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I always pass by the merlot.

I am another wine noob.I like trying different varietals.But I always pass by the merlot section when buying wines. Probably had something to do with that movie Side....... Do alot of people turn their nose up when mentioned?

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  1. I tend to pass on American merlot and merlot heavy blends. A bit too soft for me and doesn't pair well with what I typically eat.

    Bordeaux is another matter but I don't think that is what you are referring to when you say "the merlot section". Sounds like maybe you are referring to grocery store wines.

    I have had a few good CA blends and like them better with a good amount of Franc in the mix. WA Merlots are getting interesting so I might change my tune :)

    1. Depends on whether merlot is going to match whatever I plan to eat.

      As for a wine to drink by itself, it's usually not my first grab in reds....

      1. In 2009, one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever had was the 1996 Orlando Abrigo, Langhe Rosso, “Livraie” - Treiso, Italy that I enjoyed with my hamburger lunch at Boulevard in SF. It’s a merlot. Recently, I also enjoyed a 2006 Vignalta “Gemola,” DOC Colli Euganei - Arqua Petrarca, IT at Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay, CA another Merlot with short ribs. Also, I prefer the Tuscan and other blends that use Merlot instead of Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese. This looks like a trend for Italian Merlot, but this week I really enjoyed a 1994 Chateau Corbin Michotte, Grand Cru Classe - Saint Emilion , FR from K&L Wine Merchants at home with our lamb roast. These wines were not expensive, but they were wonderfully full of character with those meals. Good Merlot is an outstanding wine.

        1. If you pass by because you've tasted a lot of Merlot and don;t care for it, or if you pass by because there is another varietal you want to try or that you prefer, then what's the problem?

          There's so many different wines that whatever you choose you are therefore not choosing 1,000s of others.

          But if the only reason to pass by is because of a movie, then that is just plain daft. Especially as Miles in the movie doesn't dislike Merlot -- see the film and understand the situation and context in which the famous statement was made.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gussie Finknottle

            I'm being sarcastic about the movie.My problem is I never buy merlot. Maybe I'll pick up a bottle next time I shop.

          2. We are cab drinkers but have enjoyed the following Merlots: Keenan, Ehlers Estate & Shafer.

            1. The movie was "Sideways."

              Do you know the joke in the film? Miles -- ever insistent in avoiding "god-damned Merlot" at all costs -- treasures, and eventually savors (albeit in a fast food restaurant) his precious bottle of Château Cheval Blanc, a Premier Cru Classé A red Bordeaux that is composed of 2/3 Merlot and 1/3 Cabernet Franc.

              There are any number of GREAT Merlot wines made in the world. There are also a number of reasonably "iffy" (if not downright crappy) ones out there. But guess what? The exact same thing can be said about Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Viognier, Sémilion, Tempranillo, Godello, Gruner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Tannat, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese . . . well, you get the idea.

              Merlot is no different.

              The *key* to Merlot is that it suffers from precisely the same sort of "reverse snobbery" exemplified by Miles in the film "Sideways."

              The first Merlot produced in California was produced by Louis M. Martini Winery in Napa Valley, their Lot No. 68-70 "Edge Hill Selection" Merlot -- a blend from the 1968 and 1970 vintages. Some six months later, Sterling Vineyards introduced their 1969 Merlot. Other wineries soon followed. The key (then) to Merlot was that its flavor profile was quite similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but it was, by its very nature, less tannic, less astringent, and more supple in its youth than Cabernet Sauvignon.

              Because it was "easier" to "pop open and drink now" (compared to Cabernet Sauvignon), its popularity grew quite rapidly. This resulted in a scramble to plant more and more Merlot to meet the ever-increasing consumer demand, and in turn, THAT resulted in a) a lot of "young vine" Merlot hitting the market, which lacked the complexity and character of wine produced from mature vines; and b) a lot of vines planted in the wrong (inferior) places. In other words, in attempting to rush Merlot to market to meet consumer demand, California produced killed that very demand by making inferior wine.

              HOWEVER . . . does that mean ALL Merlot is $#|+ ? Of course not.

              For example, one winemaker I know used to get Merlot grapes from a vineyard in southern Santa Clara County. He hated that vineyard, he said, but he needed the tonnage to meet the demand for his $12 Merlot that retailers couldn't keep in stock. Another winemaker I know used to get Merlot from the very same vineyard -- but from a different, hillside plot (rather than flat, valley floor parcels). This second winemaker used to make a single-vineyard Merlot from those grapes and would CONSISTENTLY win Gold and Double Gold medals for his wine in various competitions. (Hillside grapes are higher in quality, but lower in yield, than valley floor grapes.)

              I don't know what sort of price range you are comfortable in spending for a bottle of wine, but here are five, relatively affordable suggestions for Merlot wines I would recommend trying (listed alphabetically):

              Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" (Washington State)
              Keenan (California)
              L'Ecole No. 41 (Washington State)
              Storrs Winery (California)
              Waterbrook Winery (Washington State)

              14 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  Thanks Jason, my "aversion" to Merlot occurred prior to the movie while trying to find some quality product for a dear friend over the period of a few years. Only one that popped up was a Pahlmeyer, iirc, whose price went out the roof after making the Speculator #1 spot.

                  Appreciate your suggestions and the realization that there is good juice to be found that won't break the bank.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    It didn't help that 'merlot' became the default name for a house red in restuarant chains and bars as was 'chardonnay' for white as replacements for their predecessors 'burgundy' and 'chablis'.

                    IMO in Sideways it was that Miles was on a Pinot Noir pilgrimage and was furious that Jack had spoiled the wine worship evening by inviting women to join them who he expected would know nothing about wine and just want to drink 'merlot'.

                    Note also his run down of Cab Franc when he was angry with Jack for flirting with the pourer played by Sandra Oh in the tasting room.

                    1. re: zin1953


                      >>> Château Cheval Blanc, a Premier Cru Classé A red Bordeaux that is composed of 2/3 Merlot and 1/3 Cabernet Franc. <<<

                      I don't know what I was thinking -- I got that backwards . . . it's (approx.) 60-40 Cab Franc to Merlot.


                      1. re: zin1953

                        Jason, isn't the most expensive wine a merlot....Petrus ???

                        1. re: pinotho

                          It's debatable, perhaps, whether or not that is THE most expensive wine in the world. Depends upon the vintage, I guess, but most vintages of Pétrus are 100 percent Merlot, though five percent (or so) of the vineyard is planted, IIRC, to Cab Franc.

                      2. re: zin1953

                        I think Miles said "I am NOT drinking any F-ing Merlot!"
                        I like some Merlots, even though they're definitely in the "soft" low-acid camp. Agree hat CSt.Mich (or Northstar), L'Ecole, and Storrs are good choices.

                        Also Duckhorn, Betz, Spring Valley, Andrew Will, Long Shadows, Beringer, Shafer, Mayacamas, Paloma, In the pricey camp; Pahlmeyere, Buccella or Lewis Rsv.

                        1. re: john gonzales

                          FWIW, I agree, John, with all the wineries you mention, and would recommend them all . . . but I was trying to keep the retail price below, say, $30 . . .

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Yeah, I'm admittedly bad about sticking to people's price parameters. For the under $40, Washington is a better bet than Cal.. Many of their wines have moe stucture as well.

                            1. re: john gonzales

                              I think the issue with passing up merlot in the US is "grocery store Merlot".... which is what I took the OP to be asking about.

                              Still a fairly bad bet for the price in many grocery stores. The best Bordeaux is merlot, but that is oh-so-different than the "under ten buck US wine found at Shop 'n Save".

                              Washington is doing some really great merlot these days. Not available in the grocery stores across the us however. Most of the merlot at Shop 'n Save is CA cheap plonk that is soft, flabby, watery and hot. Gives the grape a bad rap for folks that don't have exposure to better winemaking and growing conditions.

                              1. re: sedimental

                                "The best Bordeaux is merlot". That could make for a lively dscussion. I guess you might mean that the singuarly greatest bottling is Petrus, and it is alost all Melot. The folks at D'Yquem could reasonably say that the greatest bordeaux isn't even red. Then you'd have an awfully strong argument from the first growths.
                                I happen to love St. Em.and Pomerol but even a lot of their great wines are just above 50% merlot. Eg. Lafleur, Vieux Ch. Certan, Angelus, Pavie. People think Cheval Blanc is mostly Merlot, because it's in St. Em., but t's mostly Cab Franc. In fact Palmer (a Margaux) contains more Merlot than Cheval.
                                Bordeaux merlot is definitely a different beast. Though I think the newer breed, perhaps championed by Rolland, approaches Caifornia in the richer, riper, lower-acid style. Petrus has stayed pretty constant in what seems like the earlier picked,high-acid style, but a lot of he Pomerols and St. Ems have shifted. There used to be a lot more light, high-acid, even green in cold years Bordeaux merlot than the is now.
                                I think Wash has done the same thing. To me many of them used to have under-ripe green notes. There are many better examples than there were 20 years ago. Perhaps in part because Merlot seems to do better there than Cab. Columbia Crest btw makes some drinkable Merlot at a very low price-point.

                                1. re: john gonzales

                                  IMHO, the reason that Washington State produces, on average, "better" Merlot than California is that there is no Gallo, or even K-J, in Washington. Chateau Ste. MIchelle/Columbia Crest come the closest, but at the end of the day, they are still smaller. This translates into less pressure to "fill the pipeline and keep it filled" by overcropping.

                              2. re: john gonzales

                                >>> Washington is a better bet than Cal.. <<<


                            2. re: john gonzales

                              < In the pricey camp; Pahlmeyere, Buccella or Lewis Rsv.>

                              ...and Trefethen.

                              some very tasty Merlots being made these days on the North Fork of Long Island. Specifically Shinn Estate and Raphael, though there are also others.

                          2. Probably the best California Merlot I've had was from Twomey Cellars (part of the Silver Oak family). That one was probably a 2004, so I can't vouch for anything later

                            1. I haven't tasted a California Merlot for quite some time. But recently I was cornered when an acquaintance insisted on opening a bottle of 2009 Clos du Bois North Coast Merlot for me to try. It's quite delicious with medium-full body, velvety tannins, dense black cherry fruit with chocolatey notes, and a smooth round finish. Dry, not overly fruity or sweetened up, and weighs in at 13.5% alcohol. Notably not dominated by overt toasty oak and not hot on the palate. If forced to award points, I'd peg it about 86 points. When I got home to look up the price, I found that it's about $12 at discount retailers. This wine is more serious than expected for that price point. A nice buy for every day current drinking at the price if you're a Merlot fan and widely available.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                That's a descriptive writeup, Melanie. Thanks for the post.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Reading between the lines, you can probably tell that I was expecting the wine to be watery, thin, overoaked, and fruity/sweet. The weight of the extract and fullness in the mouth are what impressed me the most for a wine at this price.

                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Especially based on the TN's, I would have guessed at least twice that price.

                                  Nice to know that there are some good, less-expensive CA Merlots out there.

                                  Thank you,


                                  PS - two affinities, that I find with good CA Merlots are chocolates and raspberries.

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Yes, this was definitely varietally correct. Not an exciting wine as it doesn't have the complexity to merit that. But kudos to Clos du Bois for turning out a good every day wine that one can find easily.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Often, I find the "quality" of US Merlots to be in line with the price-points. Knowing the general PP's for Clos du Bois, I am glad to read your review.

                                      As per your response to ML, regarding "reading between the lines," what you anticipated is what I too often encounter, when just going with the available examples of that varietal. There is still too much of that about.

                                      When I find a good one, outside my list of the "usual suspects," I am gladdened, as the varietal CAN produce some good wines, if done correctly. When the "bankers" do the wine making, it can be insipid, and not worth the effort to pour it, or sip it.

                                      However, to fault the varietal, due to some poor examples, would be like turning one's back on Chenin Blanc, because they had some bad examples (often from the US). Or, all Rieslings, because one tasted one from Fetzer.


                                3. Well, there is a yin/yang relationship to domestic (US) Merlot. It was very popular, going back a bit, and too many planted it, expecting quick returns on their plantings. They made a ton of plonk, but it sold, and sold.

                                  There ARE some good producers, but one has to still sift through the "chaff," to find them.

                                  In general terms, and with "general" wine lists, I shun most too. However, when I find good ones, I do not hesitate to order them.

                                  I am a fan of the Beringer Howell Mtn, Bancroft Ranch Merlot, and almost everything made by Dan Duckhorn. Others, like the Milat brothers, do a good job too. At the more often found end, I also like Jos. Phelps Napa, but it's down the list a bit.

                                  While I do love my Pomerol Merlots, I am definitely not a fan of any, that I have tasted from France, with the varietal listed - just like much from the US.

                                  For me, "Sideways" only drove up the cost of CA Pinot Noirs, and really did little to open up the world of wine to most viewers, IMHO. Still, if did flush many US Merlots down the drain, then good - as many needed that flushing.


                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    I fell asleep during sideways. I suppose I should rent it and experience what everyone talks about :)

                                    1. re: sedimental

                                      See it for the beautifully lit scene when Virginia Madsen speaks about wine. Some of Miles' lines are great.

                                      1. re: sedimental

                                        The film is a pretty good "road movie," with some interesting bits along the way. It DOES feature wine, and in a pretty big way (a leit-motif throughout), but is not the best "wine movie," that I have seen. Enjoyable? Yes. A revelation in wines? No for me.

                                        I recommend renting the film, but not as a lesson in wines - maybe some wine consumers, but not so much on wines, themselves.


                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                        The 1997 Beringer Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlot was perhaps the most stunning Merlot I've had. Others: Paloma, Swanson, some of the Duckhorns. But, generally, not the red varietal I gravitate towards.

                                        But I liked hearing about the Clos du Bois. I like knowing about wines that might qualify as household "everyday" wines.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          I feel the same way. Good to know.

                                          The Beringer has always been my go-to domestic (US) Merlot. I have enjoyed many of Dan Duckhorn's offerings, and also some from Swanson. Have not tried the Paloma, but will try to.

                                          Some years back, we had two vintages of Truchard's Merlots, and they were very good. However, things seemed to fall apart in the early 2000's. Not sure if the wine maker changed, the grapes were sourced, and no longer available, several poor vintages, the bankers got into the act, or what, but the last few left me puzzled, and not in a good way. Stuff happens.

                                          As mentioned, the Jos. Phelps Napa has always been good, though never great - still, consistently good. Due to the PP, it is a "fall-back" for me, when some of the top producers' wines are unavailable. Sullivan Napa has been good, more than not, though even their Merlot needs about 5 years in the cellar to really open up.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            The 01 Paloma Merlot was W.Spec Wine of the Year. That's not a definitive endorsement, but it's awfully good. Though not for the faint of heart. It and all the Palomas up to about 03 were made by Bob Foley. He btw has made some other higher priced, big-framed Merlots. Pride back in the late 90s, and his one as well as the Switchback Ridge are very good.
                                            I really liked the 97 and 96 Beringer Bancroft. The 97 was still going about a year back. I think they might just be edged by the 96 & 97 Pahlmeyer Merlot in my book. Blankiet has also made some very tasty Merlots.

                                            1. re: john gonzales

                                              Thank you for that info. I stopped getting the WS some years back, for several reasons, so am now out of the loop.

                                              Isn't Bob Foley William Foley's brother, or am I confused?

                                              Pahlmeyer is another producer, who impresses ME with the Merlots and Merlot blends. Do not know how I missed stating that, but you helped me out there.

                                              Merlots CAN be very good wines, if one sort of knows where to look for them.

                                              As for the Bancroft Ranch, I picked up a case of the '87 (not a great year for any CA reds), and was impressed on how well they did, in that horrible year. I still have a few bottles left, and last visit (about 6 mos. ago), those wines were still drinking very well - horrible year, and a lot of time in the cellar, but still quite good.

                                              As the varietal is not one that I seek out, that often, I am sure that I have missed many good ones. Still, as some have expressed, Merlot is NOT a "four letter word," in the wine world, but one must look beyond just the varietal.

                                              Thanks for that info,


                                      3. Thanks for your replies. I purchased a bottle of Clos Du Bois 2009 Merlot today.I kinda liked it, but a little thin tasting for me.Oh, well. I find myself enjoying California red table wines or blends. I hear you screaming.They remind me of the wines I had in Italy. They are a everyday household wine for me.I'll try Merlot again in the future.Thanks

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: emglow101

                                          Well, considering that Jos. Phelps and Cain Five are "California table wines," that term is not a bad one - depending on the "California table wine" in the bottle. There are several ATF laws, that can apply, so one needs to know a bit, before they just assume the worst.



                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            I have had some California table wines I like and others not so much. I keep it simple for myself.I purchased the one's I like. All in all I find them a good value for a everday household wine for me.I'm stuck on them for now.I live on the central coast of California with plenty of these wines to choose from.

                                            1. re: emglow101

                                              Well, as the term "California Table Wine" can mean almost anything from some very low-end blends, up to Insignia, or Cain Five, it is almost meaningless - the wine makes the difference. One could be talking about a $4.00/btl. wine, or one that retails for $175.00/btl.


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                It's just wine to me.Not a big deal,sorry.I enjoy it. I have my same take on beer. I have brewed beer for many years and would not touch anything other than microbrews. Now I drink Hamms.It's just the way it is.My palate has changed.

                                          2. re: emglow101

                                            Emglow, Clos Du Bois does not make good wine. Try Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot for less and you will like Merlot. As mentioned above try some of the reviews I offer and you will really like Merlot.

                                          3. I'm from the Burgundy camp. I hardly ever drink Cab/Merlot from either side of the pond.

                                            But you are missing something. There are great Merlots produced in California and in Bordeaux. I'm sure you've heard of Château Petrus. 95% Merlot. Average price $1500/btl.

                                            Easy wine to attune young palates to red wine.

                                            Good values from Chile.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: collioure

                                              <<Good values from Chile.>>

                                              I keep trying to find a good wine from Chile, but have only discovered one (a Bdx. blend), that I would buy. Nothing about any of the others (many retailers and distributors have tried with free wines, and I have done several wine dinners with respected producers), have tempted me to buy the wines.

                                              I just cannot find those "good values," but maybe I am expecting too much?


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                I'm with you. It's not often that I come across one I like, or more precisely, a wine I like more than a wide array of French, Italian, Spanish and Californian wines.

                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  Well, in a way you're right insofar as the labels I remember are not cheap any more. Nevertheless in flipping through the Wine Enthusiast ratings there are others that offer good value today.

                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Bill I would agree on the good values from Chile. Not really there. I am sure there are a dozen or so per vintage under $20 but might find one a year I like.

                                                    1. re: wineglas1

                                                      I keep trying, based on many glowing reports both here, and elsewhere, but never find the good wines, and at any price-point.

                                                      Maybe one day, Chile will gather my attention, or maybe I will just find the "winners," that I have missed for decades?


                                                2. While I don't buy Merlot from the US as often as Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cab I do enjoy it from good producers. Like any grape you have to research and know what you are doing. Here are some really good Merlots from some rock star producers. I did not even mention the great blends out there.

                                                  •2009 Ridge Merlot Estate - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains (1/27/2013)
                                                  This will improve over time and shows cherry, cedar, minerals, blueberries and medium to long finish. Picks up vanilla and mint on the finish. Drink now through 2016. 91 to 93. (91 points)

                                                  •2004 Switchback Ridge Merlot Peterson Family Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley (12/20/2012)
                                                  Oustanding Merlot with blueberries, coffee, spice, minerals and cherry. Wonderful aromas and rich wine with a ton of flavors. Medium to long finish and tannins have soften over time. This should drink well for another five plus years. 93 to 95. (93 points)

                                                  •2006 Beringer Vineyards Merlot Single Vineyard Bancroft Ranch - USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (10/31/2012)
                                                  Drinking well with cherry, blueberries, violets and mild oak. Good New World Merlot effort. (91 points)

                                                  •2005 Barnett Vineyards Merlot Spring Mountain District - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (2/2/2012)
                                                  Minneapolis Wine Club California Merlot; 2/1/2012-2/2/2012: This is the best Merlot I have tasted from California for under $50. Again a great showing with cherry, spice, blueberries, earth and tannins are smooth. Long finish and elegant. I could drink this wine every night and a certain top ten visit again for the year in review 2012. (95 points)

                                                  •2004 Paloma Merlot - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (2/2/2012)
                                                  Minneapolis Wine Club California Merlot; 2/1/2012-2/2/2012: Amazing stuff with blueberries, spice, cherry, plums and earth. Complex wine and long finish. Not a power house but very aromatic and tasty. Drink now or cellar for five years. Wonderful! (94 points)

                                                  •2006 Hall Merlot - USA, California, Napa Valley (12/5/2011)
                                                  A really nice effort showing spice, blueberries, oak, vanilla and cherry notes. Medium finish and should evolve into one of the best Merlots from the vintage. (92 points)

                                                  •2008 Pahlmeyer Merlot - USA, California, Napa Valley (11/26/2011)
                                                  My favorite producer of Merlot in the US and this wine delivers cherry, spice, oak, vanilla and Rose petals. Medium to long finish and firm tannins. This wine should have a decade of enjoyment and I would hold for now. (93 points)

                                                  1. Another for Beringer "Bancroft Ranch." For the other long time fans, I just opened my last bottle of 1995 and it showed incredibly well for an old CA Merlot but I'm glad I did as it only has a year or two left IMO. Otherwise.

                                                    Going more or less from more expensive to less expensive depending on where you live and where you are buying and has not been mentioned I like...

                                                    Pride Napa/Sonoma
                                                    Miner "Stagecoach"
                                                    Sterling "Three Palms"
                                                    Frog's Leap
                                                    Benzinger (Top Value Pick--like people have said about CDB, I was blown away a Merlot under $20 retail could be this complex and balanced)

                                                    And while not from CA, I feel a shoutout is necessary when talking about American Merlot to Leonetti in Washington (Zin already mentioned the values from the Apple State). Ain't cheap, but if you have a fat stack of cash burning a hole in your pocket look em up.