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 soft tannins, supple fruit, and typical notes of blueberry and plum, 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 24 of the best Merlots you can buy right now, with links to full reviews by VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers.
Table Of Contents
Best Merlot Wines Under $50
Becker Vineyards Estate Reserve Merlot 2020
The Beckers bought a cabin in the Texas Hill Country in the early ‘90s as a getaway home. It came with just under 50 acres of land. Long story short, they began a wine venture with the help of family and friends and today have over 300 acres planted with nine different grape varieties. We loved their Chardonnay for our best of list this year and they are flooring us again with this Merlot. The nose is filled with aromas of warming spices and a hint of smoldering campfire. The fruit is soft on the palate with good depth and prominent yet balanced tannins.
Average Price: $20
Boeger Winery Merlot 2019
The El Dorado-based Boeger Winery was originally a homestead during the Gold Rush in 1849. Instead of panning for gold, the Fossati-Lombardo family sold the pans, building a business of selling goods and services to the gold miners. The estate evolved into a fruit and nut farm, then eventually into a distillery and winery. They made wine from the Mission grape and Zinfandel until Prohibition took its hold. Greg and Sue Boeger started working with the land in the early ‘70s, planting Italian grape varieties, and became the first post-Prohibition winery in the El Dorado AVA. They still make wine from that original plot of land, but have also expanded beyond varieties from the boot. Like this absolutely delicious and truly American Merlot. It’s so soft and earthy on the nose with flecks of pepper and brambly blueberry. The palate is extremely balanced with a calm tannic edge and plush, juicy fruit. It’s a beautiful wine.
Average Price: $20
Bedell Cellars Merlot 2020
It all began with one grape. Kip Bedell planted his first vine in 1980 when Long Island was on its way to becoming one of the most popular wine regions in the country. That grape was Merlot. He is part of the intrepid few who saw potential in the abandoned potato fields of the North Fork and his work gained him the moniker, Mr. Merlot. Today the Lynne family stewards the land and has brought the winery into the future. Winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich, a Long Island native who played a big part in the appellation being signed into law in 1985, along with his team, continues Kip’s legacy with this beautiful wine. It has nice pops of bright berry fruit with a whisper of earthy cinnamon. The palate is soft with plush fruit and good acidity giving a medium depth. If you bring this to Thanksgiving this year, just know you’ll be a hero.
Average Price: $20
Seven Hills Winery Merlot 2021
Merlot has had a wild ride in the popularity department. But even as its reputation has waxed and waned there has always been good Merlot out there. In the more affordable category, it gets a little hard to find the soul of a Merlot. The McClellan family has found it. One of the pioneering wine families of Walla Walla, Wash., they began with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They are an integral part of the local community, and if anyone can make a good weeknight Merlot it’s founder Casey McClellan, his wife Vicky, and their team. There is a nice, soft nose with brambly blueberry aromas. The palate offers balanced, juicy fruit and a lithe tannic frame. Great Hump Day wine.
Average Price: $25
Wandering Cellars Merlot 2019
After 30 years working in Silicon Valley, Bill Thompson and his wife, Chris, embarked on a winemaking adventure. After working harvests in South Africa and Minnesota, they decided it was time to go it on their own with Wandering Cellars. They make wines from Stellenbosch, Napa, and Lodi. This wine will teach you not to sleep on California’s Lodi AVA. The nose has concentrated fruit with a touch of balsamic. There are notes of baker’s chocolate on the palate, complemented by a pleasant blueberry aroma. It has a very balanced fruit depth and great acidity that lifts the fruit.
Average Price: $27
McIntyre Vineyards Kimberly Merlot 2018
Steve McIntyre doesn’t only know wine, he knows the Santa Lucia Highlands. With four decades under his belt, he was one of the first to realize the potential of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this sweet spot benefiting from the Pacific climate.This Merlot comes from the Kimberly Vineyard, a unique site in the cool-climate Arroyo Seco AVA named after Steve’s wife, and it’s impeccable. It has a great depth of fruit on the nose with a salty minerality. Blue fruit has turned red and savory with the slightest hint of oak from its time in bottle. The mouthfeel is soft and supple but deep and bold at the same time. What a delicious, well-balanced Merlot.
Average Price: $28
Pollak Vineyards Merlot 2021
Margo and David Pollak own the Pollak Vineyards winery in Crozet, Va., just outside Charlottesville. They were pioneers in the Carneros sub-AVA of Napa Valley, and could have stayed in Napa. But they saw a challenge, and an opportunity, in the Commonwealth and founded Pollak Vineyards in 2003. We listed the winery’s Meritage as one of the best red blends of 2023 and they are coming through again with a beautiful Merlot, showing us that this grape can thrive Virginia. The nose is soft with a pop of sweet oak and blueberries. The palate is wonderful with fleshy fruit lifted by excellent natural acidity. It’s such a comfy wine.
Average Price: $32
Kokomo Winery Pauline’s Vineyard Merlot 2019
To say that Eric Miller, owner of Kokomo Winery, is a nice guy would be an understatement. The same can be said for his growing partner, Randy Peters, a viticulturist with a deep historical connection to the land in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Eric came to California to make wine from the Midwest — specifically, Kokomo, Ind., the winery’s namesake. When you arrive at their tasting room you feel like you’re hanging with the fam. Not only are these some truly cool dudes, but they’re amazing at their jobs. Eric is one of the most focused winemakers you’ll meet, and if you get him started, get ready for some deep wine convo. And Randy, when he pops by, has some great vineyard stories. This partnership and their attention to detail gives us wines like this amazing Merlot. It has wonderful tobacco and earthy blueberries on the nose. The palate is soft and supple with a lithe tannic frame. The best part is the excellent finish that lingers until your next sip. Great wine. Join the club, it’s worth it.
Average Price: $38
14 Hands Winery Reserve Merlot 2019
14 Hands pays tribute to the wild horses of Washington State. The majestic creatures that gallop down from the hills in the morning to drink from the Columbia River and seek shade and comfort back up the loamy sandy slopes in the evening. The brand equates itself with the spirit of these animals that represent the American West. The goal of 14 Hands is to make sound wines that are good for any occasion, but this Reserve Merlot goes beyond that goal. It has a welcoming nose with aromas of leather, tobacco, and slight floral notes. The rich and concentrated palate is soft with a dried fruit center. It’s very balanced and the aging is apparent. It can go longer, but is nice now.
Average Price: $40
L’Ecole N° 41 Estate Merlot 2020
L’Ecole means the school in French. This name, and the wine’s label, are both a nod to the historic Frenchtown School that the winery was founded in. The Clubb family set up shop as the third winery in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley in 1983 and have been pioneers in the region ever since. Today, the third-generation, family-run winery is making some of the most well-known wine in the state. Sourcing from the estate’s famous Ferguson and Seven Hills vineyards, this Merlot shows us why the variety is so popular here. It has soft earthy tones with brambly blueberry aromas and a slight hint of oak. The palate is plush with a good balance of tannins, acid, and depth of fruit. Pop this bottle and fall in love with Merlot.
Average Price: $40
Macari Vineyards Merlot 2020
The Macari family has not only been a pioneering winemaking family on Long Island, but also a leading advocate for sustainable and biodynamic farming in the region. The family had earnest roots in Corona, Queens, where Joseph T. Macari worked at his family’s candy shop and helped sell his grandfather’s homemade wine. Inspired by his grandfather’s efforts, Joseph started Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, Long Island, with his son, Joseph Macari, Jr. and his daughter-in-law Alexandra Macari in 1995. Joe Jr. embraced biodynamic farming after experiencing the benefits of this agriculture in Chile and California. This Merlot shows the thoughtful farming behind it. It has bright, punchy fruit with subtle savory feels and maybe a hint of pepper on the nose. The palate is refreshing with drying tannins framing the fruit. It has such a good balance of fleshy fruit and acidity and can even age another few years.
Average Price: $40
Mazzocco Winery Merlot 2019
According to the Mazzocco Winery’s website, winemaker Antoine Favero “believes wines are ‘nurtured’ rather than ‘produced.’” While the Sonoma-based winery is known for its renowned single-vineyard Zinfandel, Favero also applies this thoughtful approach to each of his wines. Like Zinfandel, the Merlot grape has had a wild ride in recognition and reputation. And Favero’s Merlot shows that this variety deserves its time in the spotlight again. The nose has earthy bruised fruit and a hint of cinnamon. The palate is balanced, with medium fruit and excellent acidity. Soft tannins frame the wine, making it very enjoyable to sip and ponder.
Average Price: $40
Tower 15 Merlot 2020
Pali Wine Co. is a family business and a wine collective. Browsing their website will make you want to learn everything about them. Tower 15 winery is one-third of the collective and produces “powerful, small lot, nuanced wines.” The winery sources from the Central Coast, and is very picky about who it works with, focusing on growers with sustainable farming practices. This approach results in wonderful wines like this awesome Merlot. Complex savory notes on the nose with unique hints of olive brine and red berries in the best way. The palate is inky and deep with great acidity lifting it up. A unique Merlot, just like the humans who make it.
Average Price: $40
Whitehall Lane Winery & Vineyards Merlot 2019
Before it was the historic Napa Valley property it is today, Whitehall Lane was a small winery built by two brothers in the late ‘70s, named after the road it was built on. The brothers successfully farmed two grapes, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Leonardini family purchased the estate in 1993 and worked to expand and update the property. But they have not lost sight of the varieties this estate was built on, and it shows in this delicious Merlot. The nose is filled with concentrated oak and rich fruit notes. It’s deep and fleshy on the palate with defined tannins framing the wine. It’s quite a modern take on this variety and the result is big and balanced.
Average Price: $40
Dineen Vineyards Merlot 2020
Pat and Lanie Dineen have a love for food, wine, good friends, and traveling around the world. They made their love for wine a career in 2001 when they purchased an old apple orchard in the hills of the Lower Yakima Valley in Washington. It began with replacing the trees with vines and expanded from there, naming new vineyards after immediate family members. With sustainability and a sense of place as their guide, the Dineens make wines true to the earth they grow the grapes in. This Merlot is on that level and we can’t wait to taste more of their work. It’s earthy and leathery on the nose with dried fruit aromas and a slight balsamic tinge. The palate is very balanced with a slightly bitter note that provides a nice contrast to the dried fruit. This is a cheese plate wine if there ever was one.
Average Price: $42
Best Merlot Wines Under $100
Kenefick Ranch Merlot 2019
For thirty years the Kenefick family and the Garcia family have worked in unison at the Kenefick Ranch in Napa Valley. Dr. Kenefick was a practicing neurosurgeon in San Francisco when he visited Napa in 1970 and fell in love with wine. Eight years later, he found a 250-acre ranch in Calistoga where he started his second career as a winemaker, tapping into his Irish farming roots. For years he would work in the city during the week and prune and farm his vines on the weekends. It was a family affair with even the kids taking part. Gus “el Jefe” Garcia began to work the vines in the mid-’80s and the rest is symbiotic history. Sipping the balance in this Merlot, you can’t help but admire this relationship between families and land. It has a nice deep, savory fruit nose with pops of blueberries. It’s well balanced on the palate, with a bold structure and a medium depth of fruit. It’s also aging quite well.
Average Price: $50
Merriam Vineyards Windacre Vineyard Merlot 2018
Peter and Diana Merriam are New Englanders who fell in love with Sonoma in 2000. Peter, an avid conservationist, and Diana, a foodie with a green thumb, decided to purchase an estate in its time of need and began the work of converting the farm into a sustainable environment. They then immediately planted grapes and continued to farm organically with sustainability always at the top of mind. Winemaker William Weese came on board with the same focus, and the rest is history. Their Merlot is a shining example of the winery’s style, which was inspired by Peter and Diana’s trips to France. The nose is earthy with cracked black pepper and blueberry aromas. The palate is comfy, soft, and elegant with a great texture and acidity. This wine is aging well, providing richness of flavor and approachability in one bottle.
Average Price: $54
Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2019
The story of Allen Shoup and his vision for Long Shadows is long and vast. It begins at Chateau Ste. Michelle and ends with starting his own Washington State winey 20t years later. I encourage you to go to its website and read the full tale. It’s amazing. Long story short: He brought on southern French native and 10-year Washington winemaking veteran Gilles Nicault and he has been with the winery ever since. This wine is a collaboration with the famous Pomerol-based winemaker and consultant Michel Rolland and it’s wonderful to see how these two minds meld. The nose is big, deep, and balanced with some warming spices and concentrated berry fruit. The palate is soft and supple with great acidity. This is big Merlot done right.
Average Price: $70
Mark Ryan Winery ‘Little Sister’ Merlot 2021
With a rock ‘n’ roll heart, a dream, and a garage, Mark Ryan began making wine just before the new millennium. It wasn’t easy, but his determination was true. He loved the grapes in his home state of Washington and was going to make wine his way. Today he is one of the premier winemakers of the Evergreen State, sourcing fruit primarily from Red Mountain. His line of excellent wines is an homage to the music of Seattle and the ability to age and evolve. In 2015 they decided it was time to make a Merlot and thank Sub Pop they did. This wine is rich on the nose with a unique nori aroma mingling with smoked meat and berries and the slightest hint of crushed fall leaves. The palate is focused and succinct, but with a concentrated depth and a meaningful finish that keeps you thinking about what you just sipped. It’s so deep yet so plush and fleshy. A defining Merlot. Rock on, Mark. You and your team are killing it.
Average Price: $90
Vignamaggio Merlot di Santa Maria 2016
The historic Vignamaggio estate dates back to the 15th century. Today it’s an organic farming wonderland tucked into the hills of Tuscany. It’s a 400-hectare sprawl with vineyards, olive trees, and vegetable gardens. It has gone through a major renovation and is now a spot to pin on your map to stay when in Tuscany. Enjoy the gardens, watch the animals, and sip delicious wine like this supremely aged Merlot. It has a worn leather nose with hints of cured tobacco and concentrated red berry notes. Good acidity on the palate allows the aged components to shine with soft, plush, earthy fruit. Such an elegant yet rustic wine.
Average Price: $99
Best Merlot Wines Over $100
La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot 2019
In 1898 Frederick Hess, an immigrant from Switzerland who had started a German-speaking newspaper in San Francisco, bought over 300 acres of land on the remote Howell Mountain overlooking the Napa Valley. He began making wine, taking advantage of the elevation and distinct soils. At the 1900 Paris Exposition, La Jota garnered international recognition after Hess won a bronze medal for his “Blanco.” Prohibition halted all progress and the estate was abandoned like so many in that dark decade, being called a ghost (La Jota) winery. In 2005 California wine pioneer Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke purchased the property and restored its winemaking traditions. Today they continue Hess’s dream and this wine shows this clear as day. This Merlot has a nice, rich nose of dark berry fruits with a wisp of pepper and a hint of oak. There is a good tannic grip on the palate and balanced acidity. Mountain Merlot at its best.
Average Price: $100
Wölffer Estate Vineyard Christian’s Cuvée Merlot 2019
Over 35 years ago, Christian Wölffer thought a vineyard would work in the Hamptons of New York State. He and his partner Roman Roth set out to make it a reality, and today Wölffer Estate is one of the most celebrated wineries on the East Coast and beyond. Christian’s Children Marc and Joey along with Roth, the head winemaker, carry on his vision in a long lineup of wines from multiple vineyards around Long Island. The White Horse Selection is a nod to the heritage and history of the land and the quality that this winery can coax out of the grape. This Merlot, made from their oldest vines, is an absolutely wonderful example of how good these wines can be. It has an almost Old World nose with a leathery, Tuscan flare of earthy cranberries — but spiked with a subtle cracked black pepper aroma. The palate is excellent with a slight grip and deep, blue fruit notes. This wine is awesome.
Average Price: $100
Matthews Winery Reserve Merlot 2021
The Otis family was born and raised in Washington State. Their love of wine compelled them to rescue the Matthews winery in 2008 after it had fallen on hard times. To say they brought it back to life is an understatement. They brought on three skilled and experienced winemakers, empowering them to make some of the most expressive wine in the state. This Merlot is part of their reserve line and it shows. It’s drinking well now but is in it for the long game. The nose has a saline channel running through deep-roasted fruit notes. The alcohol is prominent, but fits well with the sturdy tannins and depth of fruit. Good medium acidity holds up the wine. This bottle is begging for a food pairing.
Average Price: $120
Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2020
Dan and Margaret Duckhorn founded Duckhorn Vineyards in 1976 as one of the first 40 wineries in Napa Valley. They began with Merlot and took a very strategic approach to expand their brand, bringing on board different varietal wines. Their Chardonnay debuted in 2012 and is still shining to this day. But it was in 1978 when they released their first Merlot that ties them to Napa history. This is their vineyard-designate Merlot from the legendary Three Palms Vineyard where it all began, and the epic nature of the wine has only increased. There’s a deep dive of mocha and berries on the nose. The oak integration is seamless. This is a big Merlot with a very opulent mouthfeel that has just the right amount of acidity to keep the wine lifted on the palate. This wine can be enjoyed now or continue to age for years to come.
Average Price: $125
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.