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September 19, 2023
Merlot is a dark blue–colored wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. At CLE Urban Winery, we offer our Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot, a 100% Merlot varietal, and wines like our Anniversary Red and our CLE urban wine (a bourbon barrel aged red blend) which feature Merlot as a key blending component. We also offer our very popular Buckeye Blackberry Merlot as our sweet red... however, this wine is actually a dry and lightly oaked 100% Merlot varietal with blackberry concentrate added to the wine just before bottling to lighten the body, add some fruity character to the nose and palate, and to tame any bitterness in the wine's tannins. It is divinely balanced!
The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the color of the grape. Merlot is the most common red wine grape grown in Bordeaux, and the second-most planted grape in the world (#1 is Cabernet Sauvignon). Red wine blends from the Right Bank of Bordeaux typically are Merlot-dominated. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wines, and this flexibility has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties.
In the 1990s, Merlot saw an upswing of popularity in the United States, with the popularity of Merlot stemming in part from its purported heart health benefits as well as its softer, fruity profile that made it approachable. Its reputation did take an unfair cultural hit in the mid 2000s following the release of the movie Sideways, where the main character had some 'not so nice' things to say about the popular varietal.
A fruit forward, earthy and rich Merlot can be very enjoyable to sip on its own. But Merlot’s versatility, with its medium body and moderate acidity and tannins, can make it a good option to pair with many different foods. Merlot can go well with a wide range of primary ingredients, including meats such as beef, pork, and lamb. While the meats might be the first thing you think of, Merlot can also do quite well with some vegetarian dishes, seafood, chicken and turkey. Young, easy sipping Merlots like our Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot pair best with simple fare, like cheeses such as high-quality cheddar. Merlots with higher alcohol content (closer to 15%) pair best with heavier dishes such as pork and beef. The relatively lower alcohol content Merlot like the Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot, which is around 13.7%, tends to be a good option with the vegetarian or poultry meals. Fall favorites like roasted vegetables, squash, or eggplant are nicely paired with Merlot.
Merlot is also really versatile to cook with. It can work well in tomato-based meat sauces and other Italian dishes. It is also a great add to a rich sauce, especially one with rosemary, sage, thyme or mushrooms, which can enhance a Merlot food pairing and bring out earthy layers of flavor.
Peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven with our Buckeye Blackberry Merlot! Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Buckeyes or other similar candies are a great pairing. In this recipe below, which we served to our Community Wine Club at September 2023's Wine Club Party, we cranked up the volume by using a boxed peanut butter brownie mix where I used our Buckeye Blackberry Merlot in place of water in the mix’s recipe. Using Buckeye Blackberry Merlot in this recipedoes a couple of things: 1) it adds another flavor profile to the dessert, making it more like PB&J and 2) it enhances the richness of the chocolate and the moistness of the brownie. Never use water in a brownie mix again - you can substitute any red wine instead of water in a chocolate-based baking mix.
Here's the other pairing recipe we served to our Community Wine Club to pair with our earthy, rich Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot at September's Wine Club Party... Creamy Mushroom Soup:
In a soup pot, heat 2 tbsp EVOO and sauté 1 diced onion until clear and translucent (5-7 minutes). Add 1 ½ tsp fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried time to the onions and cook until fragrant. Then add in 1 pound of sliced cremini or button mushrooms, cover the pot and steam until they mushrooms extrude their moisture (about 5 minutes). Sprinkle ½ cup flour over the mushroom/onion mixture and cook for 3-4 minutes. Gradually whisk in 3 ½ cups chicken broth and cook until thickened and smooth. Combine 1 cup low fat sour cream and 1 cup low fat milk until smooth and then add to the soup. Season with S&P and heat until hot but not boiling for service. Add lemon, sherry and/or Worcestershire sauce, if desired, to deepen and freshen the flavors.
I hope you will ignore the "advice" in Sideways and give Merlot a chance - our Merlots are a delight!
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