Wine Reviews: Merlot

For our latest round of the National Retailer Wine Panel reviews, we asked panelists to review Merlot.

Panelists are retailer or on-premise alcohol professionals: shop owners, heads of wine departments, sommeliers, beverage program managers, etcetera. As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which can vary from store to store and market to market). Unless noted otherwise, the price reflects a 750-ml. bottle.

Rating System

Five Stars (100-92): A top-flight wine, superior in taste and character, and providing a superior price/value ratio.

Four Stars (91-86): A very good wine and an excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.

Five Star Wines

(97) Alexander Valley Vineyards Estate Merlot, 2014 (Alexander Valley, Sonoma). The Alexander Valley AVA has been compared to Bordeaux in terms of growing conditions, and this vintage continues a 30-year tradition for producing classic, rich, full-bodied Merlots. Winemaker Kevin Hall has crafted a beautiful wine with rich, juicy black fruit flavors with hints of pepper and spice. Fifteen months in oak has added a rich structure. The end result is silky elegance with a long lingering finish. A wine unfazed by fads that has stayed true in style for those who truly appreciate Merlot. ($20.00)

(96) Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard 2013 (Napa). It is probably fitting that one of the original pioneers of Merlot continues to produce this classic version sourced from one of the valley’s original single-vineyard sites. Winemaker Renee Ary takes a classical approach, adding balanced amounts of Cabernet, Malbec, and Petite Verdot, and then aging for 18 months in rich French oak. A classic new-world Merlot, rich, complex, bursting with lean silky fruit. ($98.99)

(96) Nearco, Col D’Orcia 2012 (Sant’ Antimo, Italy). A lovely example of Tuscan winemaking, outside of the Sangiovese box. Half Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a touch of Petit Verdot. Youthful ruby color in the glass, with aromas and flavors of red fruit, and hints of vanilla and spice. A long and elegant finish. ($42)

(95) The Weekender Experience 2009 (Napa Valley). A venture of Donny Sebastian and the Lamonica Family, who own prime vineyards just outside of the Stag’s Leap AVA. They produce five stunning wines, displaying gorgeous varietal characteristics along with subtle terroir hints. The Merlot is beautiful and elegant with a lush floral bouquet that leads to flavors of blueberry, black currant and a slight toasty nuance. The velvety texture finishes with supple tannins that balance the whole. Even die-hard Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados will love this Merlot! ($44.99)

(95) Miner Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot 2013 (Napa Valley, CA). Dark ruby in the glass, the nose is dominated by powerful dark fruit, and some vanilla. The palate follows along the same line, with good weight and length. Truly lovely. ($40)

(95) Chateau Barrail Chevrol 2014 (Fronsac, Bordeaux). A classic example of the appellation. 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Hints of blackberry, cherry and spice lead to a lengthy finish with firm tannins and rich earthy notes. Nice now, it will develop for five years or more. Also, it’s a great value! ($14.99)

(95) Franciscan Reserve Merlot 2013 (Napa Valley, CA). Nearly all Merlot, with a small amount of Syrah, and a hint of Cabernet. Quite deep in color, with lots of black cherry, some dried fruit and a nice splash of vanilla. The palate has plenty of weight, with the cherry shining through, accented by some vanilla and chocolate notes. A very long finish. ($45)

(95) Chateau Fontbernard 2010 (Montagne Saint-Emilion). A truly classic Right Bank Rouge, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvuignon. Soft, bright aromas and flavors of cherry, red currant and plum meld with hints of spice, sweet tobacco and finish with supple tannins. There are some lovely earth/mineral notes surrounding the whole that define the appellation. The 2010 is very approachable now, but will cellar nicely for three-to-five years. ($18.99)

(95) Maison Nicolas Merlot 2015 (Pays D’oc I.G.P., France). Maison Nicolas has long been famous for importing excellent French wines that represent great quality and value. This Merlot has lovely floral/black fruit aromas. It is soft and ripe on the palate with hints of blackberry, coffee and allspice. The finish is long with a perfect balance of fruit/acids/tannins. Although a modern style, there’s a hint of terroir that says “Languedoc!” An unbeatable value! ($10.99)


(94) Frog’s Leap 2012 (Napa). An elegant, superb Merlot. Full-bodied dark fruit with hints of plum and raspberry. Complex and balanced, with perfectly integrated tannins, make this one delicious drink. ($42.95)

(94) B.R. Cohn Merlot Petricka Vineyard 2013 (Sonoma Valley, CA). A single-vineyard, single-variety Merlot. No blending involved. Dark ruby in the glass, the nose is dominated by dark fruit, with plenty of black cherry and boysenberry. The palate is very similar, with fine tannins and an attractive finish. ($36)

(94) Matthiason Red Hen Vineyard Merlot 2011 (California). A complex and fascinating wine that walks the line between new and old world. It has a cool, finessed character wherein red currant, bing cherries, graphite, espresso bean and cacao nibs are on display. Incredibly pure. For my taste, this is best Cali Merlot I can recall. ($77.99)

(94) Northstar Merlot 2012 (Washington). The epitome of great Washington Merlot. Dark cherry and vanilla flavors work so nice together. The perfect balance of oak makes the finish long and memorable. Big, bold and built to last. Lay this wine down to enjoy for years to come. ($35)

(94) J.Lohr Cuvee Pom, 2013 (Paso Robles). The ultimate expression of Merlot from J.Lohr. This is their homage to the great Pomerol blends from Bordeaux. Winemaker Steve Peck starts with a classic blending of Merlot and Malbec, then subtly blends in trace amounts of Cabernet and Cabernet Franc. Paso Robles sourcing offers a truly viable alternative to Napa for exceptional fruit. Aged 18 months in French oak. ($59.99)

(93) Columbia Winery Merlot 2014  (Columbia Valley, WA). A large percentage of Merlot, complemented by 11% Syrah and 2% Petit Verdot. Intense dark ruby in color, the nose is dominated by red fruit, with touches of plum and spice. The palate follows suit, with the hints of spice coming to the forefront. Clean and balanced finish. Quite a bargain! ($16)

(92) Charles Krug 2012. A “Cab-lover’s Merlot.” Great structure. Lots of mocha, currant and vanilla to hold up to a grilled steak. ($24)

(92) Luisa Merlot 2014 (Isonzo del Friuli, Veneto, Italy). Pure Merlot, with a minimum of oak exposure, from northeastern Italy. Quite dark in the glass, the black fruit components dominate, due to the fermentation and aging in steel. Lovely and supple, a great Merlot for those who want to taste the grape, and not so much the barrel. A great wine, at a great price. ($23)


Four Star Wines

(91) Alexander Valley Vineyards Homestead Red 2014 (Alexander Valley, Sonoma). Merlot is the foundation for this delightful red blend. Each component’s vilified separately, and then winemaker Kevin Hall adds Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cab and Syrah to round out the blend. Lighter in style, very balanced, easy drinking, with concentrated fruit flavors. Oak aging for 13 months ties the whole package together. Very versatile wine for almost any food group, but fantastic with Texas BBQ. ($20.00)

(91) Duckhorn 2013 (Napa). Founded in 1976, and one of the original cult Merlot-producers. Winemaker Renee Ary utilizes estate fruit in conjunction with other top sites in the valley to produce this state-of-the-art offering. Classic valley fruit enhanced with Cabernet and Cab Franc is aged for 15 months in French Oak. Warm, rich, full-bodied. Pure velvet for beginning to end. ($57.99)

(90) Boomtown 2013 (Washington). Medium bodied with lots of dark, lush fruit. Long finish and perfect with your favorite grilled meat. ($16.95)

(90) Magana Navarra Merlot 2011 (Spain). A wine made only in the best vintages and only nine times since 1979. This exemplifies the darker, denser expression of Merlot with caramelized cherries, smoke, rich loam and bay leaf. Somewhat gritty tannins should integrate with time. ($66.49)

(90) Joel Gott Merlot 2014 (Paso Robles). Consistent quality with other Gott wines. Hints of vanilla with blanced blackberry and dark chocolate. Soft, juicy finish. ($16)

(90) Markham Merlot 2013 (California). A fruit bomb with hints of chocolate. While this wine starts out very juicy, the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon adds a very tannic dry finish. Overall, a great versatile wine to pair with steak, burgers or roasted chicken dishes. ($22)

(90) 90+ Cellars Lot 92 (California). Good value for everyday sipping. Medium-bodied with hints of plum and cedar. Great with mushrooms! ($10)

(90) Chateau Lyonnat Saint-Emilion 2010 (France). This beautifully produced Bordeaux is just bursting with deep rich flavors. Big dark berry and licorice are the most prevalent. Tannins in this have mellowed with age. Wood and smoke mingle nicely on the finish. Drinking at its best now. ($20)

(90) Perimeter Merlot 2013 (Washington State). Sweet red fruits on the nose with a palate of raspberry, cherry cola and a hint of vanilla. Lush and round, there is some spice and a lovely strawberry vanilla finish. ($14)

(90) La Croix Belle Merlot Cotes du Thongue 2014  (France). Quite seductive and a real surprise. Silky, ripe, smooth dark plums are framed by hints of spices and fresh tealeaves. The persistent, fresh, polished finish is where this really satisfies. ($16)

(90) Racine Merlot IGP 2015 (France). Very nicely balanced with good crunchy fruit flavors of blackberries and cassis with an underlying freshness that provides lift. Makes an excellent choice for appetizers or a poultry or pork course. ($14)

3etn9py6inw-photo-nic-co-uk-nic-2(89) Chateau St Michele Merlot, Indian Wells Vineyard 2014 (Washington). Berry and red fruit aroma, with flavors of blackberry and cherry. Tannins are moderate and the finish is medium in length and pleasant. Has some Syrah blended in. ($18.99)

(89) Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Merlot 2012 (Washington). With a warm and generous personality, this wine offers up ripe plum, dark chocolate and cloves. The flavors are complimented by a pleasant, velvet-like texture. ($15.49)

(89) J.Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot 2014 (Paso Robles). Winemaker Steve Peck has produced a another classic Paso Merlot. Rich, full-bodied, with plummy dense fruit. 15% Malbec adds complexity, while aging in American oak for 12 months completes the formula. Rich black fruit flavors complement the hints of bitter chocolate, and lead to a long lingering finish. ($18.99)

(89) Rios 2014 (Chile). A surprisingly fresh take on Merlot. Leaner European style with lovely currant and mineral nuances. Perfect with your favorite cheese plate. ($16.95)

(88) Duckhorn Decoy 2014 (Sonoma). Winemaker Don Labored sources from over a dozen prime sites in Sonoma, including the famed Ridgeline vineyard. Rich, complex and silky smooth with a touch of Malbec and Cab Franc added to lend complexity. Aged 10 months in oak, this wine is a tremendous value. ($26.99)

(87) Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County (California). Red fruit aroma. Flavors are Cassis and cherry, with a hint of chocolate. Tannins are of medium intensity with a medium-long finish. ($15.99)

(87) Toad Hollow Merlot 2014 (Sonoma County, CA). Berries, plum and spice on the nose. Currant, plum and cassis flavors. Tannins are a little higher than most Merlots. This is more of a Cabernet-drinker’s Merlot. ($12.99)

If you’re a beverage professional with a specialty in wine and you’re interested in participating in the panel, please contact managing editor Kyle Swartz at or 203-855-8499 x225.


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