Merlot, the classic French grape that is an indispensable component to 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 in the past six months. The wines on this list all scored a 90 or above in our wine reviews, and are arranged by score and price.
Here are 10 of the best Merlots you can buy right now, with reviews by VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers.
For those who think they don’t like Merlot: Don’t miss this bottle. This is a great California red composed predominantly of Merlot, with 15 percent Cabernet Franc. The soft, plush textures of Merlot wash over the palate, while a warming perception of wood smoke and cedar swims through the wine, mingling with cracked black pepper. We recommend drinking this wine with a lean steak or roasted chicken, but a plate of local meats and cheeses paired with some good company will make this wine really shine. Average price: $18.
If you want to know what it’s like sipping young, juicy reds with a slight chill at a Parisian café, this American wine will take you there. It is juicy and herby, a balance it receives from the Merlot, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc. Get a cheese plate, make a steak tartare, fry up some homemade pomme frites, and slurp down this wine. You’ll keep coming back. Average price: $26
Varietal Merlot is an American tradition. We may have messed it up for a while, but this bottle shows why we once fell in love with Merlot. There is a wonderful balance between fruit, tannins, and impeccable acidity. Welcome to slight hints of aromas that will remind you of a forest in autumn, cracked black pepper on the savory side, and a kiss of blueberry. The palate is elegant yet powerful, with the fruit core tight and harmonious. Grill up a skirt steak or just pop it with good friends at a wine and cheese night. Average price: $37
This wine is still aging, but it’s drinking well now. The tannin is still a little ornery and will soften in a year or so, but it smells like ripe blackberries fresh off the vine and freshly turned soil. This wine would be divine with the texture of roasted pork. Average price: $31
If you need a change from the red blends you’re currently drinking, give this Bordeaux blend from Italy a chance. It has the powerful depth of fruit and grippy tannins you love and heightens everything on the palate with good acidity. This is a wonderfully balanced wine that can go a few more years in the bottle but can also be enjoyed now. Average price: $32
This is such a classic, beautiful, and full-bodied American Merlot. The nose will remind you of walking by a coffee shop while eating blueberry gelato. The palate has some heft while still having a silky and easy mouthfeel. This bottle would go very well with light meats like roasted chicken, but also pairs wonderfully with local cheese, meats, and sunset-watching. Average price: $32
This bottle provides one of the purest expressions of Merlot without requiring you to spend the full kitty. It is elegant, young, and fruit-forward. This wine has aromas that will remind you of a forest in autumn as the leaves change, as well as the concentration of cranberries and cherries. The palate has a nice pop of cola (like cherry cola) and a well-balanced tannin structure gripping your palate with a gentle release. Wine lovers: This is Merlot. Average price: $35
Virginia wine is coming along so well. The only setback is that most of it is only available via e-commerce, but some, like this bottle, are well worth your time and money online. This is a wonderful, full-bodied, Bordeaux-style blend with depth and aromas that will call to mind blackberries, cracked black pepper, and cassis. It’s just under 14 percent alcohol, which is a perfect environment for the wine to show its layers as it opened in the glass. Average price: $36
This is one elegant American Merlot — maybe one of the most elegant I’ve tasted. But it’s not ready. Mayacamas has made an age-worthy Merlot, and I’m dancing in my seat as I type this. In a year or two, this wine is going to be silky and medium-bodied, with blueberry and soft vanilla on the nose. It is going to have a seamless tannin structure, with lively acidity to lift off the palate. In a year or so, buy the best lamb you can find, grill it up, and pop this with close friends. Average price: $64
This wine is so fun and different. It smells like cinnamon, herbs, and raspberries and has soft, chewy acidity. It’s very unique and balanced. This is a great wine to take to a wine club or buy a case of to have on hand for lunch. I would drink this with a BLT or burger.