Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Merf’s Up: A Cabernet for the Holidays



For reasons never fully explained to me, my in-laws kick off the holidays by having Thanksgiving on the Sunday before the rest of the country. I assume this is because the engaging Mrs. M's grandfather was English and never took the whole Pilgrim thing very seriously. So I served crawfish étoufée, because nothing says "America" like some French/Spanish colonial fusion dish served to the English. It got me thinking about the avalanche of facing several Christmas parties, actually Christmas, a non-denominational mid-winter shindig or two, and that perennial amateur night for bad drunks, New Year's Eve.

Which is exactly why your holiday wine list is different — the hootenanny is coming, and you'll want to brace yourself. Since last January you've been on and off diets and cleanses, avoided starches, red meats, sugars, and everything else that makes life bearable. Your wines — even the reds — have likely been light, drinkable little numbers that would never think of getting into a brawl with a three-bean salad. Now the holidays are here and it's no jaunt, but a grueling slog of bon homme and good damn cheer.


I was contemplating this and other terrifying ordeals while wandering that intriguing maze that is Gaslight Liquor Shoppe on Summer Avenue, when I happened upon a liquor rep named Jacques having a tasting of some new-to-the-market reds: specifically a cabernet sauvignon called Merf. The wine is the brain-child of a restless man named David "Merf" Merfeld — a former Iowa farmer, brewer, and now, evidently, vintner in Washington State. I just liked the name, for obvious reasons. At $10.99, I liked the price, too.

Now, this is a nice, workable holiday wine — a fruit-forward cabernet that's big on plum and dark cherry. I tend to favor the earthy cabernets; this was jammy. Despite the fruit, Merf managed to stay somewhat dry with little hints of vanilla and toffee. Even if the big, fruit-forward thing isn't entirely your bag, remember what you are up against, food wise, for the next month. Your system is in for a shock, and you'll need to stay in the proper humor of the thing if you want to be invited back. This is a bottle that will stand up to barbecue, ham, liver pâte, dips, swell stinky cheeses, or anything a sane person is likely to throw on the Big Green Egg. For dessert, refill your glass and dive into enough rich dark chocolate to fill a mop bucket.

Granted, Merf Cabernet just may overpower and brutalize your kale salad with vinaigrette, but if we're going to be honest with ourselves, that is pretty much a non-issue until sometime in mid-first quarter of 2019, at the earliest.

Which makes me glad that I broke down and tried some, because I have something of a low-key dislike for people trying to sell me anything. That, and I can't shake the feeling that Washington State is a second rate place to make wine — I keep thinking of rain and those sparkling vampires my daughter used to be into. Of course, I feel wrong: The difference between the southeast corner of Washington and Northern California is just a squiggle on the map, and it is becoming one of the major wine-producing regions of the country. So they showed me.

Being a successful liquor rep, Jacques ignored my concerns about Washington State wine and started talking about holiday food. He mentioned that his mother (presumably the same nice lady that named him Jacques) was serving up her special étoufée. I admitted that I'd just terrorized my in-laws with my less-special version of the same. Then a bond was formed, some tiny fraternity of people who stew shellfish for the holidays as opposed to pretending to honor those constipated political refugees up in Plymouth.

Holidays or not, this is exactly why I hate when people try to sell me stuff.

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