Despite what Paul Giamatti's character declares in Sideways, here's why it's time for oenophiles to begin to appreciate this easygoing grape.
Peju is a great midrange price-point merlot.
When I pour my single-vineyard merlot at tastings, I’m often met with raised eyebrows and tilted heads. “Merlot?” my guests ask, hesitantly extending their glasses. “Yes, my favorite, and perhaps the most historically beloved grape of all,” I tell them—usually to their dismay.
The distrust for merlot began almost 20 years ago when Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, in the hit film Sideways, exclaimed, “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving! I am not drinking [expletive] merlot!” It was an inside joke by a merlot-loving character that few understood. And as a result, moviegoers, many of whom found wine confusing or intimidating, were relieved to know one thing for sure: Merlot was not to be trusted. This moment, in conjunction with the reality that there are a lot of bad merlots out there (many in jugs and in boxes), changed the fate of one of the world’s most beloved grapes.
First, merlot is not only one of the most celebrated grapes in Bordeaux, but it also makes wine that comes in a range of flavors and is among the most balanced and ageworthy. As Michelin-star celebrity chef Christopher Kostow recently noted, “My wife and friends tend to drink merlot when we’re grilling at home. It drinks easily, is less tannic and is great with simple, unsauced, grilled meats.”
The grape is also relatively easy to grow, full-flavored yet silky, as good on its own as it is in a blend and pairs easily with all kinds of cuisines. Merlot is like the friend that’s down to eat anywhere, stay up late and party or hang out on the couch and watch a movie.
Bonterra boasts an exceptional value.
“It’s well known in the wine-pro world that merlot is an underrated varietal,” says certified sommelier Meghan Vergara. “Somms often look to specific producers and expressions of merlot to find some of the best price-to-value ratios in red wines. When you study wine, you know that, historically, good merlot stands on its own, and it wasn’t until recently that it fell out of favor. That’s about to change, based on everything I’m seeing from some of the best producers in Napa Valley. It’s time to take another look at well-made merlot.”
So, for those who think they don’t like merlot, become acquainted with this infamous wine immediately. Here’s our roundup of great California merlots to enjoy in the months ahead. We’ve categorized the wines at three price levels.
Organically farmed, rich, silky and full of strawberry and ripe, red fruit flavors.
A cabernet drinker’s merlot that’s bold, velvety and boasts flavors of black cherry and spice.
Lush and complex, this merlot is a great value with tastes of dark berries and chocolate.
Gorgeous bottles from Silverado, Titus and Kunde
Full of bright fruit, this nuanced merlot is one of five prized wines Markham features.
Oenophiles will love this smooth but intense merlot with layers of award-winning flavor and cabernetlike structure.
J.O. Sullivan vineyards
Subtle yet playful, this estate-grown merlot boasts flavors of fresh raspberry and red fruits.
A bold cabernet-lovers merlot, this rare wine is rich, fruit-forward and well structured.
Duckhorn Three Palm
Deep strawberry, tart cranberry and floral notes make this layered wine a local favorite.
Another bold cabernet-lovers merlot, a dark fruit and holiday spice headline this flavorful red.
Cocoa, blackberry and fresh herbs abound in this deep, complex merlot.
Full of unexpected flavor, this merlot is a journey of earthy textures, blueberry and plum.
Saison 2017 Santa Cruz
Duckhorn is counted among the world’s best merlots, and this is its flagship. Enough said.
Dark chocolate, toasty spice, depth, complexity and everything nice. A worthy splurge.
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY BOB MCCLENAHAN; PHOTO COURTESY OF MARKHAM VINEYARDS; PHOTO BY FRANK GUTIERREZ; PHOTO: BY ANDY KATZ PHOTOGRAPHY; PHOTO: COURTESY OF PEJU WINERY; PHOTO BY SARA SANGER; PHOTO: COURTESY OF SULLIVAN RUTHERFORD ESTATE; PHOTO: COURTESY OF REGAN VINEYARD; PHOTO: BY WILDLY SIMPLE PRODUCTIONS