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Wine

Best Merlot

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.

Liberty School Merlot '11

Liberty School Merlot '11

An award winning wine from the Central Coast of California, Liberty School Merlot '11 is one of the best Merlots around, and at under $20, it's also one of the best buys. This wine is softer than many California Merlots, with aromas of strawberry, cherry, and violet, and flavors of plum, and raspberry. This wine doesn't change much in character from first sip to the end of the long finish, giving it a great consistency that makes it incredibly drinkable. The tannins are also smooth and soft enough that they don't overpower the wine. Though 2011 was a tough year for vineyards in California, the decreased yields didn't lead to an inferior quality of wine, just a smaller amount of it, so this wine may be in short supply before long.

Dry Creek Valley Merlot '10

Dry Creek Valley Merlot '10

Made in the classic New World style, Dry Creek Valley Merlot '10 is one of our Best Picks. This wine is made from 88 percent Merlot, with 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 percent Petite Sirah for extra structure and body. Though the Merlot grapes are blended with a couple more powerful varietals, this wine is still classic Merlot and shows off the soft, supple character of this wine. You'll taste plum and jammy blackberry in this wine, as well as subtle notes of milk chocolate and medium-roasted coffee. The aroma is also complex and well-balanced, with just a hint of sweet red licorice. It can be kept in the cellar for a couple years, but this wine is ready to drink right away.

Tin Roof Merlot '09

Tin Roof Merlot '09

For an excellent Merlot that's a steal, Tin Roof Merlot '09 is a great choice. This wine is blended from grapes grown in California's coastal wine regions, which offer cool climates that help bring out the soft fruit flavors of Merlot grapes. The aroma is on the bold side, with dried berry and a hint of clean mint. The flavor has lots of big berry flavors that are perfectly complemented by earthy undertones. The tannins are incredibly soft through still pronounced, and the finish long and satiny. Aged in oak, this wine has been given ample time for the flavors to develop in complexity and it's ready to drink right away.

Francis Coppola Diamond Merlot

Francis Coppola Diamond Merlot

Coppola may be new to the world of winemaking by European standards, but this winery has made quite the name for itself over the past two decades. The Francis Coppola Diamond Merlot is an excellent one and one of our Best Picks. Sourced from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey Counties, Coppola is able to choose the best grapes grown each year to make each new edition of this well-crafted, affordable wine. Like most New World Merlots, this wine has flavors of plum and raspberry, aromas of berry, vanilla, and leather, and extra-soft tannins that give it plenty of structure without the dry bite that unrestrained tannins can cause.

Buena Vista Carneros Merlot '10

Buena Vista Carneros Merlot '10

Made from grapes grown in 2010, which was an excellent year for California Merlot, Buena Vista Carneros Merlot '10 is one of our favorite Merlots. Though Carneros isn't as well known as Napa and Sonoma Valleys to the north, it's widely regarded as one of the best appellations in the world, enjoying a mild, slightly cool climate all year long. This winery's Merlot is intensely flavorful, with lots of big berry flavors, including cherry, and cranberry, and just a hint of black pepper spice that gives this wine quite a kick. The nose has notes of sweet plum and rhubarb pie, and the mouthfeel is soft and supple, making this an excellent wine all-around and a perfect representation of how good a New World Merlot can be.

Petrolo Galatrona '11

Petrolo Galatrona '11

Hailing from Tuscany, an appellation in Italy that's known for producing excellent Merlot, Petrolo Galatrona '11 is our favorite Merlot. Though it's a little on the pricey side, it's worth the extra money and really is superb. It scores in the mid to high 90's with wine critics and is well-loved by wine enthusiasts. Though it's made by an Old World vintner, this wine shows off the big fruit flavors and silky smooth tannins praised by New World wine enthusiasts. The flavors include black cherry, blackberry, and chocolate, as well as a hint of acidic olive. It's finished with a malolactic fermentation that gives it a buttery mouthfeel. Galatrona is exquisite right now but won't reach its peak for at least a few more years. It'll be at its best between 2016 and 2026.

Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot '11

Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot '11

Many 2011 Napa Valley wines suffered from an early harvest in order to protect them from a foggy summer, but Blueline Estate was protected from the fog and the grapes grown here had the chance to reach their peak under the careful watch of the viticulturists. The resulting Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot '11 is an excellent wine and one of our Best Picks. This wine has notes of toasted vanilla, sour cherry, and spice, as well as the plum and blackberry that New World Merlot is known for. The mouthfeel is soft and smooth. The Merlot grapes were blended with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which helps to make this a slightly more powerful Merlot than wines made entirely from this soft, supple grape.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Merlot '10

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Merlot '10

A well-known California winery with widespread distribution at both retail stores and restaurants, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Merlot '10 is a great choice when it comes to New World style Merlot. This wine is herbal and fruity, with flavors of dark fruit and tobacco. The wine is quite tannic, but the tannins are so silky smooth that they go down easy on the long finish. Blended with 2 percent Cabernet Sauvignon to give the wine extra body, this is a Merlot that will hold up to rich dinners, particularly when paired with meats that are cooked with herbs. Excellent right now, this wine will continue to mature over the next few years and will be even better in 2016.

Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot '11

Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot '11

Grown in the cool climate of Washington State, Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot '11 is a fruit forward, rich wine that embodies all the best qualities of New World Merlot. It's soft on the tongue with a long finish that has plenty of smooth tannins. Full bodied without being overwhelming, this wine has flavors and aromas of plum and black cherry. In order to give the wine a little more structure so that the delicate qualities of the Merlot don't fall flat, a little Cabernet Sauvignon is added. This is a wine that consistently scores in the 90's with the wine critics at Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits.

Chateau La Fleur de Gay '06

Chateau La Fleur de Gay '06

Chateau La Fleur de Gay '06 is an incredible Merlot made in Bordeaux, France, the region that first introduced the world to this incredible grape. There's no Cabernet Sauvignon or Petit Verdot blended into this wine to take away from the fresh, soft flavor of the Merlot, allowing this grape to truly shine. Characteristic of Old World Merlot, this wine has aromas of raspberry and blueberry, with just of hint of smokey truffle. Softer and lower in alcohol than New World Merlot, this wine pairs well with white meat that can be easily overwhelmed by bigger wines. Since it's 8 years old, it's had plenty of time to mature, though an extra 10 years in the bottle certainly won't hurt it.

Crystal Beran
Crystal Beran has spent the past 10 years immersed in the exciting and delicious world of food and drink. She has honed her cooking skills as a baker, a caterer, and a personal chef, and currently spends a good deal of her time training the next generation of young chefs. Her work as a wine steward has helped her to develop a discerning palate and a love of excellent wines from all over the world. Over the years, she has had the good fortune to visit wineries in Northern California, Tanzania, France, and Italy. In her spare time, she brews beer and invents delectable dishes to share with friends, family, and students.
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