Merlot has been bashed for quite some time now. I personally feel too long. It is a great grape that makes very nice wine when done well. You will not get as many 90 pointers out of Merlots, but you will get a lot of smooth, friendly, and easy to drink wines that are very good. That is what you will find below after the first few terrific top scoring options. I would strongly suggest that you revisit this grape if you have left to explore others. Merlot has remained and will always remain a significant player. Try some and you will see for yourself.
Our first two options both scored 92 points. They are both on the higher end of the price spectrum, but they also show how good top notch level Merlot can be. Our first recommendation is the 2010 Steven Kent “Small Lot Offering” Merlot from the Livermore Valley in California. Even at $50, these 70 cases will disappear quickly. I would call the winery fast if you want to try a bottle or two of this gem. It is medium bodied, slightly acidic, and coats the mouth with flavors. It displays ripe black cherry flavors with notes of black pepper and hints of oak, plum, cola and touch of cinnamon. The finish is dry and its moderate, yet unobtrusive tannins stick around for quite some time. This is a Merlot you can enjoy with a nice steak. A New York strip came to mind first.
Our second 92 pointer comes from Mt. Brave. Their 2010 “Mt. Veeder” Merlot is very impressive. It is pitch black colored and opens with an inviting black cherry bouquet with a hint of blackberry. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, nicely balanced, juicy and rich. I loved its ripe black cherry flavors with notes of blueberry and hint of faint cola, oak and minerality in the background. The finish is dry and its fine tannins linger for a little while. At $75, this Merlot should be saved for a special occasion. That said, it is a very food friendly Merlot and it would be a perfect pairing for a filet mignon.
Two of the four Merlots that scored 90 points are two of our best values. We start with the 2010 Beringer Merlot from the Napa Valley. At $20 this wine is a real bargain. It was one of our top finishers in our recent blind tasting. It opens with a pleasant boysenberry bouquet with a hint of black cherry, menthol and oak. On the palate, this wine is full bodied, balanced, dense and albeit bit rustic for a Merlot. The panel described its flavor profile as concentrated blackberry with notes of oak with hints of black raspberry and black pepper. They suggested pairing this Merlot with comfort foods. Pot roast was their first choice.
Next up is the 2010 Joseph Carr Merlot from the “Napa Valley”. This wine is also a good value at $20. It opens with an attractive black cherry bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and savory. I really enjoyed its mineral infused plum flavors with notes of gentle oak and dark chocolate. It finishes dry and its fine tannins make it rather food friendly. I would also pair this tasty Merlot with comfort foods. Beef bourguignon came to mind first.
Next up are two premium Merlots. Both are 90 pointers, but do carry a much higher sticker price than the two previous options. The 2010 La Jota “Howell Mountain” is a very nice follow up to last year’s 2009 vintage that took first place in our blind tasting. The 2010 is medium bodied, refined, and smooth. I found that it displays some really nice flavors. Those flavors are a mild mineral infused black cherry with hints of faint oak and black plum. In the end, this wine drifts away nicely with its fine grained tannins. That smoothness makes it very food friendly and versatile. Choose something nice to eat and enjoy. The 2009 Mt. Brave “Napa Valley” Merlot for $75 is a very limited production offering. Only 121 cases were made. It is not quite as good as the 2010 listed above, but was one of our top finishers in our recent big blind tasting as it did stand out. The panel described it as medium bodied, slightly acidic and savory with oak infused black plum flavors. They also picked up hints of black cherry, oak and black pepper. Given its bigger style, the panel suggested pairing this bold Merlot with tender grilled bourbon steak tips.
Here Are Some Quick Hits On Our Very Good 89 To 87 Point Offerings
Franciscan 2010 Merlot “Napa Valley” (CA) $21 (89)
Medium bodied, smooth and a little bit thin. Mild black currant flavors with a touch of mineral, tart black cherry and oak. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins build up and linger. Pair with a juicy Angus bacon burger.
Sbragia 2010 Merlot “Home Ranch” (Dry Creek Valley, CA) $25 (89)
An everyday drinking Merlot to be enjoyed with food. Medium bodied, balanced, and smooth. Blueberry and cherry cola flavors with a hint of cedar plank and plum. The Panel suggested pairing with a tangy pulled pork sandwich.
Kendall Jackson 2010 Merlot “Grand Reserve” (Sonoma County, CA) $30 (89)
This midnight blue colored Merlot from KJ is medium bodied, balanced, and smooth. The flavor profile is a mild black plum with hints of minerality, faint oak and a touch of red currant. Pair with homemade meatloaf.
Freemark Abbey 2011 Merlot “Napa Valley” (CA) $34 (89)
This Merlot is medium bodied, balanced and very easy to drink. Tasty black cherry flavors with notes of plum. I also detected a hint of oak and gentle boysenberry in the background. Pair with slow cooked pulled pork.
Peju 2010 Merlot “Napa Valley” (CA) $35 (89)
Medium bodied, balanced and smooth. The flavor profile is a black currant and plum blend with hints of milk chocolate, black cherry, and mild oak. The finish is dry and sticky. Decant and serve with braised pork belly.
Blue Rock 2010 Merlot “Best Barrels” (Alexander Valley, CA) $60 (89)
A fruit bomb! It opens with a fragrant and inviting blackberry bouquet with a hint of anise and black cherry. Medium bodied, slightly acidic, and savory with juicy blackberry and black raspberry flavors with notes of anise and black plum. It paired nicely with a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds.
Joseph Carr 2011 Merlot “Josh” (CA) $15 (88)
This California Merlot is medium bodied, balanced, and fruit forward. Its flavor profile is a ripe red raspberry with notes of plum and pomegranate with a hint of oak. It would pair well with pork tenderloin.
Candor NV Merlot “Lot 5” (Central Coast, CA) $20 (88)
This Merlot is medium bodied, balanced, lush and appealing. I enjoyed its ripe black cherry and blueberry flavors with nicely integrated mild oak in the background. It would pair perfectly with juicy burgers topped with blue cheese and caramelized onions.
Chateau St. Jean 2010 Merlot “Sonoma County” (CA) $25 (88)
This Merlot is slightly acidic and fruit forward. It displays ripe blackberry and boysenberry flavors with hints of mild black licorice and gentle oak. Its moderate tannins are sticky. Pair with barbecue steak tips.
Merriam Vineyards 2008 Merlot “Windacre” (Russian River Valley) $29 (88)
Merriam’s Merlot is medium bodied, balanced, and savory. It displays black currant flavors with notes of black pepper, minerality, and old oak. It finishes dry, with dusty tannins. Try it with a pulled pork sandwich.
Reininger 2009 Merlot “Helix” (Columbia Valley, WA) $29 (88)
This Merlot from Washington State is medium bodied, balanced, and juicy. I enjoyed its plum and black cherry flavors that blended nicely with gentle oak and a touch of black pepper. A bit sticky and shows nice length.
Gundlach Bundschu 2010 Merlot “Sonoma Valley” (CA) $30 (88)
This Merlot is medium bodied, balanced and slightly rustic. Its flavor profile is a slight tart black cherry and black raspberry blend with integrated old oak and a hint of black pepper. Pair with a mushroom burger.
Reininger 2008 Merlot “Walla Walla” (WA) $39 (88)
This Washington State was well received by the panel. It is medium bodied, balanced, and smooth. They liked its red cherry flavors with notes of gentle oak and a touch of red raspberry. They suggested blackened tuna.
Chappellet 2010 Merlot “Napa Valley” (CA) $40 (88)
This deep purple colored “Napa” Merlot is also medium bodied, balanced, and smooth. The panel enjoyed its mild black cherry flavors with hints of black currant and very light oak. They suggested pairing it with Hungarian goulash.
Our last suggestion is a Good Merlot that is also a Good Value. The Red Rock 2011 “Reserve” Merlot from California is only $14 and received 86 points. There were 76,000 cases made, so it should be easy to find. It is medium bodied, slightly acidic and juicy with ripe black cherry flavors and some integrated oak and blackberry. It is a good weekday Merlot that would pair well with an Italian sausage sandwich with sauteed onion and peppers.
We hope you enjoy these food friendly Merlots as much as we did. Please share your favorite Merlot discoveries with the group by posting a comment. Enjoy – Ken
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