Great Merlot from $20-$40

Discovering the many styles of Merlot

 


I started this article thinking of pitting Washington State Merlot, arguably the state's most successful varietal wine, against those from California, and to an extent that is what I have done, at multiple price points between $20 and $40. But this exercise turned into something a bit more interesting. It illuminated a few of the basic tenets of wine loving. That price does sometime equate with quality, that Merlot does not get the love it deserves, and that wine comes in so many shapes, sizes, and styles that avoiding a varietal because you think you don’t like it just plain silly.
 
There is and of course should be a significant difference between wines costing $20 and closer to $35, and that is duly reflected in this small set of tasting notes, but at the same time it is always refreshing to see a few wines pull away from their pack. Two $20 wines, the Praxis and the Canoe Ridge Reserve both find themselves right in the midst of wines costing $30 or more and are standout wines from this tasting, both in quality but even moreso value.
The Rutherford Ranch Merlot, a perennial favorite of mine, also provides wonderful value in a very accessible style.This was an interesting tasting not only because of the usual reasons, hey, drinking wine is fun, what can I tell you, but also because of the various styles on parade here. I am a fan of rather structured wines, and often times find too much fruit, sweetness and alcohol in many modern wines, but I do recognize the need for diversity and this selection did offer that. From the tannic and cellar-worthy to the immediate and accessible, there was a wine for every palate here. 
 
I know that many out there favor one style virtually to the exclusion of any other, and that has given rise to our current "I'm not drinking any freaking Merlot" mentality. The truth of the matter is that you have to recognize a wine for what it is, and who it is intended for. I would not serve the Rutherford Ranch to my wine geek friends, who are in search of something more complex and terroir driven, but my family would absolutely love it.
 
On the other hand the Summer's is a bit too firm and oaky today for easy enjoyment. If one has experience with wines like this it is relatively easy to see where this wine s going, but today it's just as not as friendly as some of the other wines on this list. Wines that have lower point scores but are not necessarily worse, just less complex and less age worthy, which frankly are criteria that few actually care much about.
 
So what started off as an exploration of Washington vs. California, a line of exploration that went nowhere fast, turned into something a bit more obvious. Lt me just say that both regions produce excellent wines, and styles overlap and are driven as much by producer as by terroir in the small sample set. What this tasting really reinforced for me was that scoring wine is an awful lot like writing a book. The greatest Civil War documentary holds little appeal for those who are fans of neither. Ditto with wine. Wine reviews are written only for the interested. It is a game we play with ourselves. And as with most games it is fun, if frivolous; as are some of the wines. And that should lead us to be asking ourselves why we tend to value these wines less than other, more "serious" wines.
 
We pay big money to play games, have fun, and break from the seriousness of our lives and yet with wine we seem to seek the opposite. What an odd set of circumstances have created this dilution. Good thing we can ponder it over a wonderful bottle of Merlot or two!
The Rutherford Ranch Merlot, a perennial favorite of mine, also provides wonderful value in a very accessible style. It was an interesting tasting not only because of the usual reasons, hey, drinking wine is fun, what can I tell you, but also because of the various styles on parade here. I am a fan of rather structured wines, and often times find too much fruit, sweetness and alcohol in many modern wines but I do recognize the need for diversity and this selection did offer that. From the tannic and cellar-worthy to the immediate and accessible, there was a wine for every palate here. 
 
I know that many out there favor one style virtually tot he exclusion of any other, and that has given rise to our current "I'm not drinking any freaking Merlot" mentality. The truth of the matter is that you have to recognize a wine for what it is, and who it is intended for. I would not serve the Rutherford Ranch to my wine geek friends, who are in search of something more complex and terroir driven, but my family would absolutely love it.
 
On the other hand the Summer's is a bit too firm and oaky today for easy enjoyment. If one has experience with wines like this it is relatively easy to see where this wine s going, but today it's just as not as friendly as some of the other wines on this list. Wines that have lower point scores but are not necessarily worse, just less complex and less age worthy, which frankly are criteria that few actually care much about.
 
So what started off as an exploration of Washington vs. California, a line of exploration that went nowhere fast, turned into something a bit more obvious. Let me just say that both regions produce excellent wines, with styles that overlap and are driven as much by producer as by terroir in this small sample set. What this tasting really reinforced for me was that scoring wine is an awful lot like writing a book. The greatest Civil War documentary holds little appeal for those who are fans of neither. Ditto with wine. Wine reviews are written only for the interested. It is a game we play with ourselves. As with most games it is fun, if frivolous; as are some of the wines. And that should lead us to be asking ourselves why we tend to value these wines less than other, more "serious" wines.
 
We pay big money to play games, have fun, and break from the seriousness of our lives and yet with wine we seem to seek the opposite. What an odd set of circumstances have created this diversion. Good thing we can ponder it over a wonderful bottle of Merlot or two!
 

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Top Merlot $20-$35 Tasted 12/13

1.
Peju Province Winery Merlot Napa Valley (2009)
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2.
Seven Hills Winery Merlot Walla Walla Valley Seven Hills Vineyard (2009)
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3.
Summers Merlot Reserve Summers Ranch (2010)
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4.
Praxis Cellars Merlot (2009)
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5.
Canoe Ridge Merlot Reserve (2010)
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6.
Schug Merlot Sonoma Valley (2009)
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7.
Apex Merlot (2010)
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8.
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Merlot (2011)
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9.
Waterbrook Winery Merlot Reserve Columbia Valley (2010)
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10.
Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel (2010)
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Comments

  • My sister is getting married in September and we are looking for a few cases of splits. Either prosecco(?) or Asti Spamunti or Freixenet (1.86 ml). Do you have any idea where we can get about 3 cases of either 24 bottles or the next amount up -48? We don't have a lot of money but I would love to help...

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    Jan 07, 2014 at 5:17 PM


  • See above!!

    Jan 07, 2014 at 5:18 PM


  • Snooth User: JonDerry
    Hand of Snooth
    680446 3,556

    Will have to look out for that Peju Merlot, sounds good!
    Hard to find the '09 at retail, maybe when the '11 comes out.

    Jan 07, 2014 at 5:40 PM


  • The Peju Merlot is my favorite! I think they sold out of the '09 but the '10 is just as good!

    Jan 08, 2014 at 12:03 AM


  • Rutherford Hill makes excellent Merlot and their quality keeps getting better with every vintage. I think they may be over the $40 mark (especially for the reserve) but their wines could change your mind on drinking Merlot!

    Jan 08, 2014 at 1:40 PM


  • The first 5 or six paragraphs after the picture are repeated twice for some reason :-)

    Jan 16, 2014 at 11:18 AM


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