I Melt for Merlot and Chocolate #WinePW

October is here and that means one thing: Merlot Mania! About seven years ago, a group of wineries decided to launch a campaign called #MerlotMe. It was originally conceived to help build more love for Merlot, which dipped a bit after that movie called “Sideways”). Now, though, Merlot is BACK, BABY!

The Wine Pairing Weekend group of writers was lucky to get a slew of samples of Merlot, and while I have not yet had a chance to taste them all, I decided to go on a mad Merlot-and-chocolate adventure. I think Merlot is a great partner with chocolate because: cherries. Most Merlots are going to unleash a nice tidal wave of cherries: red cherries, black cherries, tart cherries, roasted cherries, cherry compote, etc. – against a background of black and blue fruits, some vanilla aaaaand …. some cocoa or mocha. Shazam! That’s why the chocolate pairing works.

Now for the wines. Since eight bottles is a lot to tackle. I decided to taste two for this story and I went high / low:

Decoy 2019 Merlot ($25) – Light and bright, an easy-drinking, crowd-pleaser of a Merlot. It brings the cherry party, with some light cocoa notes. It’s delicious and doesn’t require a lot of thought to enjoy. An easy choice with casual food like burgers or sausages or chili!

La Jota Vineyards 2018 Howell Mountain Merlot ($99) – Whoa, mama! This is what I call a serious Merlot. It’s powerful, plush and luxurious, showing dark cherries, some dried herbs and bittersweet chocolate. This tastes expensive and it delivers the “wow” with every sip.

I’m really looking forward to pairing each with food and savoring and sharing on social and maybe even another article! Dishes I’m dreaming about include a French Daube, maybe a pan-seared filet mignon … maybe even a burger.

Duckhorn Napa Valley 2018 Merlot ($50) – Duckhorn also makes Decoy, and you will never go wrong with any wine from Duckhorn. Duckhorn has been a Napa Valley pioneer since 1976 and while ownership has changed, the commitment remains high to making beautiful wines that reflect their place.

St. Supery Rutherford Estate Vineyard 2017 Merlot ($65) – I’ve had the pleasure of tasting their wines before (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet and Merlot), and I know this one will bring the thunder.

L’Ecole 41 Estate Walla Walla Valley 2018 Merlot ($36) – I know this wine is going to be a zinger, singing with red fruit and mocha, with maybe some fresh herbs. I have yet to taste a wine from L’Ecole 41 that I did not love.

L’Ecole 41 Columbia Valley 2018 Merlot ($25) – This is also going to be delish, and fun to taste side-by-side with the same vintage of their estate Merlot.

Goldschmidt Chelsea Guidestone Rise 2019 Merlot ($20) – I think I got a bottle of similar wine from Goldschmidt last year and it was my first encounter with them. They are approachable, high-quality wines that don’t cost a fortune (or affordalicious, as I like to say!)

Cannonball California Merlot 2019 ($16) – This is a new one to me, but when I picked up my shipment at Birch Road (the casual BYO club I belong to), a friend saw it, and said, “Ooooh, I love that wine!” I’m excited to try it. (These are the same people who make Angels & Cowboys, which a lot of people love.)

Now for the chocolate. I considered bars and squares. (I even bought some little squares in Lisbon and I know they’ll be delicious with all of these Merlots). I thought about cake, with creamy ganache frosting. I mused about mousse. But in the end, I went with what I know and love: the brownies I grew up with, created by Abby Mandel (for whom both my mom and I worked back in the day, doing cooking classes, catering and my mom edited her cookbooks, too!)

Abby’s Fudge Brownies

These brownies are unique because there is very little flour, so they are rich and dense. Also, the finely chopped chocolate in the batter melts while baking, so you get a very intense chocolate hit from each bite. I hope you like them!


4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

1 1/4 cup Sugar

1 stick butter at room temp

4 large eggs at room temp

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon instant coffee powder

Optional: 1 cup walnuts

What You Do

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9″ by 9″ metal baking pan

In a Cuisinart, chop the chocolate with 6-8 on/off pulses. Add the sugar and let the machine run til the chocolate is as fine as the sugar (about 40 seconds). Add the butter and let ‘er go another 40 seconds. Add the eggs, salt, vanilla and instant coffee powder and go 30 seconds. Now add the flour (and nuts if using) and process only until everything is well-mixed (not too long – like, 5-10 seconds).

Pour the batter into your greased pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 22-24 minutes. The center will look a little jiggly and that’s ok! Let cool on a rack and then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wine Pairing Weekend Writers are Mad for Merlot!
If you want more merlot (always!), take a look at the posts below by others in our group. We’ll do our #MerlotMe #WinePW chat on Twitter on Saturday morning, Ot. 9, from 10-11 am CDT, Search for either hashtag and you’ll find us. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Merlot!


  1. Yummy. I was late getting my title in so thank you for posting on Facebook. Now I get to see all my #MerlotMe posts!


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