Peju Shows Merlot’s Versatility with Zuni Chicken #Merlotme
Merlot is More than Just a Red Meat Wine
Being a bit softer and more plush than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot will pair with more foods. Delicate seafood preparations, maybe not. But there are a whole range of foods you wouldn’t consider for the big brother, but Merlot does just fine, thank you very much.
Today, I tried my hand at my first Zuni Cafe Chicken, an icon in the “New California Cuisine” of the late 80’s and still revered today! We decided to give the Peju Province Winery Merlot a shot at the table with the California institution.
Fast Facts About Peju Province Winery
The following are some fast facts about the Peju Province Winery, from their website:
- Tony Peju and his wife Herta purchased 30 acres of land in Rutherford in Napa Valley in 1982
- Neighboring vineyards in Rutherford included Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu. Situated between Highway 29 and the Napa River, the acreage included a 1900-era house and rambling vineyards, some 60 or more years old.
- The estate vineyard is Certified Organic and Napa County Green
- The Rutherford Estate is comprised of a total of 30 acres, 22 of which are planted with the five traditional Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
- Peju is known also for their architecture, impressive grounds and gardens
- The centerpiece of the Peju estate is the Tower tasting room, completed in the fall of 2003 and its rendering has graced the label of every estate-bottled Peju wine.
- Looking to the future, Tony and Herta have introduced their two daughters, Lisa and Ariana, to the workings of the wine business. Both of the young women are immersing themselves in all aspects of Peju Winery.
Peju Province Winery Napa Valley Merlot ($38 SRP, winery sample for #MerlotMe)
Eye: Clear, medium+ intensity ruby color with a pretty purple edge. Legs are lightly stained purple.
Nose: High intensity, the aromas leap out of the glass at your nose. Clean, rich ripe blackberries with plenty of caramel, vanilla and a bit of cedar. Clearly an American/International style, but nicely done.
Mouth: Medium+ body, medium acidity, surprisingly medium+ tannins, felt clearly all around the gums in the front of my mouth. Lingering flavors of blackberries, cola, vanilla, caramel, a touch of cedar.
Entirely drinkable on its own, we’ll see how it is at the table.
Peju Merlot Paired with Zuni Cafe Chicken
The Peju Merlot was a very nice fit for red wine with the meal. The smoky grilled flavor of the chicken added a bit of body that stood up nicely to the wine structure. The chicken is intended to be cooked at a very high temperature, and my next go will include turning up the temperature 1-2 notches. The increased browning and charring of the skin will take this further into red wine territory.
The rich fruit of the wine was a nice complement to the grilled chicken and salad. Shhh! Truth be told, we also served a pretty white Burgundy with this meal and for me it was an even better match. However, how many of your friends are red wine drinkers by choice? Plenty of mine are, and many of them are big Merlot fans. I wouldn’t hesitate for an instant to serve this wine for them with the chicken.
Zuni Cafe Chicken – You Can Do It!
The secret to Zuni Chicken is actually three secrets, not so strange in 2016:
- Use the best chicken you can find, not too big. With this simple preparation, there is nothing to hide behind. I used a Sunshine Harvest Farms chicken, true free range, picking in the dirt, life lived outdoors chicken
- Dry brine the chicken 1-2 days in advance (instructions in the recipe)
- Cook the chicken in a very hot oven: 450-500F. The comments about filling the kitchen with smoke (been there, done that) got me thinking about simply making the chicken out on the grill. I can set my Primo Ceramic grill up for indirect heat and achieve virtually any temperature I need. Voila!
Disclosure: The Peju Merlot was provided by the winery as part of the #MerlotMe month-long celebration of Merlot. All opinions expressed are my own.