Merlot: What’s not to Love?

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Merlot (pronounced mehr-LOT, as in “like-it-a-lot”) was featured at our “Meet the Winemakers” session recently. Special guest producers included Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate, Gilles Martin – winemaker for McCall Wines & Sherwood House, Russel Hearn of T’Jara, and John Cleo of Clovis Point. Each winemaker (German, French, Australian and American) had their own styles of wine making. Along with those four wineries we also tasted Raphael’s 2005 First Label Merlot, and the group effort 2010 Merliance.

When I made the cheese selections for this class I looked at my database for Merlot-friendly cheeses. I also referenced Mastering Cheese, in which I recommended sheep and cow cheeses, pressed and/or cooked, and blues usually. Based on these recommendations I chose Chaource (cow, but not pressed or cooked, but with noting Merlot successes in the database), Roncal, Seven Sisters, Gruyère (Beeler’s of course), Roomano, and Shaker Blue. Of the seven wines we sampled, two were 100% Merlot. Looking at those two, the cheese pairing scores were not quite identical but close. The McCall 2008 Reserve has a little better synergy with the Shaker Blue than the 2010 Merliance. Apparently the extra aging helped tackle the blue.

The other five wines were blended with as little as 3% Cabernet Sauvignon in the Wölffer Estate 2010 Lambardo, to as much as 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Petit Verdot in the Sherwood House 2007 Sherwood Manor. The T’Jara Vineyards 2007 Merlot had the biggest mash-up of varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and the grape Australians can’t seem to resist – Syrah. And with all that was going on in the T’Jara, it was the most successful wine partner for all the cheeses, delicious, though not my favorite wine in the group.

It would have been more instructive had a I selected at least one cheese type which can clash with Merlot. Instead, I chose cheeses that “like” Merlot. As it turned out, there were several cheeses in the lineup that liked the Merlots a lot. The standout successes were with the Roncal, the Seven Sisters, the Beeler Gruyère and the Roomano. The Chaource fared well with all of seven of the wines and the Shaker Blue came up just a little short with three of the wines, though it was delicious on its own. And interesting to note: the Shaker Blue was the one cheese produced in the same state as the wines. I did not choose any goat cheeses because I had recorded very few successes with Merlot.

You might try some of these cheeses with your favorite Merlot. You will likely enjoy the experience a lot.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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