Decoy Merlot 2018, Sonoma County
Cost: $24-26
I love October for many reasons, not the least of which is it’s Merlot month. I know, it’s a made-up celebration, but I applaud anything that draws attention to this versatile, delicious wine.
I have been drinking Merlot for at least 45 years, when I first tried Sterling Merlot and loved it. Later I heard about this great Merlot made by Duckhorn, but I couldn’t find it anywhere until I found it in a boutique wine shop in Chapel Hill, N.C. It was every bit as good as I had hoped.
It was a little more than I usually spent for wine, but then Duckhorn came out with the Decoy label, which the winery called the every day wine for the well informed. I could drink it every day, and at this price I could afford to.
This lush Merlot is a deep, inky red in the glass, with inviting dark fruit aromas. On the palate are layers of black cherry, plum and blueberry with a hint of dark chocolate. Crisp acidity gives it some elegance while silky tannins carry the wine to a smooth finish that has a slight mineral touch.
It is one of those lip-smacking wines that you could drink all night.

The grapes are 98 percent Merlot, one percent Cabernet Sauvignon and one percent Petit Verdot. The grapes are all from Sonoma sub-appellations: Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Russian River and Knights Valley.
It is aged 12 months in 100 percent French oak, 40 percent new.
The 2018 vintage was a good one, with relatively mild weather and a healthy sized crop. After some early harvests because of hot summers, that year allowed the grapes more hangtime to fully ripen. This increased the complexity of the grapes and the resulting wines.
The Decoy is a great example of why Merlot was once so popular and is becoming popular again. Merlot is a silky, luscious wine that is much more approachable than wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, which often have a bite or more pronounced tannins. It became so popular in the 1980s that some growers planted it in places where it didn’t do well and made lousy wine.
That led to the growth of Pinot Noir, which suffered the same fate of overplanting because of its popularity and the production of some horrible wine. American winemakers now are figuring out what it took the French hundreds of year to do: some grapes grow better in certain places than others.
The current Decoy label was introduced in 2007. It features a decoy carved by Richard “Fresh-Air Dick” Janson (1872–1951) during the 1930s. Janson was a premier carver whose decoys are the most recognizable of all Pacific Coast carvings.
Artist Michael Allard of Zimbabwe created a painting of this Pintail duck from the original carving. While still incorporating key elements of the original packaging—most notably the Decoy carving artwork—the new design offered a warmer, more premium aesthetic.
The company has several labels. Duckhorn was the original and remains the place for high end wines. The offshoots include names like Decoy, Goldeneye, Migration, Paraduxx and Canvasback that have a connection to ducks. All have their own wineries and winemakers.
Decoy offers private virtual wine tastings and chef demonstrations with wine pairings. You pick out the wines and the time you want to do the tasting and the winery handles all the details. Check out their website for details.
If you want to join the Merlot fun this month, use the hashtag #MerlotMe on social media. You can check postings on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or visit for information on events and recipes. If you are in wine country, you can visit wineries offering special Merlot tastings. There is even a Spotify playlist.

Winery: Since the first offering of Decoy Napa Valley Red Wine in 1985, Decoy has taken on a vital part of the Duckhorn lineup. While the Duckhorn Merlots were designed for cellar aging, Decoy wines were ready to drink when released.
Decoy wines will age a few years, but they are full of complexity and delicious flavors right from the start.
Decoy has evolved from a single wine to being its own winery with offerings that include Decoy Red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wine. All the wines are Sonoma County appellation-designated and highlight Decoy’s commitment to producing attractively priced wines made from exceptional vineyard sources.
After buying two premium vineyards in Alexander Valley, Sonoma’s best region for growing Bordeaux wines, Decoy acquired a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in Hopland, just north of Sonoma County.
The Duckhorn story began when Dan Duckhorn and his wife Margaret made the decision to focus his passion on making a world class Merlot when they opened their winery in 1976.
He had just returned from a trip to Bordeaux where he saw what great wine could be produced from Merlot, and he knew the Napa Valley could produce wines that matched the best in the world.
Dan Duckhorn is a Santa Rosa native and graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Working his way up to become president of Vineyard Consulting Corporation, he learned about wine making from the soil up. He saw that change was coming to wine country, with consumer tastes shifting away from common varietals to higher quality wines.
After the trip to France Dan and a small group of friends founded Duckhorn Vineyards. one of the first 40 wineries established in Napa Valley. The 10-acre property in St. Helena later became home to the Duckhorn Vineyards Estate House, their gorgeous tasting room along the Silverado Trail.
Their first harvest brought 800 cases of Merlot from the Three Palms Vineyard and 800 cases of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines were big hits and the brand took off.

Goes with: We drank this beautiful Merlot with chicken stir fry, a great recipe I’ve tinkered with over about 40 years. It’s healthy, delicious and relatively simple to fix.
I first learned how to stir fry when my boss in Charlotte, Stuart Spencer, told me it was a great way to get rid of tensions after a busy day in the newsroom. You sip a little wine while chopping the meat and all the vegetables while chopping away your frustrations, and by the time the food is ready, you’re nice and relaxed.
The dish includes chicken, celery, carrots, green and red bell peppers, onions and peanuts cooked in a wok with a tangy sauce of chicken broth, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cayenne, red pepper flakes, sugar, corn starch and sherry. You could add just about any vegetable you want to suit your tastes. I like to add snow peas.
This wine also would pair well with grilled lamb, beef, duck, wild rice, mushrooms, aged cheddar and a dish seasoned with rosemary.
Here’s the recipe for the stir fry:

[box]Chicken Stir Fry

2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces

1/4 cup cooking oil

1 teaspoon ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups sliced carrots

1 cup sliced celery

1 bell pepper, cut into one-inch pieces

6 scallions cut into one-inch pieces

Large handful of snow peas

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

small can of water chestnuts

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 cup dry sherry

Dissolve cornstarch, sugar, cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper into soy sauce and chicken broth. Stir vigorously, then add sherry. Set aside.

Heat oil in an electric wok to 400 degrees. Add chicken, ginger and garlic. Stir fry until meat loses its pink color. Remove meat from wok.

Add more oil. When it heats up add carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions and stir fry two minutes. Add peanuts, water chestnuts and snow peas and stir fry another minute.

Return meat to pan and stir briefly. Add chicken broth mixture and stir fry until it boils and thickens. Add a little more sherry and serve over rice. Makes about eight servings.


If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at

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