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An Autumnal Cheese Board, Wild Plum Sauce, & Donati's 2016 Merlot #MerlotMe #Sponsored

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf Donati Family Vineyard, one of the #MerlotMe event sponsors.
Complimentary wine was provided for this post and this page may contain affiliate links.
However, all opinions expressed here are my own.

You remember that October is a month for celebrating the Merlot grape, right? Well, get ready for a bunch of Merlot-food pairings from me as I prepare to take part in the month-long #MerlotMe celebration. In preparation, participating vineyards ship bottles of their wines out to food and wine bloggers. It's just about my favorite time of the year as I am introduced to many new producers from all over the country. Great fun!

This year, I received two bottles from Donati Family Vineyard this one - their  2016 Merlot - plus their 2015 The Immigrant. I've already shared my Wild Game Sausages with Pasta that I poured with the latter.


This post is about the 2016 Merlot that I paired with an autumn-themed cheese board and some wild Modoc plum sauce that my mother-in-law made. Photo above. Isn't it gorgeous?

On the Plate

So, I centered an entire cheese board around that sauce. Here's how I build a board...

Step 1: Choose the Cheeses
I like to pick a variety of cheeses based on texture —soft, semisoft, and hard. You can also go with a mixture of different milk sources—cow, goat, or sheep. Or pick cheeses based on a geographical location. A good rule of thumb is to select four or five cheeses and plan on 1 ounce of each cheese per person. I used three cheeses in this case. I've given you some ideas of the cheeses in each texture category...

  • Semisoft: Havarti, young Gouda, Fontina
  • Semihard: Gruyère, Manchego, aged Gouda, Comté (photographed in this post)
  • Hard: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, aged Manchego, Pecorino Romano (photographed in this post), Mimolette 
  • Soft-ripened: Brie, Cambozola (photographed in this post), Camembert
  • Blue: Stilton, Gorgonzola
  • Fresh: Ricotta, Chèvre, fromage blanc
  • Washed-Rind: Limburger, St. Nuage, Taleggio, Epoisses de Bourgogne

Once you've chosen your cheeses, place them on a board equidistant apart. Remember to take the cheese out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to serve them. If they are too cold, the flavors will be muted. For this I picked a peppercorn cheddar, a brie, and a coffee gouda. All of those seemed more autumny to me.

Step 2: Pick Some Pairings
While cheese can stand alone, of course, you might need a vehicle for putting some of the softer cheeses into your mouth. Crisp crackers or slices of baguette work well. I used two different kinds of crackers, one herbed and one plain.

Step 3: Fill the Holes
When you've placed your cheeses and lined up your crackers, fill in bigger holes on the board. This is where you can have some fun with more colors and more textures. I like fruit for sweetness—grapes, fresh figs, pomegranates, mangoes, and kiwi) — and olives or charcuterie for saltiness. Now fill in whatever space is left with extras such as nuts and seeds (try Marcona almonds, pistachios, spiced pecans, or salted cashews). I filled with fresh figs, dried persimmons, green olives, and that lovely plum sauce.

Step 4: Don't Forget Utensils
Last, but not least, make sure each part of your board has a serving utensil where needed. Place small spoons or spreaders next to bowls of jam or tapenade; offer toothpicks for picking up fruit and olives; don't neglect the cheese knives! And, to keep flavors separate, ensure that each cheese has its own knife.

I have an embarrassing number of cheese knives. I even have a traditional Stilton scoop that I swore I needed but still have never used. Here's a brief cheese knife guide, but use what you have. 
  • Hard, semihard, and semisoft cheeses can take a spade or a spear-tipped knife.
  • Semisoft, soft, and fresh cheeses need a spreader or a plane.
  • Crumbly cheese (such as blue cheese) and hard cheeses take a flat knife.
  • And a cheese fork can hold hard cheeses steady while slicing. 

That's it! Easy peasy, right? In four simple steps, you can have a colorful, flavorful cheese board that is worthy of a celebration...or just a regular evening.


The warmed brie smeared with plum sauce was a winner! Though the plum was really jarred to preserve summer, its tart sweetness screams autumn to me.


In the Glass

Donati's 2016 Merlot retails at $22 per bottle and is a blend of 99% Merlot with 1% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paicines AVA. Though it was fermented in stainless steel, it was aged for just over two years in a mixture of new American oak and new hybrid oak. I've never heard of hybrid oak, but that sounds like it might impart an interesting characteristic.

On the nose this wine had a sweeter quality of caramel and vanilla. That's why I picked the coffee cheese. On the tongue, however, I got ripe plum with some tinges of oak. That plum was why I picked the pair this with my mother-in-law's sauce. This wine was well balanced and worked well with every bite! I definitely have this on my list of wines to buy throughout this autumn season. Thanks, Donati Family.

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*Disclosure: I received compensation in the form of wine samples for recipe development and generating social media traction. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organizer and sponsors of this event.

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