If you haven't had wine from Washington state, the Columbia Crest Grand Estates label offers a great introduction to what's happening in the Pacific Northwest--and the price tag (right about $10) makes a great value out of discovering what the fuss is all about. In addition to Merlot, the Grand Estates label produces syrah and cabernet sauvignon (Washington's big-three red wine grapes)--as well as a whole stable of good-value whites.
The Match Ups
The first night, we dug into the Bolognese sauce. The Grand Estates Merlot keyed into the earthy mushrooms, the meatiness (ground beef and pork), and generous grating of Parmesan over the top. The wine wasn't too big to overwhelm; though hauling a truckload of chocolate and big berry fruit flavors, it certainly wasn't a wallflower either. The chocolate really stood out, maybe more than I wanted with this pairing, making me think it might work realy well with a beef stew, possibly with a little chocolate thrown in as the secret ingredient.
Roasted Pork Loin
On the second night, we paired the Grand Estates Merlot with an easy-to-prepare roasted pork loin rubbed with a rosemary and garlic paste. This was the better pairing of the two so far. Interestingly, the personality of the wine changed in the company of this roast. In general, there was a better sense of complementary flavors at work here. In particular, the wine-reduction sauce--a surprisingly rich, dark and meaty sauce--soft-pedaled the wine's cocoa flavors just the right amount for me. The pan sauce was key to the pairing, I think, lending the depth that worked so well with the wine. To make the sauce, I added wine to the roasting pan (as the recipe calls for), scraped the brown bits from the bottom, and then poured the sauce into a saucepan and reduced it, adding juices from the resting meat from time to time. The rosemary (I used fresh not dried) also helped make this a memorable match--it's certainly a very red wine-friendly herb, rosemary.
Roasted Rack of Lamb
This was the swankiest and arguably the best pairing of the batch. I think if you served this dish to company and paired it with this particular wine, you'd come off like a superstar! As I was enjoying this pairing, I had to remind myself it was a $10 bottle; paired with the lamb, the merlot tasted more like the kind of wine that leaves a giant hole in your wallet.
The rosemary, garlic, and mustard got along beautifully with the rich, smooth-tasting Merlot. Again, as with the pork loin, the relative bigness of the wine was held in check by the rich flavors of the dish. It was such a good match up I really lingered over it, sipping some wine after each bite, savoring quietly with my eyes a little lidded. And really, that's when I know I’ve hit upon a great pairing; when I simply turn down the volume on the meal, slowing down to give everything an extra few beats.
Eggplant Parmesan I
Looking for a meatless option? You might not think of eggplant and Merlot, but a young Merlot with a bit of tannin can tame an eggplant's bitterness. That was the case here. Although this was not my favorite match up, it still worked, and left me with the impression the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot is a versatile food wine.