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We found some terrific Merlot that you will want to try this fall. The best offerings are not inexpensive, but if you love the grape, you will certainly be quite satisfied with our top recommendations. We start with an Excellent offering from La Jota. This winery was taken over by the Jackson Family in 2004. Chris Carpenter of Cardinale fame, took over the winemaking and has slowly been rebuilding this program. This year he hit a home run with his 2009 “Howell Mountain” Merlot. We scored it 94 points. It is made up of 100% Merlot grapes and sells for $55. It opens with a fragrant blueberry bouquet with hints cranberry and tangerine. I loved its nice balance and its delicious blueberry flavors with notes of ripe black currant. I also detected hints of old oak and black licorice. The finish is dry and its dusty fine tannins are pleasant and stick around for a while. This Merlot is very food-friendly and would be terrific with shepherd’s pie. It is a worthy first place finisher.

Our two runner ups are both from the 2010 vintage and are from top Merlot producers. The first one is from perennial favorite Robert Foley. His 2010 Merlot for $52 was awarded 93 points. This wine was by far the best Merlot from one of our mini-tastings. It is full-bodied, smooth and elegant. We loved its delicious blueberry and vanilla oak flavors with hints of acai berry, coffee and a dash of pepper. It finishes with dry fine tannins that drift away nicely. The panel suggested pairing this top shelf Merlot with a filet mignon at your favorite steak house. Equally as good is the 2010 Plumpjack Merlot also from Napa Valley. This wine also costs $52 and was awarded 93 points. It opens with a fragrant and very inviting black cherry and boysenberry bouquet. On the palate, it was full-bodied, nicely balanced and very flavorful. Those flavors were very tasty ripe black plum with notes of black pepper and hints of black currant. This offering would go best with a pepper encrusted NY strip steak.

Our four 92 pointers are also a great collection of Merlot. We will start with the best deal of our top finishers. The 2009 Three Rivers “Columbia Valley” Merlot for $19 is an absolute steal. This wine is medium-bodied balanced and smooth. The panel really enjoyed its pleasant plum and black cherry flavors with a hint of cedar plank and spice. It finishes with dry and mild tannins that are rather sticky. The panel suggested pairing this Merlot with roast beef au jus or bacon burger with Great Hill blue cheese. It was clearly the best value to emerge from our big blind tasting when the wines were unveiled.

The 2009 Sebastiani “Alexander Valley” Merlot for $24 is another very good value. It opens with a fragrant and inviting black cherry bouquet with a hint of black pepper and vanilla oak. On the palate, this wine is medium-to-full-bodied, balanced and rather smooth. The panel loved its tasty gentle blueberry and plum flavors with a delicate hint of dried cherry and oak in the background. It displays fine tannins that are friendly and make it an elegant, drink-now Merlot that would perfectly with Stuart’s yummy steak appetizers. (Feel free to post you EM in the comments if you want Stuart’s recipe)

Another terrific Merlot that is consistently near the top of the entrants is the Shafer Merlot from Napa Valley. Their 2009 vintage for $48 is well-balanced, very approachable, and super smooth. I really enjoyed its tasty blueberry flavors with hints of plum and black currant. I also detected a touch of oak and spice mixed in as well. This is a very appealing wine. It finishes dry with moderate tannins that linger for a while. This Merlot is quite food-friendly and I would pair it with a filet mignon at a nice steak house.

Our last 92 pointer is the 2009 Duckhorn “Napa Valley” Merlot for $52. This gem won our first Merlot blind tasting this year. It is full-bodied, balanced, and shows nice structure. The flavor profile is  tasty, mild red currant with notes of black plum jam mixed in. We also detected a touch of cinnamon and old oak mixes well. It closes with moderately dry sticky tannins that linger for quite a while. This offering was built to last the longest of the Merlots we covered. (Very Cab like) The panel suggested pairing it with a grilled NY strip steak with shiitake mushrooms and Stuart’s Brussel sprouts.

Our 91 pointers lead off with another very well-known Merlot. The 2008 Northstar from the Columbia Valley in Washington State is always very good. Priced at $40 and frequently under that, it is a good deal. This year’s version is medium-bodied, well balanced, and smooth, It displays tasty blueberry and black cherry flavors with nicely integrated old vanilla oak. There was also a touch of minerality throughout and a dash of black pepper towards the end. The panel thought this wine would pair well with veal scaloppini.

Our last 91 pointer is a small production offering from Hunnicutt. Their 2009 “Napa Valley” Merlot for $48 is terrific. It finished in 3rd place in our big blind tasting. It was very well received. The panel noted it was full-bodied, balanced, and smooth. They really enjoyed the rich plum flavors with hints of old oak, black olive, and black cherry. It closes with rather sticky dusty tannins that last for quite a while. The panel suggested that this is a great porch sipping wine with a nice cigar around the fire pit. Call the winery soon for a bottle.  Only 48 cases were made.

Our four 90 pointers, kick off with a really good value from Joseph Carr. His 2009 Merlot from “Napa Valley” is a really good deal for $17. It is medium-to-full-bodied, balanced, and fruit forward. Those flavors are a blend of black cherry and plum with hints of red raspberry in the background. It finishes dry and its medium tannins linger nicely. This Merlot is very food-friendly and would pair very well with a New York strip steak.

We return to Washington State for our next winner. The 2009 Airfield Merlot from the “Yakima Valley” is medium-bodied, balanced, rich and smooth. The panel really liked its tasty ripe blueberry and black cherry flavors with hints of light oak mixed in. The panel suggested pairing this nice Merlot with roasted duck breast or beef burgundy. At $25 it is reasonably priced.

The 2009 Freemark Abbey Merlot from the Napa Valley costs $30. It performed well in our recent mini-tasting. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy going. The flavor profile is a mild blackberry with notes of chocolate. We also detected hints of black plum and licorice mixed in. Its finish builds up and then lingers for a while after the wine is gone. The panel felt in the near term, this Merlot needs to be served with some fatty foods. Beef stew and steak au poivre were the two suggested food matches.

Our final 90 pointer is the 2010 Shafer ”Napa Valley” Merlot for $56.  It is not quite as good as 2009 highlighted above.  It  is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy going. Its flavor profile is a menthol driven wine with notes of black cherry and plum with hints of cassis and old oak. I suggest pairing this hearty Merlot with a NY strip steak.

Our five 89 pointers also warrant your attention.  We will give you a quick hint on each. Check out the full reviews on the website.

Chateau Ste Michelle 2009 Merlot “Columbia Valley” (WA) $16 (89)
This is one of the best Merlot deals we discovered. It is medium-bodied, balanced, silky and very easy to drink. I really liked its tasty black cherry flavors with nicely integrated old vanilla oak with a hint of blueberry. This is a very good everyday wine to pair with beef bourguignon or linguini alla puttanesca.

Buena Vista 2009 Merlot “Carneros” (CA) $19 (89)
This Merlot is medium-bodied, balanced, plush and juicy. Its flavor profile is a rich blackberry with notes of spice, anise, plum and vanilla oak. It finishes with mild tannins are a tad dusty and linger for a little while. This wine would pair best with winter comfort food like shepherd’s pie.

Penley Estate 2009 Merlot “Gryphon” (Coonawarra, Australia) $20 (89)
This Merlot from down under is medium-bodied, balanced, and juicy. The panel liked its unique flavor profile of a mineral-infused black plum with hints of cedar plank, mulberry, and rhubarb. The panel suggested serving this Aussie Merlot with coq au vin or tea smoked duck.

Concha y Toro 2010 Merlot “Marques de Casa Concha” (Peumo, Chile) $22 (89)
This Merlot from Chile opens with a lead pencil and old leather bouquet with a hint of black cherry cola. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and juicy with mineral-infused plum and mild black raspberry flavor profile. Its mild dry tannins are subtle. The panel suggested pairing this Merlot with lasagna or wild mushroom ravioli.

Kendall Jackson 2009 Merlot “Grand Reserve” (Sonoma County, CA) $26 (89)
This mid-tier Merlot from KJ is medium-bodied, slightly acidic and juicy. The panel enjoyed its black raspberry flavors with notes of oak, dark chocolate and black plum. It finishes dry and with mild tannins that are slightly prolonged. They suggested pairing this wine with braised short ribs.

Finally, a few Very Good 88 pointers and a couple of Good Value 85 point offerings.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Merlot “Canoe Ridge” (Horse Heaven Hills, WA) $22 (88)
Aquinas 2009 Merlot “Napa Valley” (CA) $22 (88)
Merryvale 2009 Merlot “Starmont” (Napa Valley, CA) $26 (88)
Skylite Cellars 2008 Merlot “Estate” (Walla Walla, WA) $27 (88)
Gundlach Bundschu 2009 Merlot “Sonoma Valley” (CA) $30 (88)
Smoking Loon 2010 Merlot “California” $8 (85)
Tin Roof Cellars 2009 Merlot “California” $11 (85)

We hope you enjoy these Merlots as much as we did.  As you can see Merlot is on a comeback.  It is easy to drink and quite enjoyable when well made.  Some of the top wines are high level wines that do not cost nearly as much as the top Cabernets and Pinots.  Please share your favorite Merlots with us by posting below in the comments section.

Cheers – Ken

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