2007 Waterstone Napa Valley Merlot 14.5%, $20
Cool and almost a bit musky on the nose with a light vegetal, decomp aroma that serves as the base for the lightly spiced, mineral and cocoa nib-framed red fruit aromas that are topped with a touch of eucalyptus. This is rather medium-bodied and a bit lean within the Merlot paradigm. The texture of the wine is quite fine, with good structure and fine transparent flavors of cherry with a hint of citrus zest. The wine has a really nice mid-palate presence, with flavors that are nice and pure if not particularly complex. The finish is a bit brief with some light lingering cocoa and wood toast notes but all together this is very pleasant and almost elegant. 88pts

2007 Kenwood Sonoma Valley Merlot Jack London Vineyard 13.5%, $20
Deep on the nose with notes of dried fruits, smoky, cedary wood, a touch of licorice and some mocha background notes. Nice and polished at first and then some fine-grained tannins move in to add some texture and a touch of burliness in the mouth. The fruit is plummy and bright with nice depth and a drying wood tannin edge that actually works well here to help keep this fruity yet slightly austere. The finish is long and those tannins really pop. There’s a vanilla lead-in on the backend then the cedary wood tones crawl through the finish. Well oaked but not oaky, this is a juicy, dry, well-balanced red wine. 88pts

2007 Mezzacorona Vigneti delle Dolomiti Merlot 13%, $10
Very lightly aromatic with hints of citrus peel, and crushed green leaves framing gently woody red fruits. This is fairly light in the mouth with a spar of crisp tannin from which some nice, fresh fruit is suspended. It’s a high-toned wine in the mouth with impressive flavor intensity considering the wine’s weight. There’s a bit of vanilla and a milk chocolate backdrop to the wild cherry and slightly plummy fruit. The finish has a touch of the burnished orange peel that one gets on the nose and ends with a bit of wood spice and tannin. Easy drinking and nicely put together. 87pts

2008 Kenwood Sonoma County Merlot 13.5%, $13
Plummy and sweet on the nose with a nice blackberry background note and a gentle toasty oak underlay with a hint of black pepper. Juicy and fruity in the mouth with soft tannins, sweet berry and plummy fruit and gentle streaks of oak and a lightly licorice spice. The finish shows good acidity and a roundness to the tannins. It’s simple but pretty long with juicy plummy fruit. A crowd-pleaser. 87pts

2006 Franciscan Napa Valley Merlot 13.5%, $19
A bit unusual on the nose with notes of cola, sweet herbs, lightly candied fruit, a meaty background note and some chalky soil top notes. This is really smooth and supple up front mouth, there’s a nice base of acid and some fine-grained tannins that are a bit drying and lend a certain chalkiness to the mouthfeel, but the fruit here is plummy and pure. The finish reveals a very gentle herbaceous top note and is moderately long. An attractive wine that appeals with its nicely structured feel and pure fruit.  87pts

2008 Pepperwood Grove Valle Central Merlot Chile 13.5%, $7
Smoky and stemmy on the nose with a raw wood quality and some faint coconut tones. In the mouth this is bright if a little tinny, with crisp little tannins and a fairly lightweight frame. The fruit is rather anonymous red berry/raspberry-toned with some cocoa/vanilla accents. The tannins are dry and stiff and a bit too obvious and dominate the finish a bit. This is a bit light and stiff but it’s balanced and refreshing.  There’s a little sweetness to the fruit and, while rustic and a bit anonymous, this is a decent glass of wine. 84pts

2009 Black Swan South Eastern Australia Merlot 13.5%, $7
A tight, lightly spice black plum fruited nose emerges with a bit of air but remains in a pretty narrow register, adding gentle suggestions of cedar and cocoa. A bit fruity in the mouth with a touch of heaviness that weighs this down a bit. The tannins are nicely ripe but the acidity is a bit low, making this quite lazy in the mouth. There’s plenty of fruit here, plummy and faintly bitter from the youthful tannins. The finish has good length, driven by the wine’s sweetness and is a bit sticky in the mouth. Easy drinking and fairly fruity. 84pts

2008 Mirassou California Merlot 13%, $10
Buttery on the nose and notably herbal with a fine tomato leaf top note over the rather creamy black cherry and spice fruit. Rich and round in the mouth with a buttery, creamy entry and nice black cherry fruit on the palate that is framed by gentle cinnamon and milk chocolate tones. Well-balanced and easy drinking, if revealing a touch of sweetness on the short finish. 84pts

NV Barefoot California Merlot 13%, $6
A bit stemmy and chalky on the nose with some cherry, plum and soapy floral/raw wood character. A touch sweet on entry and somewhat rustic, with chalky tannins that come close to dominating the cherry, almost strawberry-toned fruit. On the palate this is just a bit screechy but it’s not really off-putting. The finish adds some cocoa and vanilla with a bit of an unusual artificial floral inner-mouth perfume that lingers with the candied red fruit character. An interesting little wine, not particularly good in some ways, but there is some pleasure to be had here and the price can’t be beat. 83pts

2007 Lange Twins Clarksburg Merlot 14.3%, $12
This smells a bit smoldery with some vegetal campfire tones and smoky soil notes over forest floor elements. A bit soft and quite broad in the mouth, this is a mini-fruit bomb, with tons of sweet fruit and yet there is a disconcerting slightly bitter background note that makes this catch in the mouth. There’s a surprising amount of tannin here and this just feels over-extracted. It’s a tough little wine with a finish that tries to reveal some sweet red berry fruit but gets dominated by some vanilla oak and then cut short by the muddy tannins. 80pts