Merlot Gets No Respect

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 37
July 2013   

Not to be confused with the Heitz Martha’s Vineyard in Napa Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the coast of Massachussetts, is a wine destination for quite a different reason. Although an official American Viticultural Area, Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t actually produce any wine, but that doesn’t mean the good stuff isn’t around.

On a recent visit to the island, some of our favorite pairings were from Chef Michael Rottman and Sommelier John Clift of Atria in Edgartown. Rottman and Clift served local oysters with Domaine Carneros Brut, and Domaine de Mourchon white Cotes du Rhone with rare ahi tuna tempura, just two examples of the clever and simple pairings we tasted. The local ingredients inspire Rottman, and the flavor combinations lead Clift to find wines that lift and enhance the dish but never overshadow it.

Restaurant
  • Atria Restaurant and Brick Cellar Bar
  • 137 Main St.
  • Edgartown, MA 02539
  • (508) 627-5850
  • www.atriamv.com
Who
  • Sommelier John Clift
  • Sommelier John Clift developed his passion for wine through taste and experience. While working in restaurants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Charleston, South Carolina, and experiencing wines from around the world, Clift had an epiphany; he wanted to devote himself to wine and learn everything possible. After working for some of the top restaurants in Charleston, he moved to Port Orchard, Washington, for an assistant sommelier role at Giotto’s, where he eventually worked his way to head sommelier. Clift expanded his education at The Wine Academy of Rome and has been the sommelier at Atria Restaurant for the past 10 years. Currently, Clift is also a consultant and educator for both the industry and consumers, and he travels the world in the search of exceptional wines. In 2013, he further expanded his wine experience in the retail world, partnering with Sara Webber to open retail wine shop Vintage MV, in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard.
Wine
Merlot, Duckhorn, Napa Valley, California, 2009
Dish
Braised Veal Cheek and Turnip Purée, Duxelle Mushrooms, Olives, and Goat Cheese-filled Feuille de Brick
Pairing Note
Rottman uses local ingredients whenever he can, but on an island it’s not always possible. So when he goes “off-island” for his protein, he counters with hyper-local: the roasted Japanese turnip is from a friend’s backyard, just out of the ground the same day it is cooked. Rottman explains that his "slow and low” braising technique allows him to cook “from the heart, nothing over the top, but special and simple. I let the turnip doing the talking.”

Although a fan of cult pinots, and tasting them as they age, Clift likes to drink his wine fresh and new. And following “the keep it simple” philosophy employed by the chef, Duckhorn’s 2009 Merlot fits the bill. Merlot hasn’t gotten much respect (sadly) since the film “Sideways,” so we applaud Clift’s choice of an often overlooked grape. “Duckhorn consistently makes good wine, year after year, but the ‘09 was a particularly good vintage. Lots of California wine is fruit-driven, but this is more earth-driven and works with the olive and root vegetables,” explains Clift. We found that it also highlights the sweet note the meat gets from braising. The cherry and spice notes cut through the fat in the veal yet take a backseat to the turnip flavors. Just as the chef would want.

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