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A very well-traveled Merlot with Vietnamese bò kho #MerlotMe #WinePW

Back during the year when we lived in Williamstown Massachusetts, we marveled as our neighbor, a fellow economics professor, regularly stood on the porch in the freezing winter to grill steaks. That, with the quaint atmosphere of Williamstown, which felt like the set of the Gilmore Girls, was all part of Pierre’s welcome to the USA. And our dear neighbor didn’t grill just any random piece of meat. He got his Omaha Steaks shipped frozen from Nebraska. They certainly didn’t risk unwanted defrosting on the porch. And sure, even top restaurant chefs don’t hesitate to get the best meat and fish shipped in this way if they’re not locally available. So, what about winemakers?

Hong Kong is not the kind of place where you can grow Merlot, or any wine grapes. But that didn’t prevent a Canadian entrepreneur a few years ago from opening an urban winery in the city. The solution? Source good grapes from reputable regions and ship them flash frozen. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It probably is and must have cost quite a lot of money indeed. The winery is now closed (to our knowledge), but her winemaker, Eddie McDougall, continued to do this for a while as part of his own business, making a series of wines under The Urban Project label. Eddie, aka The Flying Winemaker, is a bit of a star, notably as host of one of our favorite wine TV shows, The Flying Winemaker.

Eddie believed that just like Robuchon restaurants in Asia could make the most out of the best meats frozen before shipping, he could make good wine with flash frozen grapes. We can’t disagree after enjoying his 2011 Merlot (WSET/wine nerd types, brace yourself for the label here).

You read that right: Entre-Deux-Mers, the little sub region of Bordeaux between the two rivers. The region’s authority would probably be unsure (at best) about this. So, to recap, the ripe Merlot grapes came from Entre-Deux-Mers, were flash frozen, and then shipped to Hong Kong, where Eddie’s skill and some French barriques awaited them.

It was especially interesting to drink this right next to a properly French-labeled Merlot from Lalande de Pomerol, that our friends Mike and Sue (from the Wine Economist) brought over to celebrate #MerlotMe with us for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) extravaganza.

We wondered how well the 2011 Urban Project wine had aged, and if there was going to be anything unusual or strange about it. And you know what? As different as these two wines were, you could taste the lineage. Both were true to the Merlot grape, and they didn’t taste as if they were made worlds apart. The Lalande de Pomerol was more structured, with more noticeable tannins, as you would expect given their age difference. And Eddie’s Hong Kong wine, at least to our taste, hadn’t aged prematurely, still had loads of fruit, good balance and acidity, and it wasn’t out of place next to its more distinguished Bordeaux cousin.

Of course, Lalande de Pomerol has a distinct identity, a bit north of Entre-Deux-Mers, so we weren’t quite comparing grapes from the same terroir. It would be fascinating to have this Urban Project Merlot next to a red from Cadillac-Côtes-de-Bordeaux, one of the appellations for reds within Entre-Deux-Mers. Alas, this may never happen, since the whole flash frozen grapes idea, while fun, was an expensive business. Eddie now makes his Flying Winemaker wines on location (primarily in Australia) and imports the finished product.

Vietnamese comfort food with Merlot: perfect for fall and winter

Since Hong Kong is often our chosen layover between mainland China and Ho Chi Minh City where we visit family, we decided to make one of our Vietnamese staples, bò kho, a beef stew with carrots. It was also a great excuse to use the machine again this fall. It’s still so strange to look at this thing, sitting on the counter, emitting neither sound no smell.

Our version of bò kho is primarily from Andrea Nguyen’s latest book (and yes, she has directions to make it in the Instant Pot!), with some ideas coming from two other great sources, The Ravenous Couple, and Helen Recipes. Speaking of Helen, if you want to see what this dish is about, check out her rendition here (her channel is amazing):

This is a comforting beef stew with carrots that is often eaten with baguette to dip in it, or as a noodle soup. We like to serve it with rice, and of course, a bunch of fresh herbs from Tacoma’s Hong Kong supermarket.

The weight and texture of the stew went well with both Merlots. And the warmth that spices like star anise and cinnamon bring to bò kho also did their part to make the association work. This is a food and wine combo that will make you feel warm and fuzzy in the cold season ahead. And with a little prep, and a pressure cooker, it’s inexpensive, easy and fast!

We’ll leave you with episode 1, featuring Hong Kong, of Eddie’s The Flying Winemaker show, and wish you happy binge watching as you discover the next episodes in season 1, featuring wine places as fascinating as Thailand, India and Vietnam, among others.

Thanks so much to Jeff Burrows, of “Food Wine Click” for hosting this month Wine Pairing Weekend #WinePW. Check out what the WinePW crew came up with as they matched various Merlots with diverse foods!


14 thoughts on “A very well-traveled Merlot with Vietnamese bò kho #MerlotMe #WinePW

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  1. What an interesting article. I would have thought that flash freezing the grapes would have made for the sugars to intensify, much like ice wine. Happy to hear that is not the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not a WSET student, but I am a bit of wine nerd and yes…Merlot and Entre-Deux-Mers looked like a mistake when I read the label. Undaunted, I read on. I must confess the flash frozen grape thing is more unsettling to me than Merlot from Entre Deux Mers. But it sounds like a well made wine. I would expect nothing less from a flying winemaker! A wonderful read and I must try the Instant Pot bò kho

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Instant Pot works really well for Vietnamese braised dishes. We made another during the weekend. Funny thing that there’s a fair amount of merlot in Entre Deux Mers but other than those two little sub aocs for reds, much must go in Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur AOC!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cool stories here — great people, great wine, great food!
    You know, my selection of Merlot for this piece was comprised totally of new world stuff, but I felt it needed some Bordeaux, truly. Happy to see you’ve added to the texture of our #merlotme month with these wines.
    Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating story about the Urban Project, but I really love the pairing with Vietnamese beef stew. I’ve had that stew many times but never thought about Merlot. I think I’m going to have to try it and get that warm fuzzy feeling!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating story about the Urban Project, but I really love the pairing with Vietnamese beef stew. I’ve had that stew many times but never thought about Merlot. I think I’m going to have to try it and get that warm fuzzy feeling!


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