Dracaena Wines

October is my favorite month. Halloween…. our anniversary…. and #MerlotMe! A month dedicated to a grape variety that hasn’t had the easiest time in the past. In the early 90s, Merlot vines were over planted. A misunderstanding of the variety and the environment it grows well in led to a high number of poorly farmed vines flooding the market with lower quality wine. But, thankfully those days are behind us!! Merlot growers have learned the viticulture required to produce high quality wine, and we are now reaping the benefit. Dracaena Wines

There are many ways that you can be part of the Merlot fun. If you are looking for suggestions on how to celebrate, then the MerlotMe website is the place to go. They have wonderful recipe recommendations as well as a providing a list of special events throughout the month. 

Merlot History

The first mention of Merlot came in 1784 in Bordeaux. The officials referred to the grape as “little blackbird” or “young blackbird.” Although there is some controversy as to how these names came about, the two top opinions are that the terms refer to the dark skin of the grape or the fact that blackbirds have a propensity for eating grapes off the vine.  

In 2009, two hundred and twenty five years after its first mention, researchers from UC Davis were finally able to determine Merlot’s genealogical ancestry. The researchers determined that the Merlot grape originated from a natural crossing between Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.

Markham Vineyards

Located in the heart of St. Helena, right off of route 128, sits a historical building dating back to 1874. An enchanting combination of historic and modern. Stone walls contrasting with the metal roof and the wooden columns highlighting a generous hearth. Step outside and be mesmerized by the koi among the fountains and the beautiful gardens. 

image: Markham Vineyards

Founded by a Bordeaux immigrant, Jean Laurent, Markham is the fourth-oldest continuously operated winery in Napa Valley. In 1939, the winery changed its name to St. Helena Co-Operative Winery. It wasn’t until the 1977 when Bruce Markham came to Napa and purchased the 230 acres of vineyards along with Laurent’s original bungalow.

Merlot has been on Markham’s radar from almost the very beginning. Their first vintage was 1978. They released a Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon and a short two years later their first Merlot was released, making them true trailblazers in the world of California Merlot. A short ten years later, Wine Spectator named their wine “Merlot of the Year.”

Continuing being pioneers in the wine world, in 2001, Markham named Kimberlee Nicholls head winemaker, one of the first female head winemakers in Napa Valley. Recognizing the importance of the relationship of the soil to the vines and ultimately the wine, Markham has had their estate vineyards Napa Green certified since 2010, followed by the  winery gaining Napa Green Winery Certification three years later.

But their commitment to the environment is not the only thing Markham is dedicated to. 

Our mission extends beyond making great wine. We dedicate The Altruist to those veterans and first responders who have risked all to preserve the freedom and safety we enjoy every day. Through an annual donation, we support those who serve our country and our communities. 

The Pairing

One of things that I love about Merlot, is that it truly is a versatile varietal. But the Bordeaux blend of Altruist makes it even easier to pair with food. (68% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc) The wine has so many layers and offers so much, the pairing ideas were almost endless. 

In the end, we decided to pair the wine with a vegetarian cutlet.  The recipe reminded me of mozzarella sticks, so I wanted to make a dipping sauce. We combined 3/4 cup lowfat greek yogurt, 1/4 honey and 2 Tbs. Cholula Sauce.

The wine is medium bodied with medium tannins and held up nicely to the slight heat of the dipping sauce and was ideal with the cutlets. Both the recipe and the wine are keepers! I absolutely love that the through this wine, you can help support the Gary Sinise Foundation. The foundation “creates and supports unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.”

Celebrate with the #WinePW Crew

Join me and my #WinePW friends on Saturday, October 9th at 8am PT/11am ET for a twitter chat celebrating #MerlotMe. You don’t have to be a blogger to participate in the chat, but I do recommend eating first because I promise there will be some incredible Merlot pairing ideas.


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  1. I love that they named this the “Altruist” and that this wine gives back. On top of that, the winery has such a great history and the wine sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for the in-depth background about Markum. So much here I didn’t know. As I mentioned in the chat yesterday, I love that the contribute to veterans and first responders. Also, great to see you pair with vegetarian dish! Cheers Lori!

  3. I love the tidbits of knowledge you drop here — I didn’t know about the blackbird references, but somehow that make me like it even more. These vegetarian cutlet bites look delicious too!

    1. isn’t the blackbird thing cute.. and kind of makes sense! The vegetarian cutlets were pretty good. Can easily change depending on spices you add.

  4. Interesting info about how the lack of understanding around how to produce good Merlot contributed to some lower quality wines. The Markham Merlot and pairing sound great!

    1. Vines are living things. Respect them, treat them right and they will provide better fruit. :O) We definitely will be making the vegetable cutlets again. And the Markham Merlot was wonderful.

    1. Merlot is definitely a great variety and sorely misunderstood. I just looked at your website.. Never had a wine from India. Your winery looks beautiful!

        1. Thank you. I would love the opportunity. If you would like, please send me an email exploringthewineglass (at) gmail

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