I never gave up on Merlot despite all of the hype in the Sideways era. Not a Paul Giamatti fan on any topic, I certainly wasn’t swayed by his insistence that Merlot should have been replaced by Pinot Noir. However, I do recognize that for a long time, Merlot suffered because of that silly movie. Well now that #MerlotMe is an October tradition and many of the bloggers from the #WinePW group got samples, I am happy to see that everyone recognizes what a great grape Merlot can be.
Right bank Bordeaux is home to some of the world’s most amazing Merlot driven wines, Super Tuscans take your breath away, Californian Merlot can be wonderful and there are delicious everyday Merlots coming from many parts of the world. All of these countries have a newish competitor – Brazil.
Brazil is working hard to make a name for itself as a producer of quality sparkling wines across the gamut from Classical method to Moscatel made in the Martinotti method. I love their sparkling wines but I am convinced that while they want to export their Sparkling wines, they want to keep their Merlot at home because it is so good, kind of like the Swiss who drink all their own wines without exporting them. Speaking of the Swiss, Merlot from the Ticino is noteworthy but that story is for another #MerlotMe post – maybe for next year.
Wine Folly gives a great description of Merlot in this post yet she too misses Brazil. I visited Brazil in January of last year for the first time (Full disclosure I ‘ve been working with Brazilian wines this year). I was really surprised at the level and the quality of Merlots across all of the producers I met with. Well crafted, balanced wines with berry, chocolate, and bramble notes abounded. A couple had a minty note and some were oakier than others but across the eight wineries we visited, the Merlots were all outstanding. We visited Aurora, Miolo, Pizzato, Salton, Lidio-Carraro, Basso, Valduga, and Casa Perini.
Merlot is made in all of the six wine regions. We visited Serra Gaûcha, where most of the wine in Brazil is made.
Absolutely try to get your hands on Merlot from Brazil. The one in the picture above from Miolo also showed that well-made Brazilian wines can age a bit too. The one in the picture is a 2015 but I also just tried the 2012 and it was even better.
In terms of the pairing, I decided to pair the Merlot with a nice fall recipe for Risotto with Mushrooms. Merlot is easy to pair with lots of foods thanks to its balance of flavor, structure and acidity. I found a nice recipe from Simply Recipes which I pasted below and have linked to it here: Mushroom Risotto. I had been thinking about Mushrooms since I brought some Portobello mushrooms home two weeks ago in my weekly CSA bag that I pick up at my son’s school. I love the CSA and had wanted to join one for many years. Each week something comes home that inspires me to make a different dish.
Risotto was also perfect because I have never eaten as much risotto in my life as the week I spent in Brazil which was a complete surprise. It shouldn’t have been perhaps because the wine industry in Brazil is filled with families that trace their heritage to two Italian regions, the Veneto and Trentino. Many moved to Brazil in the late 1800s, specifically starting in 1875. Most come from two specific regions in Italy, either the Veneto or Trentino. Many of their descendants who run the wineries speak regional dialects. They all also consider themselves both Brazilian and Italian and many are seeking Italian citizenship, interestingly enough. Apparently Brazil has the largest population of Italians outside of Italy., something like 25-35 million people with Italian heritage. Back to the pairing, people from Northern Italy tend eat more rice than pasta on a daily basis so I thought the Risotto was a good one because of the links to these Northern regions.
Mushroom Risotto Recipe
The recipe calls for risotto rice, Italian rice varieties that are high in a particular type of starch, with grains that are shorter and fatter than most other rices: Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are the most famous varieties. The high starch content of these rices yields a creamy texture when cooked.
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 cups flavorful mushrooms such as shiitake, chanterelle, or oyster mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into half inch to inch pieces
- 2/3 cup brandy, vermouth, or dry white wine
- 5-6 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
- 1/3 cup of peeled and minced shallots (OR 1/3 cup of yellow or white onion, finely chopped)
- 1 3/4 cups arborio rice or other risotto rice
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley or chives
1 Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan.
2 Sauté the mushrooms: Melt the butter in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and sauté about 5 minutes (if using chanterelles, dry sauté first for a minute or two and let the mushrooms cook in their own juices before adding the butter).
3 Add rice and brandy: Add the rice and stir to combine. Add brandy, bring to a boil, and reduce liquid by half, about 3-4 minutes.
4 Add simmering stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring enough to keep the rice from sticking to the edges of the pan. Stir the rice almost constantly — stirring sloughs off the starch from the rice, making the creamy sauce you’re looking for in a risotto.
Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.
This process will take about 25 minutes. The rice should be just cooked and slightly chewy.
5 Stir in the Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or chives.
Join us this weekend as we blog, tweet and chat about the wonders of Merlot! We’ll host an hour long chat on Twitter on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 11am EDT, 8am PST. Come and join us at the #MerlotMe and #WinePW hashtags on Twitter.
Take a look below at all the great ideas for your next bottle of Merlot.
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Food Pairings with Merlot“
- Jennifer at Vino Travels Italy shares “Merlot Pairings for #MerlotMe Month”
- Jill at l’Occasion shares “Foolproof Pairing for #MerlotMe Month”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “This Food-Friendly Varietal Takes You From Savories to Sweets, Snacks to Cakes“
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares “6 California Merlots Paired with Mexican Food Favorites”
- Lori at Dracaena Wine shares “Onion Pastry on My Plate Makes #MerlotMe So Great“
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “A Month Long Merlot Extravaganza“
- Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “Exploring Meatless Merlot Pairings for #MerlotMe “
- Kat at The Corkscrew Concierge shares “Merlot is the Perfect Dining Companion”
- David at Cooking Chat shares “Vegetarian Stuffed Acorn Squash with a Napa Merlot”
- Pierre and Cynthia at Traveling Wine Profs share “A very well-traveled Merlot with Vietnamese bò kho
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “It’s #MerlotMe month. Where’s the umami?“
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Celebrating Merlot with L’Ecole No 41“
- Sarah at Curious Cuisiniere shares “Hachis Parmentier and Merlot Pairing”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Exploring California in 5 Merlots“
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Game Day? #MerlotMe with Ham and Cheese Sliders”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares “California vs. France #MerlotMe with squash, chard, and bow tie pasta”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Brazilian Merlot with mushroom risotto”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Young Professionals Explore Merlot”