The Current State of Merlot


Alright, for all those who have been bad mouthing Merlot over the past few years, please stand up. Now all of you need to walk over to the far corner of the room and wait. Thank you. I need to tell you that your dislike of Merlot is unfounded and I am about to prove that Merlot is the number one outstanding citizen of the wine community. I mean, really, if Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of all wine varieties, Merlot is definitely the queen. With a long history as one of the main red grapes of Bordeaux, Merlot has established itself as a wine with which to be reckoned! Sure it has had many ups and downs. But haven’t we all? It’s hard to believe that a short clip in the movie “Sideways” would be the demise of a grape with such a noble background. Merlot is coming back, and this time around, we owe her our enduring respect.
Actually, Merlot didn’t take the major beating that everyone thought it did after the “Sideways” movie was released in 2004. After researching many magazine tracts and critic/winemaker statements that predate the film, it was found that Merlot did slow down a bit in sales and stores that would normally buy 20 cases of Merlot a week were still buying 17 to 18 cases a week. To be honest, I still drank Merlot but avoided ordering it at restaurants. Mostly because I was afraid of the server exposing me by exclaiming “No [BLEEP] Merlot” throughout the restaurant! So I kept my Merlot cravings to myself and sipped other wines in public. 
So where did all this excess Merlot end up that everyone said they weren’t drinking? There was still Merlot that was being harvested, aging in barrels, and patiently waiting in warehouses to be shipped to consumers. Some winemakers didn’t want to produce a wine that was exclusively Merlot since they felt customers may reject it. So, many winemakers decided to reduce that risk and start to producing more Merlot based red blends instead, hiding Merlot under names like cuvee, reserve blend, and Meritage. Why do you think red blends have become so popular? Because there are more of them at fantastic prices. And the funny thing is that everyone really liked them! As much as we belittle soft, innocent Merlot, we accept it back in our hearts and palates and without fully knowing it.
When you think about it, that little ribbing we took at Merlot actually helped out the wine industry in many ways. It exposed the lower end, flabby, and uninteresting Merlots that would have been better off being made into Sangria. It also put a spotlight on Pinot Noir and its delectable characteristics at the perfect time. In 2004, wineries on the west coast were releasing their 2002 vintage of Pinot Noir which was truly its banner year and it lofted Pinot Noir sales up 18 percent! Everyone knew a good Pinot Noir costed a few bucks more than most everyday Merlots and buyers got used to spending a bit more for a higher quality wine. So people were drinking better wines, both Pinot Noir and Merlot, and didn’t mind spending more for quality. A great situation in the wine world!
The University of Adelaide has compiled and published the very first complete database of the world’s wine grapes and regions. This database lists 500 regions, 44 countries, and 1,271 grape varieties. Based on their research, Merlot is the #1 planted grape variety in Bordeaux and also in many other countries of the world! Argentina, Chile, Italy, France, Australia, and the United States all show record numbers of Merlot plantings over the past few years. Demand and popularity for Merlot is continually growing and wineries are supporting this demand by planting more Merlot and preparing for the future. 
Merlot is interesting enough to be on its own but is also the perfect blending grape for any red wine that wants to add lush fruit, richness, and smoothness. Especially in Bordeaux where Merlot is Cabernet Sauvignons BFF! You will find these two comrades are together almost every time. With its voluptuous blackberry, cherry, and plum flavors, teasing nuances, and velvety finish, Merlot has a reason to be considered one of the best. Out of all the grape varieties in the world, Merlot would be the one known to have multiple personalities. It can be a wonderful entry level red for those who are new to wine or it can be intense and complex and would impress your favorite wine snobs. Merlot is so versatile and it pairs with so many wonderful foods like lamb, game dishes, many red meats, pasta with tomato based sauces, and medium cheeses.
Here are some great Merlots worth exploring because of their wonderful balance of fruit flavors, complexity, and long smooth finish:
Airfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 – Washington State. With an easy going style, this Merlot is perfect as an entry level red but everyone will love it! Flavors of ripe plum, blackberry, toasted oak, and a hint of spice. Medium to full bodied with soft tannins and a long, lingering finish. Pair with grilled chicken, ribeye, and tomato based pastas. $16 average.
Michael Pozzan “Annabella” Merlot 2012 – Napa Valley, CA. This wine was aged in French oak for 18 months and the result is a rich, elegant Merlot with soft, supple tannins. Violet color in the glass with aromas of black cherry, dried cranberry, chocolate, and espresso. Silky mouthfeel with wonderful flavors of ripe cherries, black plum, coffee, and spicy vanilla on the finish. Fantastic! $18 average.
Chateau La Fleur Morange Mathilde 2011 – Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, France. 100% Merlot coming from the region of France most renowned for Merlot wines. Medium to full bodied with aromas and flavors of blueberry, ripe plum, clove, and a subtle oak finish. Smooth and seductive. A plentiful 14.5% alcohol! $21 average.
Mollydooker “The Scooter” 2014 – McLaren Vale, South Australia. A wonderful Merlot that will bring your taste buds to Heaven! But let’s start on Cloud 9. Soft and delicate with a pleasing balance of fruit, spice, and elegance. Flavors of bright raspberry, ripe red cherry, cocoa, with spice undertones. On the second sip, hints of vanilla, blueberry, and pepper led to a lush, smooth finish. All this and a whopping 15% alcohol! $26 average.
Swanson Vineyards Oakville Merlot 2011 – Napa Valley, CA. This big, full bodied Merlot is what the Cabernet fan would love! Intense and complex but elegant through and through. Garnet in color with aromas of black cherries and dried cranberry fruit. Rich mouth-feel with a wonderful tannin structure. Generous flavors of sweet black cherry, ripe blackberry, coffee, and a hint of cinnamon. Nuances of nutmeg and cocoa on the sumptuous, velvety finish. Pair with steak, pasta with tomato meat sauces, and strong cheeses. $35 average.
There is a plethora of wonderful Merlots out there and it is time to forgive and indulge! Plan your favorite meal, call a friend, and spoil yourself with a great Merlot soon. Everyone else is so don’t miss out! Oops! And all of you that are still standing in the far corner, you can go sit down now. Sorry.
Rick Fillmore is a CSW, Sommelier, and writes wine and travel articles for Wine Connoisseur Magazine. Rick blogs using the name Wine Splash and his blog can be found at Fifteen years in the wine business as a consultant, educator, writer, marketer, and promoting sales. Favorite red wine is Syrah and white would be a balanced, oaky Chardonnay. Cheers!

Mentioned in this article


  • Siedeways? Yes, I have seen the movie, but I think not many other Europeans did. It wasn't a big hit in Europe. Talking about Europe, there are some excellent to outstanding world class 100% Merlots from ... Italy! Best known and a direct rival of France's Chateau Petrus is Ornellaia's ''Masseto'' from Tuscany (Maremma). But most interesting is the Italian region Friuli. The following producers are well-worth seeking out: Meroi (COF), Canus (COF), Miani (COF), Vie di Romans (Isonzo Friuli) and Toros (Collio).

    Sep 25, 2015 at 11:34 AM

  • Snooth User: Jack Koehne
    1131282 32

    I am still disappointed with the midrange priced Merlot. It seems that it has a good start but never a finish, unless that is what you want. Therefore, I would prefer a Zin if I have a choice. I don't drink low range Merlot. Big Bottles never disappoint, but always hurt my wallet.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:32 PM

  • I try to find the best wine for the price point as I'm not a financially-endowed oenophile. To me Merlot tastes like dirt.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 1:27 PM

  • Snooth User: LDouglas
    418185 10

    I couldn't agree more with this article. I've long been a Merlot fan - blended or stand alone. For me the great mystery in wine has been the fanaticism around Malbec. That's the grape that hasn't lived up to its hype.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 2:32 PM

  • Snooth User: jetosti
    1802714 22

    If you want a Merlot that truly stands out and challenges Cabs try Barnett Merlot. It is my new fav.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:41 PM

  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 144

    The BEST Merlot, QPRwise, that I have ever had (and am still having) is the 2003 Merlot from this tiny Sierra foothill winery called diVittorio Winery in the El Dorado AVA,

    Their $65 (per 12-bottle case) 2003 Merlot ravels any $30 Napa Merlot!

    If you are visiting South Lake Tahoe from SF, I recommend you to make a pit stop at their tasting room on Carson Rd in the town of Camino, about 15 minutes east of Placerville on Hwy 50.

    BTW - there are actually more than half a dozen of wineries / tasting rooms on Carson Rd right at this Hwy 50 exit. You'll get a totally different tasting experience here compared to that of the Napa/Sonoma wineries. Most of their wines do not make it out to the SF Bay Area, let along outside of California.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:45 PM

  • Snooth User: mcc010
    1501508 36

    I prefer the "other Merlot": Carmeniere. Carmeniere produces a wine that is much closer to Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel but with a little less tannin. Also, it tend to prefer the Carmeniere wines from Chile over those from Argentina.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 4:33 PM

  • I just poured a bottle of Bordeaux down the drain because it had too much Merlot in it. I just can't handle the earthy taste of it, even though I tried because several friends love Merlot, so I kept thinking, maybe I had the wrong wine. I tried and tried and have given up on it now. I want to drink something I like, not because someone said it tasted good to them.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 4:57 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,918

    "I want to drink something I like, not because someone said it tasted good to them."

    Always the best philosophy, Richard.

    I do not drink very much Merlot. However, I have to agree that the quality of the domestic product has improved immensely since "Sideways." My favorites have come from the Spring Mountain District--so, jetosti, I would be very interested in trying Barnett--and from Walla Walla.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 5:25 PM

  • when I worked in a wine shop I always recommended Merlot as the best value red, particularly in the $ 10 - 12 range. That range is beyond the grapeys. A few years back while on a Napa/Sonoma trip I did something unmentionable and bought a Merlot for over $ 20 at Black Stallion. It WAS that pleasing. There is a wide range of Merlots from good to great.

    Sep 25, 2015 at 7:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Ken Steiner
    1140866 30

    I am not a wine connoisseur, but I do drink wines. Some one suggested a Merlot and I tried it and found that I liked it. A wine I have come to enjoy is a good Syrah. I find that it does not have the bite that a Merlot may have. And I just can't seem to enjoy a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. As Richard stated, "I want to drink something "I" like" and a like a good Syrah or Merlot. It all boils down to individual taste.

    Sep 26, 2015 at 9:14 AM

  • May I suggest you try Petrified Forest Vineyards 2011 Merlot. At $36 per bottle it is arguably the best Merlot available. It is from Knights Valley, which is becoming so well known for its Bordeaux Reds

    Sep 26, 2015 at 3:23 PM

  • There are marvelous Merlots available if you search, taste and read. I recommend Robert Keenan and Rutherford Hill Wines for their luxurious, velvet texture, subtle tannins and complexity. Aging your Merlot for 10 years is a must!

    Sep 28, 2015 at 7:32 PM

  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 144

    Here are some California Merlots that tingle my taste buds, and are also highly rated by CellarTracker members:

    Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms (Napa Valley AVA - St. Helena)

    Jason Stephens Winery Merlot Estate (Santa Clara Valley AVA)

    Flora Springs Merlot (Napa Valley AVA - St. Helena, Rutherford and Pope Valley)

    Rombauer Vineyards Merlot (Napa Valley AVA, Los Carneros)

    Twomey Merlot Napa Valley (Napa Valley AVA - Soda Canyon Ranch)

    Sep 28, 2015 at 8:15 PM

  • I have found a couple of Merlots that I like that aren't too earthy, and not fruit bombs either. They are Paloma and Napa Cellars.
    The Sideways thing is funny, since at the end when everyone was mad at Miles, he couldn't find anyone to drink this very special wine he had. It was a Merlot based red from France.

    Oct 04, 2015 at 2:54 PM

  • Snooth User: rlapolla
    610235 52

    Here I my list of primo merlots in no particular order:
    far niete
    Chimney rock
    st francis
    mark ryan

    Oct 16, 2015 at 1:27 AM

  • Snooth User: duncan 906
    Hand of Snooth
    425274 3,086

    I like merlot a lot. It forms about 3/4 of the blend in most right bank clarets. These usuaslly have pl;enty of blackcurrant and plum style fruit with soft tannins and are excellent with food particularly lamb dishes.

    Nov 15, 2015 at 6:00 AM

  • Snooth User: William Djubin
    Hand of Snooth
    1464471 1,176

    You forgot Masseto Ornellia, Chateaux Petrus and Saint Emillion wines from the list. Merlot is still best best,

    Nov 15, 2015 at 11:32 PM

  • Snooth User: William Djubin
    Hand of Snooth
    1464471 1,176

    Just as Saff 1st commented. BTW, Flora Springs is my best go-to from Napa.

    Nov 15, 2015 at 11:35 PM

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