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Venison pairs well with merlot, shiraz

Venison pairs well with merlot, shiraz

Among the many pieces of art adorning my in-laws’ walls, one piece is my favorite. An engraved wood plaque that simply reads, “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the hunting season.”

Venison is the first and most abundant addition to our freezer. Venison is not your average red meat, it has a rich, distinctive flavor but also is extremely lean. The key to the pairing is to stay clear of red wines with high tannin. Wines offering an ideal combination are merlot, syrah, shiraz and zinfandel. These wines will generally have less tannin but bring out the richness of the venison’s gamey taste to complement the blackberry, peppery spice of these wines.

THE VALUES

  • 2015 Carisma Mendocino Syrah, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 14 Hands Merlot, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 BV Coastal Merlot, California (about $11 retail)
  • 2015 Bogle Merlot, California (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2014 Bell Canterbury Vineyards Syrah, California (about $27 retail)
  • 2015 Charles & Charles Merlot Blend, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2015 Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah, California (about $22 retail)

Duck breasts are notoriously fatty, which gives them delicious flavor and juiciness. Grilling is a great way to cook them to perfection giving them a little smoky flavor and creating that crackly skin so many of us enjoy. Because of the earthy smoky flavors a pinot noir is the ideal wine pairing. If you want to heighten the pairing combination, make a classic dried cherry sauce bringing the cherry flavors of the pinot noir front and center with the flavors.

THE VALUE

  • 2015 Carmenet Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Bread & Butter Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 A by Acacia Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Angeline Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2015 A to Z Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $19 retail)
  • 2014 Bell Russian River Pinot Noir, California (about $50 retail)
  • 2015 Resonance Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $47 retail)
  • 2014 Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Washington (about $34 retail)
  • 2014 Fulcrum Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, California (about $55 retail)
Merlot doesn’t get respect it deserves

Merlot doesn’t get respect it deserves

I have wanted to get the discussion started about an often ridiculed grape variety, the merlot. Just a decade ago this grape was in demand around the world. We loved it; it paired with so many foods and it was the red wine as chardonnay was the white over the decade.

But as is often the case with mass appeal, merlot and chardonnay got the wrong end of the stick and became so popular they’re longer cool. Merlot’s decline probably isn’t the result of a single factor, but one can’t help but wonder if this out-casting of merlot was possibly bolstered by the impression moviegoers took away from the 2004 movie Sideways and the character Miles’ views on the merlot grape.

Was the American wine drinker reckless in the judgment of merlot? I think so. Yet, despite its passe reputation, merlot sales are on the rise. Some might say wine drinkers are falling back in love with the grape, but I must aver that many of us never fell out of love.

Merlot is often overshadowed by its more distinguished blending partner, the cabernet sauvignon. For centuries, merlot has been the preferred blending partner for cabernet around the world. Its role is quite simple: to take away the hard tannic edge of cabernet sauvignon with its soft gentle roundness. A favorite quote of mine: “Behind almost all great cabernets there will be some merlot lurking somewhere inside the bottle, sweet-talking the tannic cabernet into civility.”

On its own, merlot is generally riper, fleshier and softer than most cabernet sauvignons. Its home is on the sloping hills of St. Emilion, on the right bank of the Gironde estuary in Bordeaux. This is the region where merlot became the finest and most expensive expression of this grape in the world. It is here where merlot was born into its noble reputation. But today this grape flourishes in many vineyards across the world.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Bogle Vineyards Merlot, California (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2013 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, California (about $50 retail)

Merlot stops cabernet from going over edge

2011 Duckhorn MerlotMerlot is often overshadowed by its more distinguished blending partner, cabernet sauvignon. For centuries, merlot has been the preferred blending partner for cabernet around the world. Its role is quite simple: to take away the hard, tannic edge of cabernet sauvignon with its soft, gentle roundness. A famous wine critic once said that “behind almost all great cabernets there will be some merlot lurking somewhere inside the bottle, sweet-talking the tannic cabernet into civility.”

As remarkable as merlot may be in a blend, this grape also has the strength to stand on its own.

The French, for centuries, have honored merlot — identified not by name, but by location — with wine labels only mentioning the prestigious chateaux. Those who have studied the great Bordeaux region are privy to the exact locations where merlot dominates, such as the luscious wines of Pomerol, St. Emilion and Margaux.

Americans have also reverently respected this grape. Our growing style offers a soft, fruity taste fitting into the American wine palate. It has always offered a connection for those looking for a less aggressive, easy-to-drink wine without the cellar wait and mouth-stripping tannin cabernet can sometimes offer.

THE VALUES

  • 2012 Montes Alpha Merlot, Chile (about $12 retail)
  • 2012 Columbia Crest Merlot, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2012 Bogle Vineyards Merlot, California (about $10 retail)
  • 2012 Bonterra Merlot, California (about $15 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2011 Duckhorn Napa Merlot, California (about $67 retail)
  • 2010 Reynolds Family Winery Stags Leap Merlot, California (about $46 retail)
  • 2010 BV Napa Valley Merlot, California (about $29 retail)