sauce and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with most of the cheese on the pasta, and quickly toss to combine. Season to taste with pepper and garnish with parsley and remaining cheese.
Now take a look at what #MerlotMe #WinePW friends are pairing with their Merlot:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Merlot Shows Its Versatility and Goes +1 With Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate”
David from Cooking Chat shares “Garlic Thyme Tuna Paired with a Merlot”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “#MerlotMe Trifecta for #WinePW”
Michelle from Rockin Red Robin shares “Welcoming Fall with #MerlotMe & #WinePW”
Jennifer from Vino Travels – An Italian Wine Blog shares “#MerlotMe with Sausage Baked Ziti”
Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere shares “Exploring Merlot Wine Pairing with Bolognese Sauce”
Lori from Dracaena Wines shares “Hello, Can you #MerlotMe?”
Jill from L’Occasion shares “Evenings with Merlot”
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Mercy Monday and Merlot”
Gwen from Wine Predator shares “#We say MerlotMe with savory squash soup and sandwiches”
Jade from Tasting Pour shares “Chipotle Chicken Stew and Merlot”
Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “Wine & Dine: Merlot with Eggplant & Polenta Parmigiana”
Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares “A Love Affair for Merlot and the Grill”
Disclaimer: I received bottles Merlot as part of the the Merlot Me promotion in October, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.