Merlot has fallen by the wayside for many red wine lovers in America. Nielsen figures for 2018 show U.S. varietal Merlot sales at less than 30% of those of its more dominant Bordeaux-native cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon.
However, if you’re willing to look past the popularity contest and fickle trends in wine consumption, stunning value can be found in Merlot, particularly while others overlook this versatile grape. Known for its ability to create quality wines in a range of styles, Merlot bottlings can feature fruit-forward blackberry, cherry and plum notes, while earthier examples showcase bell pepper, tobacco leaf, oak or chocolate.
Here are eight bottles currently showcasing some of the best of Merlot’s versatility in the U.S. All are less than $30 and offer a level of value you’d be hard pressed to find in many other Bordeaux grape varieties.
Recommended Best-Value Merlot
Seven Hills Winery 2017 Merlot (Walla Walla Valley); $25, 92 points. The aromas provide appeal, with notes of pure raspberry, red currant, baking spice and milk chocolate. The medium-bodied palate shows a sense of deftness to the fruit and barrel flavors. It’s a terrific example of the variety. Editors’ Choice. —Sean P. Sullivan
McIntyre Vineyards 2015 Kimberly Vineyards Merlot (Arroyo Seco); $28, 92 points. Polished aromas of blackberry and black currant meet with toasted oak, cocoa, coffee and iron on the nose of this bottling. There is compelling minerality to the palate, giving depth to the smashed strawberry and dried lilac flavors. Drink now–2030. Cellar Selection. —Matt Kettmann
L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $25, 92 points. The baking spice, dark raspberry and anise aromas provide appeal. Broad-feeling, textured flavors follow, with cranberry-tart acidity and brawny, firm tannins backing it up. It’s an extremely impressive offering of this variety, showing its more serious side—Washington Merlot at its best. It will shine at the dinner table and will have a long life in front of it, seemingly near immortal. Editors’ Choice. —S.S.
Luke 2017 Merlot (Wahluke Slope); $25, 91 points. Intoxicating aromas of espresso, high-cacao chocolate, green pepper, barrel spice, raspberry and herbs lead to focused, fresh fruit flavors that coat the palate. There’s a whole lot of acidity and firm tannin structure surrounding them, needing some time to settle in. It’s a serious wine to find at this price. Give it a brief decant. Editors’ Choice. —S.S.
Meadow View 2017 Jon’s Vineyard Nazeri Vineyard Merlot (Lamorinda); $25, 91 points. Well concentrated and well balanced, this flavor-packed wine is tempting now but should develop more with time in the cellar. It shows ripe black-cherry and mint aromas, fresh and focused cherry and black-plum flavors complemented by appealing earthy, leathery accents, and fine-grained tannins. Best through 2026. —Jim Gordon
Beaulieu Vineyard 2017 Merlot (Napa Valley); $25, 90 points. Demure plummy red fruit is wrapped in thick, concentrated layers of body and ripeness in this well-made, approachable wine, which is richly seasoned in toasted oak-influenced baking spice and vanilla. —Virginie Boone
Kendall-Jackson 2016 Vintner’s Reserve Merlot (Sonoma County); $24, 90 points. Herbal, meaty and generously fruity in plum and dark cherry, this wine is approachable and deeply concentrated, with ample complexity around its soft, supple tannin profile and integrated oak. The finish is textured and dusty in crushed rock. —Virginie Boone
McManis 2018 Estate Grown Certified Sustainable Merlot (Lodi); $10, 88 points. Smoke and sage aromas meld with cherry and wood-smoke flavors to make a savory combination in this medium- to full-bodied wine. It shows good balance and light tannins, making it a great choice for drinking with protein-rich foods. Best Buy. —Jim Gordon