Many years ago I walked into a wine store and the clerk approached me with a question: “What’s your favorite wine?” Hmmm.
It’s an honest question, but anyone who has tasted as much wine as I have will never be able to provide an answer. Another version of the inquiry sounds like this, “What sort of wine varieties do you like best?”
Same hesitation, on my part. Even a single variety can present itself as endless. Perhaps none more so than merlot, which thrives in France, Italy, Chile, the United States and Australia. Simplified, merlot provides silky tannins and red or dark fruit — it’s complex and depended upon in blends but can fashion a staid single varietal wine. I’ve found that versatility on the table is a characteristic that is often overlooked.
To prove that merlot has the gumption to fill any need, here are 18 bottles — all from California — that present their own stand. Various price points, growing philosophies, flavor profiles, vineyard origins, winemaking techniques. Something for everyone, with a meal to match — that’s merlot.
Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Atlas Peak Merlot 2014 ($60)
Love mountain fruit? Try Atlas Peak which is east of Yountville and above the foothills of the Stags Leap District — rocky, volcanic soil is a calling card. Pair with Herb Crusted Lamb Chops.
Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch Merlot 2016 ($20)
Selected from several merlot vineyard blocks on characteristic ancient sea bed soils farmed by family grower-makers with roots in Paso Robles. Pair with Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Salsa.
Turnbull Napa Valley Oakville Fortuna Merlot 2014 ($110)
Highly-acclaimed merlot with elegant spice and red fruit. My 2017 tasting at Turnbull was one of my Napa Valley highlights — highly recommended. Pair with Beef and Mushroom Risotto.
J. Lohr Paso Robles Los Osos Merlot 2016 ($15)
Whole berry fermentation and a round-out with malbec brighten this merlot from the El Pomar District of Paso Robles. Drink now or hold for five years. Pair with Smoked Tri-Tip Sandwiches with Chimichurri Sauce from Vindulge.
Markham Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2015 ($26.99)
Napa Valley fruit from Oak Knoll, Yountville and Calistoga age separately in the barrel then come together in this bottle, rich with a range of cherry expression. Pair with Grilled Beef with Sesame Dressing.
Still Waters Vineyards Paso Robles El Pomar District Merlot 2014 ($29)
Sustainably-farmed Still Waters vineyards are knitted with an olive grove. A complex wine of berry and pink pepper. Pair with Antipasti and Chopped Olive Tapenade.
Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2015 ($56)
Representing a range of Napa Valley vineyards, from the Duckhorn estate and partner growers — one to try for a capture of the region. Pair with Merlot Potroast with Horseradish Smashed Potatoes.
Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2015 ($98)
Another from Duckhorn, but they are truly a leader when it comes to California merlot. I featured the 2014 release of this wine last year and the story behind the vineyard is fascinating — very much worth a read. Pair with Beef Wellington.
Bonterra California Merlot 2016 ($16)
Bonterra, in Mendocino County, is one of the most compelling wineries to watch, in my opinion. Totally organic and biodynamic (this bottle is organic), award-winning, point-scoring, utterly well-made wine. An absolute value as one of the most affordable wines on the list, yet cared for as attentively as anything you’ll drink this year. Pair with Roasted Veggies with Red Wine Reduction.
Lava Cap El Dorado Sierra Foothills Merlot 2015 ($24)
As a fan of small-production, mountain wines, Lava Cap up in El Dorado has really caught my eye this year. El Dorado in total has really caught my eye this year. Pair with Pappardelle with Porcini and Pistachios.
Chelsea Goldschmidt Alexander Valley Guidestone Rise Merlot 2016 ($19.99)
Dark and full-bodied, this is a dense and rich merlot, as lush at it gets with this yummy bottle from Alexander Valley in Sonoma. Pair with Roasted Duck with Licorice Merlot Sauce.
Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Block 20 Merlot 2015 ($70)
I find Stags’ Leap wines to be endlessly delicious and this single-block, estate-grown wine is a lovely example of the precision at play in the vineyard and cellar. Pair with Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce.
Toad Hollow Vineyards Sonoma County Merlot 2015 ($16.99)
Toad Hollow Vineyards has charmed me since the first bottle — not just the wines, but the full house approach. You simply must check out their website and bottle art to see what I mean. Pair with Merlot Minestrone.
Murrieta’s Well Livermore Valley Small Lot Merlot 2014 ($46)
If you haven’t rushed into Livermore Valley wines, perhaps the time has come. Start with Murrieta’s Well for a taste of quality you’ll return to time and time again — more on the estate here. Pair with Wild Mushroom Ravioli in Sage and Brown Butter Sauce.
Robert Hall Paso Robles Merlot 2015 ($20)
This happens to be the Robert Hall Wine of the Month, with a nice discount on six. But the real draw is the silky concentration of this Paso Robles bottle. Pair with Emeril’s Beef Stroganoff.
Fetzer California Eagle Peak Merlot 2015 ($10)
Fetzer celebrates 50 years with a deep flashback on the memories and experience they’ve cultivated as Mendocino County wine pioneers. In the same winemaking family as aforementioned Bonterra, this is truly (truly) a value buy — ten bucks goes a superbly long way on this one. Pair with Braised Pork Chops with Dried Fruits and Cinnamon Couscous
Ehlers Estate Napa Valley St. Helena Merlot 2014 ($55)
Single variety wines often have a sprinkling of blending involved, with appellations generally allowing somewhere between 15%-25% of this to occur without degrading the labeling authenticity. This particular wine weaves in some luscious cabernet franc — 100% organic. Pair with Skirt Steak with Pinto Beans and Pasilla Chile Vinaigrette.
Decoy Sonoma County Merlot 2015 ($25)
Situated in the same family as aforementioned Duckhorn, Decoy’s Merlot is a trusted standard in Sonoma County, a great price on a wine that tends to follow Napa style. Pair with Roast Chicken and Mushrooms With Red Wine Sauce.
Wine Pairing Weekend
Our Wine Pairing Weekend group loves to find creative, new pairings of wines with food. Take a look at all these great ideas when they go live on Friday and Saturday this week as we celebrate #MerlotMe, the October rally around this particular variety. Think this group loves merlot or something?
Here on L’Occasion we share “#MerlotMe In The Kitchen“
Cindy at Grape-Experiences writes “#MerlotMe with Family, Friends, and Food“
Lori at Dracaena shares “ #MerlotMe and the Little Chef “
Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Washington #MerlotMe Paired with Ahi Tuna and Salmon for #WinePW“
Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Celebrating #Merlotme with Duckhorn & L’Ecole 41”
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “So Many Merlots, So Many Pairings for #WinePW“
Martin at Enofylz shares “Penne Boscaiola Paired with 2015 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot“
David at Cooking Chat shares “BBQ Beef Stew with Three Palms Merlot“
Michelle at Rockin Red Blog shares “Enough Already! Just Drink Merlot”
Sarah at Curious Cuisiniere shares “Peking Duck and a Merlot Wine Pairing“
Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Food Pairings for Merlot Lovers“
Julian at BC Wine Trends shares “BC Merlot with Ribs for Thanksgiving”
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “A month of #MerlotMe Wine and Food Pairings”
Nicole at Somms Table shares “2 oz Pour: #MerlotMe Moments“
Liz from What’s in that Bottle shares “I’ve Got #MerlotMe Mania”
Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Merlot for Every Day of the Week”