Although Miles of Sideways (now Vertical) wasn’t a fan of Merlot, I am! Likewise, my #winePW pals, comrades in all things food and wine, are too…so much in fact, that we’re repeating last October’s popular Merlot and food pairings conversation on twitter. We’ve decided to complement luscious selections of Merlot, sent to us as samples from MerlotMe wineries, with some of our favorite recipes on twitter today, Saturday, October 8 at 11am EST. Please join us and use the hashtag #winePW!

Not as familiar with Merlot as you’d like to be? It’s well known in the Bordeaux region where it flourishes on the right bank of the Dordogne River. Merlot is cultivated not only in France, but in other regions of the world such as Tuscany, Veneto, Washington State, Sonoma, Napa, South Australia, Western Australia, and South Africa. Vines thrive in locations where they are stressed; roots need to reach deep into the earth so that flavors of their Merlot grapes are lush and concentrated.

Often used in a red blend, you’ll discover tastes of black cherries, raspberries, chocolate, and cedar. Yet, these flavors are greatly influenced by the terroir. Bright red currant notes are predominant in Merlot from a cool climate whereas rich jammy flavors indicate that the Merlot was grown in warmer regions. Fruit forward with medium body and tannic structure, a good Merlot presents just-right acidity and enough alcohol to say “ahhhh” after a few sips.



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The Wines from MerlotMe Wineries

Two of the wines I received, Duckhorn Vineyards 2013 Merlot ($54) and Rutherford Hill 2013 Merlot ($27), are from Napa Valley. Although many feel that Merlot’s reputation in California has been tarnished through the years, serious producers and winemakers are crafting excellent wines; both of these selections are examples of that fact. In my humble opinion, the future of California Merlot is bright.

The Duckhorn Vineyards 2013 Merlot is actually 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc and represents a stunning New World style of a Right Bank Bordeaux. Aged in French oak for fifteen months, I found intense aromas of cherries, raspberries, orange peel, and spice. On the palate, vanilla spice, dark, rich plums, juicy raspberries, and granite were predominant, although I detected herbal notes, too. Its velvet finish was lingering and I appreciated each luscious, elegant sip.

The Rutherford Hill 2013 Merlot is 79% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, and 3% Malbec. Immediately I noted brilliant aromas of bright red fruit, blueberries, plum, licorice, and vanilla spice and anticipated my first sip. Powerful flavors of ripe red fruit and plums and dried black fruit were woven with firm tannins and mouthwatering acidity. The finish on this luxurious wine offered hints of vanilla. Aged for sixteen months in French oak barrels, the Rutherford Hill 2013 was deliciously sophisticated.

The third wine, Northstar 2012 Merlot ($41), is from the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington State where diverse vineyards are found. Many feel that this area produces the best Merlot in the world…of course, you’ll have to taste this wine (and others) to find out for yourself! Consisting of 82% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot, I discovered bright floral notes and cherries on the nose. My palate was ever so satisfied with tastes of spice, red fruits, and cedar leading to a rich, broad finish. Balanced with a fascinating complexity I loved, the Northstar 2012, aged in French oak for eighteen months is another beautiful Merlot to explore if you haven’t done so already.


Food Pairings

Because Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine, it has the ability to pair with a wide range of dishes; check out the links to the recipes from the #winePW group at the end of this article. A good Merlot is able to complement your favorite panini, roasted vegetables, salami, fried or grilled mushrooms, burgers, roasted turkey, or seared salmon. Pour a glass to pair with your dinner of braised short ribs, steak with red wine sauce, grilled Mediterranean chicken, or pizza.

What recipe did I select to pair with my three incredible wines? Eggplant with Polenta Parmigiana, a recipe I discovered from the Kunde Estate Winery website, was the delectable choice everyone at my table enjoyed.

Eggplant, a vegetable I can’t live without, was roasted then baked after it was layered with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and slices of polenta, an element that offered texture. I was thrilled that neither the dish nor the wines overpowered flavors of the other. In fact, the Duckhorn Merlot complemented the notes of the tomato based marinara sauce, the Rutherford Hill Merlot highlighted the savory flavors of the eggplant, and the parmigiana was the star with each sip of the Northstar Merlot.

I loved exploring food and wine pairings this month. Try my recipe below paired with one or all of the wines. Let me know what you discover! Happy Merlot Month!

Eggplant and Polenta Parmigiana


  • 1 Large eggplant (1 1/2 pound)
  • nonstick spray
  • 3 cups marinara sauce (bottled)
  • 8oz part-skim mozzarella (shredded (2 cups))
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tube ready-to-heat polenta (18 ounces, cut in 20 slices)


Step 1
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Step 2
Coat eggplant slices with nonstick spray. Spread on a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until tender. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Step 3
Place 4 eggplant slices in the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Step 4
Spread with 1 cup sauce, sprinkle with 2/3 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese. Repeat once.
Step 5
Top with polenta slices, remaining sauce and cheese.
Step 6
Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until bubbly and cheese melts.

Cheers! ~ Cindy

For more delicious wine and food pairings, try the selections below from my #winePW colleagues!

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 Blog shares  “Welcoming Fall with #MerlotMe and #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 #MerlotMe with savory simple fall foods”

Jade from Tasting Pour shares “Chipotle Chicken Stew and Merlot”

Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares “A Love Affair for Merlot and the Grill”

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Merlot Shows Its Versatility and Goes +1 With Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate”

Amy from Cooking with Amy shares “Mushroom Parmigiano Pasta Recipe”




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  1. Gail Goodwin


    Sounds delish. Love the description and Merlot history. This article endorses my belief that no two wines are alike and each one has redeeming qualities that can capture the attention of our tastebuds through wine/food pairings or enjoying it solo! Thank you, Cindy!

  2. Reply

    I guess I’m a little surprised that all these wines labelled “Merlot” are really ~80% merlot grapes with others in the mix.
    Is 100% Merlot not common in California that you know of?

    • Cindy Rynning


      There are some California wines of 100% Merlot – Chelsea Goldschmidt 2012 Merlot from Alexander Valley is a great value at $18 and quite nice. From my perspective, most Merlots in California include other varieties.

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