Long a favorite red wine grape, Merlot has recently been seen as a lesser variety. A wine for unsophisticated beginners. There are several reasons why public favor for anything swings, but many point to the 2004 movie, Sideways, as a source of misfortunes for Merlot.

In the film the snotty oenophile, Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, famously derides Merlot favoring Pinot Noir as a more elegant variety.  The result of this ridicule is known as the “Sideways Effect” that caused a decrease in both price and sales volume of Merlot wines.

The inside joke is at the end of the movie he furtively slips a bottle of a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc from a brown paper bag. This storied Bordeaux wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sneaky Miles.

Whether Hollywood has anything to do with the dip in popularity or not, several wine producers have banded together to promote the variety with a #MerlotMe tasting and social media promotion throughout the month of October. In Austin, The Red Room Lounge is hosting a tasting on Thursday, October 9.

Screw Miles. I love Merlot. It is the noble grape that is a cornerstone of Bordeaux wines, one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions. It also grows well and makes fantastic wine in prominent regions around the world. I couldn’t help jump on the bandwagon with wines from two participating wineries; Matanzas Creek Winery and Freemark Abbey.

Matanzas Creek 2011 Merlot, Sonoma County

Matanzas Creek 2011 Merlot Sonoma County

The cool growing year in Sonoma produced a deep garnet colored wine with plenty of depth. Matanzas Creek Merlot is blended with small doses of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It’s aged in French and American oak barrels for 15 months.

This is easy, breezy Sonoma County in a glass. Herbal scents of thyme and tomato stem intertwine with dark fruit aromas like black plum. Ripe blackberry, blueberry and cranberry cuddle with cocoa, coffee and fennel flavors. The soft tannins make it as smooth as a velvet smoking jacket.

Matanzas Creek is just as at home in the dining room as it is on the back porch. Enjoy it for $28 a bottle.

Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley

Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot Napa Valley

This rich and seductive red is made with fruit grown in five vineyards around Napa Valley; some high elevation and some lover in the valley. It is made with a blend of Merlot (85%) and lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and a smidge of Malbec. It’s aged in French and American oak for 14 months.

This is a dark and brooding wine that will keep secrets from you. Secrets that will last until your last glass. The spicy scents lush with blackberry, blueberry and plum are true to the flavors of black cherry, blueberry and chocolate. It has an earthiness to balance the fruit and enough acidity to give it a spring in its step. Despite the powerful 14.5% alcohol, it doesn’t feel hot.

The secret revealed in your final sips? You should have bought a second bottle. It will set you back $34 a pop.

California Merlots are elegant without being fussy. They are relatively versatile with food and can dress up pizza or burgers, and can also play well with a fat steak.

Disclosure: I was provided samples of both wines by Jackson Family Wines.

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Wine Ride

Diane Dixon, the brains behind Keeper Collection, is always scheming fun ways to present amazing food and wine pairings. She has created a portfolio of spectacular annual events including  CITYWIDE 86′D, which recently won a “Best of Austin Award” from the Austin Chronicle,  Chef’s Under Fire, Somms Under Fire and of course The Wine Ride. Each one has a unique way of involving guests in an amazing experience with culinary and beverage talent.

This year, the Wine Ride – The Oregon Trail, wine and food pairing event, will be held in Houston at Kipper Club Test Kitchen with food from Chef Graham LaBorde on Saturday, October 18, 2014, in Dallas/Fort Worth at Clay Pigeon Food and Drink with food by Chef Marcus Paslay on Sunday, October 19, and in Austin at W Austin with food from Chef Thomas Riordan on Monday, October 20, 2014. At each of the three events  guests will learn about the terroir and wines of Chapter 24 Vineyards,  the Oregon wines of Raptor Ridge, which will be paired with a three-course meal.

I’m a sucker for Oregon wine. The only thing better is having Oregon wine expertly paired by extremely knowledgeable sommeliers and chefs. Advanced Sommeliers will present a wine education program before the dinner in each city. In Houston, the brilliant David Keck will show his magic, Dallas guests will be awed by Jason Hisaw, and Austin will be treated to a spectacular session with the brilliant June Rodil.

There are only fifty seats available in each city. It will be an amazing experience to eat and drink with these pros in such an intimate setting. Tickets are a bargain for $95.

Diane Dixon and Devon Broglie Diane Dixon and Devon Broglie

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How to Dog a Dram of The Balvenie Whisky

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In a recent visit to Austin as a part of The Balvenie’s second annual Rare Craft Collection exhibition tour, Jonathan Wingo, The Balvenie brand ambassador, invited me to “dog a dram from the bung of a sherry butt.” Ahem, excuse me? It turns out that I wasn’t the butt of some Scottish joke. A “dog” […]

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Women hold influential roles in Texas craft beer   This story was originally published in the October issue of Austin Woman Magazine. Photos by Rudy Arocha.   It’s a man’s world. At least that’s what they say about the beer industry. It’s simple: More men drink beer than women and more men brew beer than […]

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17 Things that Start with B Seen at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

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Yes, there is a firkin lot of great beer at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival (see my 5 favorite beers) , but if that’s all you go for, you are missing half the fun. The people watching is where its really at. Here are 17 things that start with the letter “B” that you can see at […]

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My 5 Favorite Austin Beers at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

September 28, 2014

Oceans of beer flowed freely at the 2014 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. More than 150 types of beer were poured by 57 brewers at Fiesta Gardens. There is absolutely no way to taste all of those beers, so I took a simpleton’s approach to the beer bash this year: I tasted only what came to […]

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Daniel Barnes of Treaty Oak Distilling Awarded Distiller of the Year

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I had the privilege of hosting Treaty Oak Distilling’s first ever media event to announce that Daniel Barnes has received the prestigious 2014 Distiller of the Year award by MicroLiquor. He was selected among a field of more than 400 distinguished craft distiller entrants in the United States. The event felt like a party with friends […]

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Biggest beer bash ever: 120 brews on tap for Texas Craft Brewers Festival

September 18, 2014

It seems like there is a new brewery or brew pub opening somewhere in Texas every month. It would be a daunting (but fun!) task to try to visit all of the breweries; fortunately the Texas Craft Brewers Festival will bring 57 of the best brewers in the state together for its biggest event ever. This year, […]

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Where to Drink Right Now: 9 Austin Bars Celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month

September 12, 2014

Sometimes our government gets it right. On August 2, 2007 the U.S. Senate declared September as National Bourbon Heritage Month in a unanimous decision. This came years after Congress pronounced bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964. It makes sipping bourbon feel downright patriotic. The Scots and Irish argue over who invented whiskey (or whisky […]

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New artisan gin joins Dripping Springs’ booming booze barrio

September 3, 2014

The area west of Oak Hill out to Dripping Springs, Texas is quickly becoming a booze barrio. The neighborhood is home to Revolution Spirits, the soon-to-open Deep Eddy Vodka distillery, and a new Treaty Oak Distilling facility that is under construction. San Luis Spirits, the maker of the Dripping Springs Vodka, has just added a new tasting bar and is offering […]

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