6 years ago

Top Merlot recommendations

When it comes to finding a really good Merlot, you need to choose wisely! Bill Belkin, category manager for our Wines & Spirits locations, explains why.

Merlot: What a flashpoint for a vinous debate! In this season of presidential prevarications, let’s look at the facts:

  • Merlot is what is known as a “noble varietal:” a grape that was originally planted by kings and queens.
  • Merlot is a softer, more early ripening alternative to Cabernet and therefore does not have the tannic qualities that sometimes scare folks away from Cabernet.
  • Merlot is also one of only five red varietals approved to constitute a Bordeaux wine – unarguably the most famous wine region in the world!
  • Merlot took an unfair beating from Hollywood in that fictional film many years ago.
  • Merlot has also been a “victim” of many wineries who were racing to capitalize on its popularity by bottling
    cheap, under-ripe, thin, herbaceous versions that are hard to smell and harder to drink. A perfect storm if you will, to basically relegate a once popular grape to the “back of the wine-bus!”

Here’s a little secret from a career wine-geek: Good Merlot was not – and still is not – cheap! You may find an under-$10 Chardonnay that you think is dandy, but an under-$10 Merlot? Not likely. As I already mentioned,
Merlot has a thinner skin and ripens earlier than Cabernet, therefore it’s quite site-specific and is susceptible to a whole bunch of ripening and flavor development issues. In other words, choose carefully.

The flavors? How about cedar, sandalwood, mocha and black cherries? Who doesn’t like those things? Merlot is not a tannic beast either, perfect for a lean cut of steak cooked medium-rare to medium, or BBQ chicken with a glaze. Yup, Merlot is the ticket. And as a blending partner, Merlot has no peer! In fact, many wines from Bordeaux, including an important co-star in THAT movie, have big dollop of Merlot in them.

Please do not hesitate to ask your Lunds & Byerlys Wines & Spirits manager for a few suggestions. They will be more than happy to help. Here are a few of mine at various price points:

$10-$15: Columbia Crest H3. Anything from Horse Heaven Hills appellation in Washington will be first class!

$20+: Try a Merlot from my mate Nick Goldschmidt! In fact ANYTHING from Nick will be 100% varietal and single vineyard. Great Merlot.

$50+: Shafer Merlot. End of story. Try a Shafer Merlot and all others will melt away at that price point. And for an unmatched wine where the county lines of Sonoma and Napa cross directly through the wine, try Pride Merlot. When available, it’s around $70 – but worth every penny.

And with our fall sale starting October 27 (that’s tomorrow!), it’s a perfect time to pre-order some of these better wines and save big money.