5 "Treat Yo Self" Napa Merlots (#MerlotMe)

We definitely celebrated Merlot month around here.

A couple of weeks ago I shared Exploring California in 5 Merlots. These Merlots were from different areas of California and all were pretty reasonably priced. However, I received quite a few more media samples for participation in #MerlotMe month than I was able to cover in one post, so the party continues, and I’m sharing these today, JUST under the wire for International Merlot Day. (That’s right, Merlot also has a day.)

In this post, we’ll be looking at 5 more Merlots, but this time I’ll be looking at a batch for when you want to kick things up a notch. We all have moments when we feel like something a little more spendy, whether it’s for a special occasion or just because. Sometimes you’ve just gotta “treat yo self!”

Merlot is a great option in times like these because you’ll typically get extra bang for the buck at any price point. Today’s wines are all from Napa, a region that generally pricey. It’s known for Cab, which can be even pricier. The Merlot-based wines can deliver just as much pleasure for comparably less money, regardless of the price bracket you're working in.

Napa doesn’t need much of an intro. It’s definitely California’s most famous winemaking region. That said, the AVA’s in the area are very diverse. Napa Valley was created by geological events that have occurred over the last 150-million years, and as a result there’s a crazy array of soils. So where appropriate, we’ll take the opportunity to get to know some of these individual areas a little bit.

Map borrowed from Wine Folly.

Winemaking and vineyard details are taken from the tech sheets and/or websites.

Long Meadow Ranch Napa Valley Merlot 2015 with Mushroom and Butternut Squash Risotto 

SRP: $37 (Sample). Not a crazy splurge, so it’s perfect for when you’re just feeling a touch extra.
Blend: 95% Merlot, 2.4% Cabernet Sauvignon. 1.8% Petite Sirah, 0.8% Petite Verdot.
Alcohol: 13.5%

Winery: The winery has a long history dating back to the late 1800’s. Today it’s owned by Ted, Laddie, and Christopher Hall – it was purchased by the family in 1989. Long Meadow Ranch is engaged in full circle farming – they employ integrated farming systems that rely on different parts of the ranch to contribute to the health of the whole. In addition to vineyards, they have olive orchards, cattle and horse breeding, vegetable gardens, and poultry for egg-laying. Each piece feeds the whole and everything is certified organic. In addition, they make their own compost and use solar power.

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured once of their wines. Check out their rosé here and here.

Vineyard & Winemaking Deets:  Organically farmed, as noted above. They’re also certified under Napa Green. The wine was aged in 30% new French Oak.

Area:  Grapes grown at their Mayacamas and Rutherford Estates. Their Rutherford Estate sits on a mineral-rich benchland that was once a riverbed.Tectonic plate movements and volcanic activity, and erosion and intermingling over time have created complex alluvial fans that radiate from the hillsides and through the valley floor. The most famous of these alluvial fans is the Rutherford Bench. The Mayacamas Estate is nestled in the mountains high above the Rutherford Bench.

Tasting Notes: Red plum, black cherry, vanilla, hints of tea and dried leaves on the nose. On the palate, notes of licorice, dutch chocolate, and white pepper joined the red plum and cherry notes. There was also a little touch of bitterness, along with tobacco, tomato stem, and medicinal herbs on the finish.  It was medium bodied, with medium acid, and medium/medium+ tannin.

Pairing: We paired this with butternut squash and mushroom risotto topped with shredded chicken and crispy sage. You could just as easily leave the chicken off  and keep it vegetarian. The wine was a good weight to match the food. More earthiness came out with the food, as well, and the white pepper and herb notes were heightened.

The winery also recommends beef, smoked baby back ribs, and barbeque pulled pork sandwiches with this wine. 

Materra Right Bank Oak Knoll District 2015 with Roasted Chicken and Roasted Veggies

SRP: $50 (Sample)
Blend: 99% Merlot, 1%
Alcohol: 14.5%

Winery: Brian Cunat grew up in the Midwest on a farm which gave him respect for farming. Later, he and his wife Miki traveled to Napa Valley and they fell in love with the area. They decided to buy a 50-acre property in Oak Knoll in 2007, then hired an expert team of vineyard managers and winemakers. The family is involved in the operations on a daily basis, though, and it’s become a full family affair.

Vineyard & Winemaking Deets: The winery is certified by Napa Green.
The wine is aged 22 months in new French Oak.

Area:  Oak Knoll District. This area is on the valley floor, near the southern end of Napa Valley, so it’s cooler than many areas of Napa, as it’s closer to San Pablo Bay and feels some of its marine effects. It’s known for wines from Bordeaux grapes (Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) that are actually reminiscent of Bordelais wine –  typically, Napa’s take on these grapes tends to be much bigger and bolder.

Tasting Notes: Appropriately, this wine is paying homage to Bordeaux with the name “Right Bank,”  referring to the area of Bordeaux on the right bank of the Gironde River and specializes in Merlot. Of all the wines we tried, this one was really the most reminiscent of the Bordelais style to my palate. (Or course, still with riper California fruit notes.) When I poured this for Greg, without telling him what it was, he knew it was a step-up in quality. It was very elegant and well-made. It had notes of plum sauce, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and light vanilla and cocoa. On the palate, there was a whole mix of berries, cherries, and red plums. It was velvety with a light cocoa, like chocolate pudding, and a little pencil lead. It was medium bodied, with medium acid, and medium tannins that were fine grained and little dusty. This was a mutual favorite.

Pairing: We had this with roasted chicken with root vegetables. I basically made the same way as I prepared this spatcocked chicken, but instead of za'atar, I used Trader Joe’s Umami Seasoning and this Napa Valley Blend I’m fond of. Use your favorite. Leftovers from this chicken got shredded up and put on top of the risotto above. The wine and the chicken worked really well together thanks to the medium body and elegant nature of the wine. The wine also reflected the spices and herbs on the chicken nicely.


Markham Vineyards Yountville Estate Merlot 2015 and Surf & Turf with Friends

SRP: $55. (Sample)
Blend: 75% Merlot, 18% Cabernet, 7% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 14.2%

Winery:  Markham Vineyards celebrated 40 years of winemaking in 2018, however, the winery’s history goes back even further. It was commissioned to be built in 1879 and they’re currently the 4th oldest continually running winery in Napa county operating under this original bond number, albeit under different owners and names.

On their website Markham’s winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls notes that “Merlot is the first wine I fell in love with when I arrived in Napa. In my opinion, it is the perfect food wine.”

Vineyard & Winemaking Deets: Markam’s wineries and vineyards are by certified by Napa Green. Fun fact, the budwood for their Merlot vines originally taken from the Three Palms Vineyard. The wines if fermented in 100% stainless steel, then is aged for 15 months in new French oak barrels.

Area:  Yountville. This AVA is right in the heart of Napa Valley, halfway between San Pablo Bay and the southern end of Mount St. Helena. Most of the vineyards here are located on the valley floor. Vineyards for this wine are located at the southern end of the famous Rutherford Bench area. The soils are well-draining, sitting atop ancient alluvial fans.

If you’re ever in the area, downtown Yountville is also a great place to stop. It also happens to be home to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Bouchon.

Tasting Notes: This was a hedonistic wine with deep mocha and roasted plums and espresso. There were touches of soy and savory herbs. I didn’t take full structure notes in the moment, but it was a full-bodied and structured. This was a mutual favorite from the batch for both Greg and I.

Pairing: We enjoyed this wine during a surf-and-turf- cookout with friends. It was excellent with the steak, and Greg noted he also really enjoyed it with sweet potatoes.

Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley 2016 with Beef Wellington


SRP: $90 (Sample)
Blend: 97% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol: 14.9%

Winery: Jason Pahlmeyer was an attorney who became captivated with wine. He found a partner who owned an estate in Napa and they set about reimagining the vineyard. They sought assistance from professors at the University of Bordeaux, and searched out the best clones of Bordeaux  varieties from vineyards in France and brought back their “suitcase clones.” They brought them back through Canada and actually got caught along the way. Here’s a fun excerpt of the story from their website:
Jayson's partner smuggled their “suitcase clones” to the U.S. through Canada. All went off without a hitch until their final truckload, when the border authorities uncovered the French vines. Ordered to surrender all their contraband, they kept their French clones hidden and instead turned over to the unwitting patrollers clones purchased from U.C. Davis.
The vineyards were planted in 1981, and they’ve have a pretty amazing set of winemakers come through there over the years. Bibiana González Rave currently holds that position and she is one amazing lady. (She was San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year in 2015, and I highly recommend the read.)  I’m happy to say to have had the very great pleasure to get to know her a little bit over the last couple of years, and she was on my panel this year for Bâtonnage: "Pathways to Inclusion: But How, Really?" I invite you to listen to that here. She also has her own line of wines called Cattleya  which I highly recommend, as well as Shared Notes which she makes with her husband Jeff Pisoni.

I was admittedly very excited to receive this wine as a sample, to get the chance to taste an example of her wines I’d not had before.

Vineyard & Winemaking Deets: The vineyards are farmed sustainably, taking careful measure to prevent erosion, and use organic compost. 100% free-run juice was used for this wine. Great care was taken to sort the grapes, through multiple stages to ensure only the best fruit was used. The fgrapes underwent five days of cold maceration. After primary fermentation, the grapes were gently basket pressed. The wine was aged in 85% new French oak barrels for 20 months.

Area:  Atlas Peak and Rancho Chimiles. Pahlmeyer’s estate vineyards are on Atlas peak, so I’m going to focus on that today, but Rancho Chimiles has a really interesting history you can read more about here. Atlas Peak is one of the highest points in Napa – the highest vineyards are planted at 1665 feet above sea level. The Foss River is largely responsible for the terroir here, rather than the Napa River, although it does eventually meets the larger river. The soils are mostly volcanic and highly porous, which is good for drainage, and lends itself well to high-quality wines. Sadly, this area was hit hard by the wildfires of 2017.

Tasting Notes: On the nose, there were notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, boysenberry, light chocolate, light spice, hint of bramble, red flower petals. A similarly lush combination of fruits returns on the palate, with light bramble, white pepper, and a hint of anise. It was medium + to full bodied in body, medium tannins, but with sufficiently fresh acid to hold it all together. This wine had a great combination of elegance and richness, like a velvet glove and I relished every sip.

Pairing: I decided to embark on a quest of experimenting with Beef Wellington. We paired this wine with the first iteration. I was fairly faithful to this recipe from Delish, with the exception that I used hanger steak, instead of the traditional tenderloin. It was a fantastic match.

Blackbird Vineyards Illustration Napa Valley 2013 with Filet Mignon and Roasted Beets on Salad

Average Price: $106 for this vintage (Not a sample. I pulled this one from “the cellar.”)
Blend:  60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol: 14.5%

Winery: Blackbird Vineyards is located on a former walnut orchard which was planted to Merlot vines in 1997. It was purchased by Michael Polenske in 2003. Much like a couple of the other wines above, the wines were inspired by the wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux.

Vineyard & Winemaking Deets: They farm sustainably, rarely using commercial pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. Organic materials from farming and harvest are put back into the soils as compost. All wines are fermented via native yeasts. I couldn’t find a tech sheet for the 2013 vintage, but according to their website the 2016 spent 21 months in French oak barrels - 75% new, 25% seasoned. They consider this the most luxurious wine in their portfolio.

Area:  Blackbird sources fruit from around Napa, but they’re based in Oak Knoll, which we covered up above.

Tasting notes: High-toned with notes of violets, orange rind, cherry, red plum, raspberry, and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, there were notes of kirsch, herbs, and that hint of orange rind. It had bright acidity, was medium to medium + body, and had a little grip on the finish. Even though it has a few years on it, I thought it could use a few more since it was still taught or decant.

Pairing: We paired this with filet mignon, which I prepared sous vide. I also prepared a little pan sauce to serve on top. On the side, we had salad and roasted beets. I also had some chimichurri around, so we played around with that as well. The wine was very good with the steak and pan sauce. In large amounts, the chimichurri tended to throw it off a little bit; however, in small amounts or bites where there was a little of everything, it all worked together solidly well.

I actually still have MORE Merlot samples that I haven't got to yet, so they'll make an appearance eventually.

Around this time last year I put together this recipe for a Lamb Inspired Tagine to be paired with Mt. Brave's Merlot, another great 'Treat Yo Self' option.

And here are several more #MerlotMe posts that have come together over the last few years.

#MerlotMe Again: High-Low Duckhorn Burger Night
Many Merlots Make Marvelous Mediterranean Meal

This post contains affiliate links, including the following Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.



Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!