To my dismay, very good Merlot offerings appear to be dwindling. The best ones seem to come from dedicated producers of higher end wines. We had a blind tasting in August and the number of winners is tiny when compared to wines made from other grapes. My fear is that winemakers are not necessarily putting in as much effort into Merlot, because their sales are off. I say, make great Merlot and they will come! The best options that I found over the course of the last year are listed below. As you will see, there still is some very nice Merlot out there, but not nearly as many as I would like.
We will start with the Merlot that is consistently near the top of our list. The 2011 Robert Foley Merlot from the Napa Valley comes in at $52. It is Excellent and worth every penny. I awarded this wine 94 points. This offering opens with a fragrant and inviting cherry-cola like bouquet with a hint of boysenberry. You will find it to be full-bodied, balanced, and smooth. I loved its delicious blueberry flavors with notes of nicely integrated oak and hints of black pepper and Dr. Pepper. It finishes dry and its flavors linger and are nicely prolonged. Robert Foley is clearly on top of his game with this Merlot. Find a great steak house and pair this wine with filet mignon.
This year we have two 93 pointers to tell you about. The first is a classic drink-now Merlot, the second one is for stashing away due to its youth. The drink-now entry is the 2009 Pedestal Merlot from the “Columbia Valley” in Washington State. This wine is $55 per bottle. You will find it opens with a very inviting blueberry bouquet. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, extremely well balanced, and smooth as silk. We loved its delicious blueberry and black licorice flavors with hints black pepper, nicely integrated old oak and a touch of minerality. It closed with dry and mild tannins, while its flavors were nicely prolonged. This terrific Merlot paired perfectly with our filet mignon steaks at Ruth Chris in Boston.
Next up is another top performer in this category. The 2012 Plumpjack Merlot from Napa Valley just missed being put on the top shelf. That said, it did achieve a 93 point score. It is a worthy contender and with some time it might even reach the Excellent status. This wine comes in at $56 per bottle. It is not your typical Merlot, as it is initially a bit on the intense side. You will find it to be full-bodied and very fruit forward at first. The flavor profile is initially a rich and concentrated blackberry. As it settles down and opens up, notes of boysenberry, blueberry and gentle minerality start to arrive. I also detected hints of black plum and oak as well. It finishes dry with minimal tannins that fade away nicely. This Merlot definitely benefits from aeration and could become a blockbuster with some cellar time. I would put it away for a year or two and pull it out when all your Robert Foley Merlot is gone.
There are two 92 point Merlots this year. The first one is another drink-now option. I would grab a few bottles and enjoy it before the end of the year. It is impressive! So what is this mystery Merlot? It is the 2009 Northstar “Columbia Valley” Merlot for $40. It is a bargain when compared to the big boys in front of it. There were 8,100 cases made, so several shops still have some on the shelves. You will find it to be full-bodied, very well balanced, and smooth. Its flavor profile is a very ripe blackberry with notes of black licorice. I also detected hints of oak, black currant, and gentle minerality. This wine went well with my ribeye at Smith and Wollensky. This is also that second 2009 vintage Washington based Merlot to appear in our top 5 offerings. Bravo to Washington State!
Our next 92 pointer was just released. The 2012 Shafer Merlot form the Napa Valley is available for $50. This wine opens with a very inviting blueberry bouquet. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, nicely balanced, and smooth. I really liked its tasty blueberry flavors with notes of black plum. I also detected hints of oak, black licorice, and clove mixed in as well. I would pair this very nice Merlot with Theresa’s meatloaf.
We will start off our 91 pointers with the best value in this report. As a matter of fact, The 2010 Merriam Vineyards “Windacre” Merlot for $30 is a great deal. This “Windacre” Merlot is top notch and perhaps Merriam’s best Merlot that I can remember. The winemaker mixes in 25% Cabernet Sauvignon in this year’s wine which gives it very nice structure. The flavor profile is a tasty blueberry with nicely integrated mild oak and hints of blackberry and black pepper. It finishes dry and its medium dusty tannins are sticky and show very good length. This is a very good Merlot that I would also pair with Theresa’s Meatloaf. This one will disappear quickly given its price and that only 210 cases were made.
Our last 91 pointer comes from another high end Merlot producer. The 2011 Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot costs $90 per bottle. You will find it to be medium-bodied, well balanced and quite smooth. It displays very pleasant black cherry flavors with hints of gentle oak, pomegranate, and a touch of black pepper. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins build up and linger for quite some time for a Merlot. I would decant this Merlot in the near term and serve it with a rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed red beets.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Merlot (Dry Creek Valley, CA) $25 (90)
This Merlot from Dry Creek was deemed one of the best value Merlots to come out of our big blind tasting. It is balanced and smooth. The panel really enjoyed its mild black cherry soda flavors with hints of cinnamon and faint plum. The panel suggested this would be a very good glass pour and a nice match with frutti di mare.
Merryvale 2012 Merlot “Starmont” (Carneros, CA) $27 (90)
This Merlot from Merryvale’s second label was one of your top performers in our 1st big blind tasting. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and smooth. The panel really liked its tasty black cherry flavors with notes of toasted oak and a touch of blueberry, plum and cola. It finishes with fine dry tannins that show decent length. The panel suggested pairing this very good Merlot with Moroccan lamb stew or filet mignon.
Reininger 2010 Merlot “Walla Walla” (Washington) $39 (90)
For our next Merlot, we return to the State of Washington. This wine is a classic, easy going Merlot. It’s nicely balanced and smooth. The flavor profile is a welcoming cherry and blueberry blend with hints of plum and vanilla oak. Its moderate tannins stick around, but don’t get in the way. Pair it with wild boar ragu over pappardelle.
Merryvale 2011 Merlot “Napa Valley” (California) $48 (90)
This big Merlot from Merryvale is a bit young and perhaps needs more time in the cellar and certainly gets better with some aeration. It is medium-bodied, balanced, bold and rich. Its flavor profile is mild black currant with a mixture of spice, oak, and gentle blackberry. The finish is pretty dry and its big tannins linger for quite some time. The panel suggested pairing this wine with Cajun tuna or fra diavalo.
Hunnicutt 2011 Merlot “Coombsville” (California) $48 (90)
This Merlot from Napa is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy to drink. Its flavor profile is ripe black raspberry with notes of currant, black pepper and a touch of oak. It finishes dry and its substantial tannins are big for a Merlot. I would swirl this wine a lot and serve with a well-marbled ribeye. Another option is to cellar it for about a year or two and see what develops.
Switchback 2010 Merlot “Peterson Family Vineyard” (Napa Valley, CA) $56 (90)
This Merlot from Napa Valley opens with a new leather and black cherry bouquet. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and savory. Its unique flavor profile is a mineral-infused black cherry with hints of oak, black licorice, and red currant. I found it to be food-friendly and I would pair it with beef bourguignon.
Our other Very Good Merlot recommendations:
Ferrari Carano 2011 Merlot “Sonoma County” (CA) $25 (89)
This Merlot is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy to drink. It features gentle black cherry flavors with notes of old vanilla oak and a touch of black currant and black pepper. Moderate sticky tannins are present. Pair with Italian Braciole.
Reininger 2010 Merlot “Helix Stillwater Creek Vineyard” (Columbia Valley, WA) $29 (89)
This second label from Reininger is smooth and easy going. It displays pleasant black cherry flavors with hints of coffee, spice, plum, and oak. The panel suggested pairing it with Hungarian goulash or barbecue burnt ends.
Thelema 2009 Merlot “Stellenbosch” (South Africa) $29 (89)
This Merlot from South Africa was well received by the panel. It is balanced and approachable. Its flavor profile is a black plum and cherry-vanilla blend with hints of blueberry and cedar. Its moderate tannins are rather sticky. The panel suggested pairing this Merlot with beef brisket, lamb chops or a mushroom risotto.
Grgich Hills 2010 Merlot “Napa Valley” (California) $42 (89)
This Merlot was described by the panel as an interesting wine. It was balanced and smooth. The flavor profile was a unique strawberry rhubarb with notes of blackberry, cinnamon, and cedar with a hint of bacon. Try it with bacon burgers or Kansas City style burnt ends.
Columbia Crest 2010 Merlot “H3” (Horse Heaven Hills, WA) $15 (88)
One of the best values on the lis, this Merlot is medium-bodied, balanced, and very easy to enjoy. I enjoyed its tasty oak-infused black raspberry flavors with a hint of blackberry and touch of red currant. It’s a nice everyday offering that would pair perfectly with a juicy burger.
Lamoreaux Landing 2010 Merlot “Block 137” (Finger Lakes, NY) $17 (88)
This Merlot from the Finger Lakes got the nod from the tasting panel. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy going. The panle liked its mild tart red plum flavors with hints of spice and mild oak. It finishes dry with moderate tannins that are sticky. The panel thought it would be a good match for a sausage and peppers hero.
Oyster Bay 2013 Merlot “Hawkes Bay” (New Zealand) $15 (87)
This Merlot from New Zealand is a good value wine to consider for everyday consumption. It is nicely balanced and easy to drink. It displays gentle black plum flavors with a touch of oak and hint of black cherry. This friendly Merlot is a very nice glass pour or wedding option. I would enjoy it with juicy Angus burger sliders.
I encourage readers to support this noble grape and bring it back to the forefront of wine consumption. I also encourage winemakers to produce very good affordable Merlot for all readers to consume. If you find a Merlot gem in your travels, please post it in the comments section for our readers to discover.
Cheers – Ken
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