Top Merlot From $15 to $20

A collection of Merlots that fall into GDP's value sweet spot


I often say that the sweet spot for wine falls roughly in the $15 to $25 range. In this range, you can find producers who are out of favor, undiscovered, or working in regions that, for some reason, lack prestige yet produce wines that are equal of bottlings priced at double or triple.
 
I have also been touting the comeback of Merlot for some time. In truth, there are many great values out there, but this tasting does highlight at least one of the pitfalls that face wine consumers today. Frankly, some producers do not need to raise the quality or change the style of their wines. They are doing fine with what they produce and pleasing consumers, if not critics.
 
That puts me in a bit of a sticky position. It’s no secret that my tastes run somewhat counter to fruit-forward, popularly styled wines. I like a little bite in my wines and favor complexity over intensity of fruit. Fortunately for all involved, today we have both styles of Merlot. Gobstoppers for the fruit-forward crowd, plus a fine selection of otherwise interesting wines that please palates like mine. This dichotomy is just another reason for my new wine reviewing system, which I will explain in more detail on the next slide. I hope to be able to better serve you, the reader, by giving more simplified recommendations that are easy to understand while continuing to review each wine as honestly as my palate allows.

Merlot image via Shutterstock

The Snooth Experiment

Welcome to a new Snooth experiment. As you will quickly see, we’re trying something new with these pages. You know we’re all for the democratization of wine, but like most people, we fall prey to old habits. By old habits I mean the overly descriptive wine reviews that mean jack squat to many people, make wine intimidating, and make wine writers looks like a bunch of florid dandies.

What I’ve done with the following reviews is try to give you details about a wine in a language that just about anybody can understand. The full (florid!) review is still available on both the list page and the wine’s detail page, but for the sake of an article like this, I’m giving this new format a try. It makes understanding a wine much easier and really helps to compare wines. You’ll be able to see what sets off one 88 point from another in a glance without having to decipher all that prose, and hopefully you will begin to understand what makes a wine speak to you. Perhaps it’s low acidity, or a medium-light mouth feel, or really dry tannins.

Scientist image via Shutterstock

2008 Waterstone Merlot Napa Valley 14.5% $18

This shows lovely, soft aromatic notes with a hint of Red Hots on the back end. Leather and carob accent the black cherry and cherry pit fruit that extend across the refreshing finish. Shows really fine persistence to the fruit. 91pts Read The Full Review Here
 
Acid: Medium-High
Tannin: Medium-Low
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium-Low
Savory Flavors: Medium-Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium-High
Intensity of Flavors: Medium-High
Mouthfeel: Medium- to Light-Bodied

2009 Charles Krug Merlot Napa Valley 14.9% $20

This is dry but there’s so much fruit here that the tannins add needed cut. The oak shows up as cinnamon and coriander accents to the carob- and earth-inflected black cherry, black currant and boysenberry fruit. A big wine that packs quite a punch. 90pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Medium
Tannin: Medium
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium-Low
Savory Flavors: Medium-Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium-High
Intensity of Flavors: Medium-High
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

2008 Rutherford Ranch Merlot 13.5% $18

This has lovely, ripe tannins that lend a nice freshness to the palate. Displays well-judged vanilla and cocoa accents over the slightly sweet, candied red fruit flavors. 89pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Medium-Low
Tannin: Medium-Low
Sweetness: Medium-Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium
Savory Flavors: Medium Plus
Fruity Flavors: Medium
Intensity of Flavors: Medium-Low
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

2008 McConnell Estates Winery Wackman Ranch Merlot Cosumnes River $17

On the nose, there’s a hint of something floral and violet-like, with blueberry and black cherry flavors that are intense and fairly long. The tannins do close in on the finish. Delicious but not terribly varietal. 89pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Medium-Low
Tannin: Medium-High
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Low
Spicy Flavors: Low
Savory Flavors: Medium-Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium-High
Intensity of Flavors: Medium-High
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

2008 Charles Krug Merlot Napa Valley 14.3% $19

This is quite complex with aromas of nutmeg and cinnamon spice. A little coconut and leather on the palate accent the plump black plum and blackberry fruit. All the oak has also added some fairly aggressive tannins that come to dominate the finish. 88pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Medium-Low
Tannin: Medium-High
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium-Low
Savory Flavors: Medium-Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium
Intensity of Flavors: Medium
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

2007 Mcconnell Estates Winery Wackman Ranch Merlot 13.7% $17

Toasted spices, coriander and anise seed accent dried red fruit flavors in this firm, assertive wine. 88pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Low
Tannin: Medium-Low
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium-Low
Savory Flavors: Medium-Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium-Low
Intensity of Flavors: Medium-High
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

2010 Decoy Merlot Sonoma County 14.5% $23

Herbal spice with some pencil lead accents on the nose. A slightly creamy, wild cherry-rich mid-palate is the high point here until the oak appears along with some heat to take over the finish. 88pts Read The Full Review
 
Acid: Medium
Tannin: Low
Sweetness: Low
Oak: Medium-Low
Spicy Flavors: Medium-Low
Savory Flavors: Low
Fruity Flavors: Medium
Intensity of Flavors: Medium
Mouthfeel: Medium-Bodied
 

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Slideshow View

Top 7 Merlot From $15-$20

1.
Waterstone Merlot Napa Valley (2008)
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2.
Charles Krug Winery Peter Mondavi Family Merlot Napa Valley (2009)
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3.
Rutherford Ranch Merlot (2008)
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4.
Mcconnell Estates Winery Merlot Wackman Ranch (2008)
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5.
Charles Krug Winery Peter Mondavi Family Merlot Napa Valley (2008)
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6.
Mcconnell Estates Winery Merlot Wackman Ranch (2007)
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7.
Decoy Merlot. Sonoma County (2010)
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Comments

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 150

    Bravo on the simplified assessments. Not only are they more understandable, it is far quicker and clearer. The link to "full review" is a nice idea, but the link I followed brought me to a visually confusing page where the review was quite a ways down the page. Yes, I understand this is done to enable Snooth to please the wineries and generate more click through business for Snooth, but it is rather annoying. Put the full review in a cleaner simplified page and it ultimately will be more effective. Simply put, I doubt I will read any full reviews unless I am really interested in a wine, under a more readable format I would red most of them.

    Oct 09, 2012 at 4:21 PM


  • Snooth User: Goodlife11
    457084 298

    I appreciate the effort here, but I think part of the romance of wine has to do with all the 'descriptives' that are included in the 'full review.' I think visitors to Snooth are looking for that level of details, as opposed to a few mentions of low/medium/high on a sliding scale. I actually don't read these reviews any longer, because I don't feel I get as much. That being said, I bypass them for the full review, so thanks for including that link. See what the crowd says and go from there I guess.

    Oct 09, 2012 at 6:15 PM


  • Cheers to your honesty and integrity Greg!. Maybe I'll find some Merlot I like, thanks to you. Oh, and I'm expecting delivery of my new 150 (?) bottle cabinet this Thursday. I'm sure I have enough top shelf wines to fill it, but the inventory has to rotate, and I have little money. Thank you again for years of insight.

    Oct 09, 2012 at 7:48 PM


  • Snooth User: teddz
    880703 26

    I've recently tasted through some low priced 2009 Bordeaux, and find lots of nice fruit (along with bordelais structure of course) in wines that are high in Merlot from that vintage. A nice one in this price range is Chateau Marjosse ($18 in Ohio where I am), 80% merlot, so close enough for this category. A Lurton property, so the winemaking is solid, if not flamboyant. I think it would compare favorably with the reviews I see here (and I wonder why nothing from Bordeaux on the list?)

    Oct 10, 2012 at 2:35 PM


  • Hi, Gregory. I like your experiment and the straight-forward language! If you decide to continue with this I'd like to suggest that you add typicity

    Oct 10, 2012 at 8:35 PM


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