Pairing wine with breakfast or brunch dishes presents an intriguing challenge, particularly when traditional early-day foods such as breakfast pastries are involved. The objective is to craft a culinary experience that bridges the gap between the comforting, often sweet flavors of morning fare and the complex, nuanced profiles of fine wine. This endeavor reaches new heights when considering a Merlot from Howell Mountain, an AVA within Napa Valley known for producing wines of remarkable depth, structure, and berry-fruit intensity, coupled with a softness that Merlot is celebrated for. To align with such a wine, breakfast pastries must be thoughtfully reinvented, emphasizing subtlety, complexity, and a balance between sweetness and savory elements.

Howell Mountain Merlot Profile

A bottle of Bravante 2015 Merlot was used as a reference in this exercise.

Merlots from Howell Mountain are distinguished by their concentrated fruit flavors, including black cherry, plum, and blueberry, accented by hints of chocolate, cedar, and a touch of earthiness. The wines' robust tannins and acidity, along with a notable elegance and velvety texture, provide a fantastic foundation for pairing with food. However, breakfast pastries, traditionally leaning towards sweetness and buttery flavors, require modification to complement the wine’s profile without overwhelming its nuanced characteristics.

Culinary Modifications to Breakfast Pastries

Ingredient Selection and Preparation

  1. Fruit Incorporation: Choose fruits that echo the wine’s berry notes, such as blackberries or blueberries, to be incorporated into the pastries. These fruits can be used in fillings or compotes, providing a direct link to the wine's own fruity undertones.
  2. Sweetness Adjustment: Reduce the overall sweetness of the pastries to ensure they do not overshadow the Merlot's natural fruitiness. This can be achieved by cutting back on added sugars and considering natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, which offer depth and complexity.
  3. Spice Integration: Introduce spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove in moderation, which can complement the subtle spiciness and earthy notes of Howell Mountain Merlot, adding a warm, aromatic complexity to the pastries.
  4. Nutty Elements: Incorporate nuts like walnuts or pecans, which not only add texture but also resonate with the wine’s earthy and toasty qualities, providing a bridge between the pastry’s richness and the wine’s depth.
  5. Savory Components: Explore the inclusion of savory ingredients such as goat cheese or ricotta in some pastries. These elements can offer a creamy texture and a tangy contrast to the sweetness, aligning well with the Merlot's acidity and soft tannins.
Breakfast Pastries and Howell Mountain Merlot

Pastry Types

  1. Scones: Prepare scones with blueberries and a hint of lemon zest, offering a fruity, slightly tart profile that complements the Merlot without overwhelming its palate.
  2. Danishes: Craft danishes filled with a lightly sweetened ricotta and topped with a blackberry compote, balancing creaminess with the tartness of the berries.
  3. Croissants: Consider almond croissants with a reduced sugar almond paste filling, introducing a subtle sweetness and nuttiness that pairs beautifully with the wine.

Serving Suggestions

Present the modified breakfast pastries with a slightly chilled Howell Mountain Merlot, allowing the wine to express its full range of flavors. Accompany the pastries with fresh berries on the side to enhance the fruit-forward connection between the dish and the wine.


The innovative pairing of reinvented breakfast pastries with Howell Mountain Merlot challenges conventional notions of wine pairing, demonstrating that with thoughtful adjustments, even the most traditional morning dishes can transcend their customary bounds. By carefully balancing sweetness with savory elements, integrating complementary fruits and spices, and adjusting the pastries' richness, a harmonious pairing is achieved. This not only elevates the breakfast dining experience but also showcases the versatility and depth of Howell Mountain Merlot, proving that wine can indeed find its place at the morning table, transforming it into an occasion of refined indulgence.

Breakfast Pastries and Howell Mountain Merlot