Inexpensive California white similar to Gewertzaminer or other Rhine wine
I had a Wente Riesling the other day that was a quite successful pairing with a Moroccan meal...
I've had very nice Washington State rieslings for that matter... IMO riesling is a relatively adaptable and "easy" varietal that thrives many places around the world...
Gewurztraminer is just about the opposite... I've never had an impressive California Gewurz... doesn't mean there aren't any but it's a much more finicky grape than riesling IMO. Even in Alsace I've found the quality to vary widely from year to year.
i've never tasted a california gewurztraminer i liked. if you like fruity, but with a little bit of acidity on the back for balance, sokol-blosser "evolution" from oregon is nice, and has gewurzt in the blend.
merlots can be all over the board, from big silky fruit-bombs to the more reserved bordeaux-styles. pine ridge makes a pretty value in the latter style.
Though not up the German/Alsace versions, I like the Navarro, http://www.navarrowine.com/shop/, Gewürztraminer.
For another variation (Loire/Rhone), Pine Ridge, Napa, does a Chenin Blanc/Viognier that is a very nice, light but fruit driven white.
When I think of Merlot from California, my first choice is Duckhorn and then Beringer, Bancroft Ranch, Howell Mountain. Both are "bigger" styled Merlots, but with about all of the character that has been coaxed from that varietal on US shores - IMO. Others do some nice ones, but those two top my short list. Unfortunately, during the 80-90's, too much land was given over to Merlot in Napa/Sonoma and much of it was just not worth drinking. When the accountants took over telling the vineyard owners and winemakers what to do, it all went downhill quickly. It also may be that I am just more of a Cab and Zin fan, than I am of domestic Merlot. Personal taste, you know.
^ i second the hogue recommendation. they make both a riesling and a gewurztraminer; both inexpensive and both lovely sipping wines. it's a dark bottle, red/gold label with a leaf, i think.
i don't know much about gewurztraminers from california, but i did spend a week vacationing in the columbia river gorge (the OR/WA border, a HIGHLY recommended vacation destination for wine/hiking/nature lovers!) where we sampled many a delicious oregon / washington gewurztraminer. actually there was a little cider brewery store (bad seed, i think it was called?) set up on the WA side, the road parallel to the river (rte 14?) who sold a lovely local gewurztraminer. unfortunately, can't remember the name of it to save my life! the proprietor explained that gewurztraminers from the columbia & wiliamette regions are good because they are grown on steep hills, or something to that effect.
From California, the best Gewurztrmainers I've had are Alsatian in style, not German. Navarro, Lazy Creek, Thomas Fogarty and Storrs.
When it comes to Riesling, I'd generally move into the Pacific Northwest, rather than California -- but Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Storrs and others are/can be quite delicious.
When it comes to Merlot, "good" and "inexpensive" are usually mutually exclusive terms . . . if, by inexpensive you mean "under $15." $24-30 is, sadly, more like it. So I'll save my recommendations -- unless that's the price range you're looking for.
Let me know.