Napa Merlots

Forget Sideways: These 15 delicious, affordable (under $75!) reds deserve a second look

2. Robert Keenan Winery Estate Wines
Keenan has a long tradition, since 1974, and currently produces 14,000 cases. The estate vineyards are focused on just three varieties—Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—and this is their particularly impressive single vineyard Merlot. The Napa appellation bottling is number 10 on this list.
Dark red violet color; nice herbs, tart black fruit nose; tight, tart black fruit, herbaceous palate; medium-plus finish. (20 months in French oak; 14.3% alcohol) 93+points
Dark ruby color; lovely, ripe plum, berry, ripe currant nose; tasty, rich but poised, ripe currant, plum palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points

3. Paloma 
Barbara Richards is the proprietor here and son Sheldon Richards has been the winemaker since his father Jim passed away in 2009. They make this benchmark California Merlot from 15 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon on their property at the top of Spring Mountain. The Merlot is always rich, balanced and remarkably complex.
Medium dark red violet color; intriguing, lifted, ripe currant, plum nose; plush, complex, plum, ripe currant palate with subtle oak spice; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish. 93 points
Dark ruby color; tart plum, black fruit, baked plum nose; tasty, poised, tart black fruit, tart plum palate; will go 15 years; medium-plus finish. (with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) 92+ points
Berry, black fruit nose; tasty, black fruit, berry, eucalyptus palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
4. Seavey Vineyard 
In 1979, William and Mary Seavey purchased the historic estate originally founded by the Franco-Swiss Farming Company in 1881. By the time they bought the property, it had been a cattle ranch for several years, but Mary, who ultimately passed away in 2008, set about restoring the property and planting new vineyards. The winemaker is Jim Duane, who previously worked at Stag’s Leap and Robert Mondavi. These are complex Merlots that sell for about $45.
Very dark red violet color; appealing, tart black fruit, herbs, tobacco nose; tart black fruit, espresso palate; approachable now; medium-plus finish. (with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% new French oak) 93 points
5. Trefethen 
Eugene Trefethen, Jr., a wealthy industrialist, purchased the property that formed the basis of the Trefethen estate vineyards in 1968. The family owns 475 acres of vineyards, all located in the Oak Knoll appellation, on two different sites. For an estate this size, there is a large winemaking team, led by winemaster David Whitehouse. The quality is generally high here and the wines are underrated. 
Medium dark ruby color; ripe berry, blackberry, oak, vanilla nose; ripe black fruit, berry, black plum, violets palate with depth; medium-plus finish. (91% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17 months in oak, 90% French, 5% American, 5% Hungarian, 45% new; 14.1% alcohol) 93 points

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  • Snooth User: Stallion
    Hand of Snooth
    381013 857

    I've been saying this for years...The RIGHT Merlot can be every bit as structured as a good Cabernet. Duckhorn makes one of the best in Napa. Check out the Washington Merlots. Very balanced with more of an herbal note on both the palate and nose. Cheers!

    Apr 09, 2013 at 1:27 PM

  • Snooth User: bopahyland
    222403 17

    You're obviously wealthy if you spend that kind of money for merlot. You need to try Columbia-Crest Grand Estates merlot from Washington State. It' a smooth, fruity but dry merlot and affordable so that it can be enjoyed as an every-day wine.

    Apr 09, 2013 at 3:29 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,233

    I am in agreement that the movie "Sideways" was the best thing that happened to California Merlot. I also am in agreement with the sentiments of the orignal author and the two above commenters that some pretty darned good Merlot is coming from both Napa Valley and Washington state.

    Apr 09, 2013 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: StarkAdv
    1270649 46

    Switchback Ridge should have been mentioned.

    Apr 09, 2013 at 6:13 PM

  • Snooth User: mark holys
    1176343 36

    When it comes to merlot it is natrural to look to Bordeaux for an example to follow. But Napa and Washington have pioneered new approaches to merlot that are very approachable and complex. I completely agree that merlot does not get enough recognition in Napa, and California in general,but lets not get carried away. The best value in Napa wine cannot be defined by a varietal, but by the examples that support the market share of that varietal. Cabernet is, and always will, be the king of Napa valley

    Apr 09, 2013 at 6:31 PM

  • Snooth User: chickeee
    307854 23

    these wines are about $125-$200 in restaurants in Vancouver BC and are hard to find in private stores :(

    Apr 09, 2013 at 10:14 PM

  • Where's Pride Mountain Vineyards on this list? Definitely in the top ten of CA merlot.

    Apr 10, 2013 at 7:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Jennings
    Hand of Snooth
    780161 110,291

    Thanks for the responses, guys. I agree there are very good Washington Merlots. This piece happened to have been focused on Napa Merlots.

    I have been underwhelmed with Pride's Merlots in recent years. I disagree that they would fall in the top 10.


    Apr 10, 2013 at 9:36 PM

  • Snooth User: bahma
    610029 22

    We love, love love Paloma Merlot. So glad you included it in your list.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:10 PM

  • Snooth User: pikeman
    1060341 42

    $63.50 a bottle?! Are you nuts? Do you think ordinary people are paying this kind of money for wine? And if you are regularly buying wine at this price why not spend spend more?Why go cheap?
    And as far as Merlot goes, there is still much more crappy Merlot than worthwhile Merlot. No thanks - you can keep it.

    Apr 16, 2013 at 1:49 PM

  • Snooth User: Ozrr
    184260 9

    Plumpjack's Merlot should be included in the list. It has won a few informal wine tastings.

    Apr 22, 2013 at 11:05 PM

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