That Was Then

Brittney Spears may not have been talking about Merlot in her debut single hit, but after listening to her lyrics, the sentiment holds true for us Merlot lovers:

Oh baby, baby, how was I supposed to know
That something wasn’t right here?
At the time that Merlot saw its greatest decline in consumerism, yes, there was that horrible movie, but more importantly, Merlot was over-planted. The vines were harvested with too much tonnage and subsequently, there were many poor quality Merlot wines in the market. 
Oh baby, baby, I shouldn’t have let you go
And now you’re out of sight, yeah
Not to beat a dead horse, but the combination of a single, misunderstood line in a movie and the poor quality of wine on the shelf, people decided they didn’t want to drink Merlot anymore. Sadly, many vineyard owners began to rip out Merlot vines.
Show me how want it to be
Tell me, baby, ’cause I need to know now, oh because
My loneliness is killing me (and I)
If you understand the vine, you can produce quality fruit. Merlot is an early ripening fruit. With budbreak being fairly early it is susceptible to frost in the spring. Merlot typically has medium-high vigor with trailing growth habit, but it can easily move into the excessive vigor realm and this quickly creates a dense canopy.  
I must confess I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Thankfully, as the years past, some winemakers continued to produce Merlot and really focused on the vines. They maintained the balance between the vegetative and the productive states, lowered the tonnage per acre and began producing quality Merlot. 
Give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time

When the vineyard managers began “listening” to the vines Merlot was changed forever and once again became a worthy grape varietal. 

This is Now 

Merlot has seen its ups and downs.  But luckily, today, Merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased by Americans today. (source: The Wine Institute) Merlot is the #1 red most consumed wine varietal according to consumers in a Wine Intelligence August 2018 survey of more than 4,000 wine consumers across all ages and drinking preferences. 

Although historically, Merlot was used to soften Bordeaux varieties and increase fruit complexity in Bordeaux blends, today it can also be found as a full-bodied stand alone varietal. If you would like to read more about the history of Merlot, please see my previous #MerlotMe post Onion Pastry on My Plate Makes #MerlotMe So Great (along with another great Merlot pairing!)

Merlot Pairing

Fall was definitely in the air tonight; and I had Merlot on the mind. I decided to make Butternut Squash Risotto to pair with my 2015 Materra Cunat Family Vineyards Merlot. I have never made risotto before, and I must admit, I was pretty intimidated prior to beginning. In the end, I learned that what they say is true, risotto isn’t difficult, but it is a PiTA. (click here if you don’t know what that means). 

I did append my original recipe for tonight’s pairing. Mike and I love risotto from a restaurant we frequent in Fresno. Their Risotto ala Giuseppe Verdi is so creamy and it comes wrapped in bacon. Since bacon makes everything better, and is the perfect ingredient for Merlot pairings,  I thought I’d include it tonight. 

Although it was not as pretty as what we get at the restaurant, it sure was tasty.  The butternut squash and particularly the ground sage, really brought out the flavors, that were all ready pronounced, in the wine.  This pairing knocked it out of the ball park.

2015 Materra Cunat Family Vineyards Right Bank

butternut squash and merlot
media sample: thoughts & opinions are my own

? deep ruby

? medium aromas of black cherry, cedar and chocolate

? dry, high acidity, medium tannin, medium alcohol, medium body, pronounced flavors of baking spice, black cherry and chocolate

? long finish, 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% ABV, 500 cases produced, 2 months in 85% new French oak, drinking exceptionally well now. drink 2019-2022.

The Winery

Materra Cunat Family Vineyards is located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The patriarch of the family, Brian Cunat, grew up in the Midwest, where farming and life are synonymous. After marrying, Miki, the two traveled to many wine regions, touring the vineyards and exploring the local cuisine. Upon arriving in Napa, they were mesmerized by its beauty and their dream of owning a winery began. 

Following their passion, in 2007, they purchased 50 acres in the Oak Knoll District, and planted Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. The wine bug runs through the entire family, with family members involved in all aspects of the winery including design and investments. 

The Winery is extremely focused on Sustainability. In fact their name, “Materra”  comes from the latin terms mater for mother and terra for earth. They achieved their Napa Green certification in 2017. 

The Napa Green program requires our facility and practices to meet over 100 criteria, all with an eye to achieve the following goals:

  • Save energy and increase energy efficiency

  • Conserve water and increase water use efficiency

  • Reduce waste through recycling, composting and environmentally preferable purchasing

  • Draw down greenhouse gas emissions and the winery’s carbon footprint

  • Care for employees, build engagement around sustainability and be good neighbors


There’s Still Time

There is still time to join in the month-long celebration of Merlot. All you need to do is get your hands on a bottle (or two) of Merlot! Share online with #MerlotMe and if you are looking for even more ideas, just visit MerlotMe for the latest on where to tasterecipes, and be sure to follow participating wineries. And lastly, visit your favorite winery and mention #MerlotMe for special offers and tastings. 


Please follow me on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. You can also find me on YouTube and if you are interested in wine pairings, follow my other blog, Wine Pairing with Dracaena Wines. Finally, don’t forget about my FREE wine education series, Winephabet Street.

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  1. I love “that movie” and Rex Pickett’s first sequel too, but it’s a shame that the character Miles had such a negative impact on Merlot. His wine snobbery and obsessiveness with Pinot Noir is funnier in the books.

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