Merlot, the classic French grape that is an indispensable component of Bordeaux, is finally making a comeback in the United States after being unceremoniously trashed by Paul Giamatti’s wine snob in “Sideways.” While that 2004 film is credited with a notable drop in Merlot sales, it may have also signaled that American Merlot producers needed some tough love to shake them out of late-20th-century complacency.
If you’ve been wary of Merlot, fear not. With low tannins and typical notes of blueberry, dark chocolate, and cracked pepper, Merlot is known as an easy-drinking wine that plays well with a variety of foods. To help highlight some outstanding bottles, we’ve pulled together a list of the best we’ve tried this year.
Here are 12 of the best Merlots you can buy right now, with links to full reviews by VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers.
Best Merlots Under $25
Kenwood Vineyards Mendocino | Sonoma Merlot 2018
Soft notes of berries and ripe cherries are the highlight of this Merlot, melding well with its light tannins. An affordable option meant for casual drinking, this wine is great for weeknights at home.
Average price: $12
Murphy-Goode Merlot 2019
The perfect grab-’n-go when heading to gatherings, this wine is all about keeping the party going. Its simple, soft blackberry jam and black cherry flavors lighten the boozy punch this wine packs, keeping it easygoing.
Average price: $18
Backsberg Merlot 2019
This South African Merlot offers more than just plush dark fruit notes. Coming from a certified carbon-neutral winery, this wine has a pleasing grip that is enhanced by its relatively higher level of alcohol (14.5 percent ABV). Easy to enjoy and an affordable price point also make this bottle a great option to cook with and sip.
Average price: $20
Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2019
Hailing from the Columbia Valley in Washington, this Merlot has a moody vibe of chocolate cherry candies, spiced oak, and deep fruit. The concentrated flavors are nicely balanced by the acidity making it easy to sip alone or with meals.
Average price: $20
Cliff Creek Cellars Merlot 2017
Merlot is known for its softer traits but this bottle is bursting with concentrated fruit that is vibrant and refreshingly acidic. Its tannic frame provides a nice structure for notes of plum and anise to shine. Reasonably priced, this bottle is a great choice for sharing.
Average price: $32
Robert Hall Winery Merlot 2019
You’re probably familiar with the Robert Hall name and may know that the winery focuses on crafting well-balanced, affordable wines like this Merlot. With prominent flavors of cherry cola blended with dried herbs, this wine is a go-to for pizza and quick weeknight dinners.
Average price: $20
Best Merlots Under $50
L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot 2019
If you’re searching for something a little different you’ll enjoy this bottle, which features tight berries, earthy notes, and a slightly higher-than-average alcohol content (14.5 percent ABV). With hints of woody notes, this wine is the ideal pairing for savory dishes like steak tartare.
Average price: $27
Best Merlots Under $100
Silverado Vineyards Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2019
Some grip on the palate gives this wine a textural component that blends well with its natural oak flavors. Its understated tannins, meanwhile, make it feel big but not overbearing. Perfect for casual dinner parties and holiday gatherings with friends, this wine won’t disappoint.
Average price: $58
Capture Merlot 2019
The unique growing conditions of the Napa Valley give this wine a signature high-acid and fruit-forward character. There’s a nice cherry cola scent on the nose and palate, and the body is plump with core fruit. Enjoy with steak dinners or other heavy meals.
Average price: $65
Cuvaison Merlot Arcilla 2019
An American Merlot to make your palate sing, this wine is texturally expressive, has inviting aromas, and serves a smooth, lingering finish. The palate has a velvet feel that is offset by subtle tannins and notes of black tea.
Average price: $70
Sullivan Rutherford Estate Merlot 2019
In an area well known for its Cabernet and Merlot blends, this wine shows just how great the grape can be on its own. It has a welcoming profile of mixed herbs and rich berries that instantly hit the nose before giving way to an elegant yet firm palate. Well worth the price, this wine will enchant even the fussiest of Cab drinkers.
Average price: $85
Mt. Brave Merlot
Don’t be put off by the high alcohol (14.5 percent ABV) of this wine; it is expertly balanced with luxe mountain fruit and acidity. A big and bold wine with deep flavors and warm notes, this Merlot is a pleasure to drink on colder nights.
Average price: $90
What kind of wine is Merlot?
Merlot is a red wine known for being soft, ripe, elegant, and easy to drink. It originated in the Bordeaux region of France and is the second most popular red grape in America after Cabernet Sauvignon.
Is Merlot a good wine for beginners?
Merlot is often recommended as one of the first varieties someone new to red wine should drink due to its approachability, plummy taste, and soft characteristics.
Is Merlot a strong wine?
Merlot wines typically contain around 13.5 percent ABV but can approach 14.5 percent and beyond, especially when grown in the warmer climates of Australia, California, or Chile.
VinePair’s tasting methodology
Throughout the year, VinePair conducts numerous tastings for our popular Buy This Booze column, and wine and spirits reviews. Our mission is to provide a clear, reliable source of information for drinkers, providing an overview applicable to day-to-day buying and drinking.
Tastings are not typically conducted blind. In alignment with our reviews mission, we believe in purposefully tasting all products as our readers typically would, with full knowledge of the producer, the region, and — importantly — the price.
For Buy This Booze roundups, we typically include a maximum of one expression per brand, though we do allow multiple products from the same production facility (i.e., released under different labels).
For this Merlot roundup, we set out to consider the best wines from a range of locations and price points. From notable to up-and-coming regions, we looked for wines whose flavor profiles went beyond the grape’s standard characteristics. The lower-priced bottles of the list represent those with the most balance and concentration at their price points. As for the more expensive inclusions, these wines were selected due to their nuanced notes and overall complexity.