The third-most planted wine grape in the world, Merlot is popular both as a stand-alone varietal and as a blending grape. This grape is endemic to Bordeaux, France, but has been grown throughout warmer European appellations for around 200 years. Now, Merlot has made its way all over the world and is popular in the Americas, Southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A relatively subtle grape with less tannin than the closely related Cabernet Sauvignon, wine made solely from Merlot grapes tends to be fruity and smooth and usually won't hold up to many years of cellaring, reaching its peak after 5 to 15 years. Of course, there are some exceptional Merlots that continue to mature for many decades.
There are two main styles of Merlot, the Old World style that makes use of earlier harvests in order to emphasize soft fruit flavors. These wines are lower in alcohol than New World style Merlots. In the New World, Merlot grapes are often left on the vines a little longer, giving them a chance to develop a more concentrated flavor and an increased sugar content. The extra sugar in the grapes does not lead to a sweet wine, but is instead metabolized by the yeast in order to make a wine with a higher alcohol content preferred by many New World drinkers. These wines have jammier flavors with an emphasis on plum and blackberry, and more soft tannins that give them more body than their Old World counterparts.
Best Merlot Overall:
Like most red wines, a good bottle of Merlot can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on its age, quality, and the availability of the vintage in question. We chose the best Merlots because they are well-respected and easy to come by. The most expensive wines on this list range in price from $20 to $100, making it easy to find a superb bottle of wine in your price range. The wines on this list are made in both Old World and New World styles, since the best style really is a matter of personal preference. Old World Merlot tends to be lighter in body and alcohol, while New World Merlot emphasizes a rich jammy flavor and is usually higher in alcohol. Since these are all relatively young wines, some of them will benefit from a little more time in the cellar.
An exquisite wine with a silky smooth finish, Petrolo Galatrona '11 is one of the best Merlots on the market today. This wine has notes of dark fruit and chocolate that are perfectly balanced by notes of earthy olive. To experience this wine at it's best, you'll want to wait a few years, but be sure to get a couple bottles now before this year's vintage sells out. Read Full Review
A blend of 77 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3 percent Petit Verdot, Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot '11 is a full-bodied Merlot that accentuates the characteristics of this grape by carefully blending it with bolder grapes. It has the flavors of plum and blackberry that you'd expect in a Merlot, as well as spice, vanilla, and sour cherry that help to set this wine apart from the competition. Read Full Review
Grown in vineyards at the Jack London Estate in Northern California, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Merlot '10 is one of our Best Picks. This wine has rich complex flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, and spice, and a long, smooth finish with plenty of structure. Though it's excellent right now, it'll be even better in a couple of years, if you can leave it alone for that long. Read Full Review
A full bodied wine that doesn't overwhelm the palate, Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot '11 is an excellent representation of the best qualities of New World Merlot. This wine has notes of plum and black cherry and soft dusty tannins that linger on the palate. It's blended with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon in order to give it a little extra structure, and is bold enough to pair well with a variety of meat dishes. Read Full Review
Made of 100 percent Merlot, Chateau La Fleur de Gay '06 is a soft red wine with notes of blueberry, raspberry, and truffle. The tannins are very subtle, and the finish long and smooth. This is an excellent wine that has matured nicely over the past 8 years and will continue to round out over the next decade. Read Full Review
Best Merlot under $20:
It's easy to spend a hundred dollars or more on a good bottle of Merlot but it certainly isn't necessary. For our list of the Best Merlot Under $20, we looked for wines with great flavor and complexity that won't burn a hole in your wallet, even if you feel like splurging on a case. These wines have been well-received by the professional wine community and by casual wine drinkers alike. They're soft and smooth, with lots of bright fruit flavors, and enough body that they can be paired with meat. All of these wines are also from recent vintages, making them relatively easy to find in wine shops and liquor stores. All of these wines are New World style Merlots, which are the most popular with most Merlot drinkers around the world, and the easiest to find outside of Bordeaux, France.
If you're looking for a complex Merlot that's soft and perfectly smooth, Liberty School Merlot '11 is an excellent choice. This wine has strawberry and violet on the nose, and plum and raspberry on the palate. It's fruity, smooth, and subtle, though structured enough to showcase all the best qualities of the Merlot grape. Read Full Review
Dry Creek Valley Merlot '10 is an excellent wine with lots of complexity and the full-bodied flavor prized in New World Merlot. This wine has flavors of jammy fruit, including plum and blackberry, that are complimented by rich flavors of chocolate and coffee. It's smooth and incredibly drinkable, which is only a problem if you don't have enough bottles around. Read Full Review
With dried berry and mint on the nose, and red berries and clean earth on the palate, Tin Roof Merlot '09 is a complex wine that's one of the best deals around. Soft and smooth, this wine pairs well with white meat and doesn't need any additional time in the wine cellar, thanks to a considerable amount of time spent aging in French and American oak barrels. Read Full Review
Since it's sourced from the best grapes grown across three counties, Francis Coppola Diamond Merlot is a Non-Vintage wine, even though there's a new release each year. This allows Coppola to produce the best possible wine each year, while keeping costs low. The Merlot is soft and smooth, with notes of fresh berry and vanilla on the nose and plum and raspberry on the palate. Read Full Review
An intensely flavorful wine, Buena Vista Carneros Merlot '10 is one of the best Merlots for under $20. It has plum and rhubarb pie on the nose, and cherry and tart cranberry on the palate, with just a hint of black pepper to give it a kick. Hailing from Carneros, an appellation just south of Napa and Sonoma Counties, this wine is an excellent example of how good a soft, fruit-forward Merlot can be. Read Full Review