california merlot Hestan4

Marvelous California Merlots for National Merlot Day

Oh, Sideways. The iconic 2004 movie on all things wine dealt a crushing blow to Merlot when Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, famously exclaims “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) Merlot.” A few years after the film, Sonoma State University did a study, finding the movie was directly responsible for a massive blow to the Merlot market, which flourished at an unprecedented level just prior. Well, forget Sideways, at least when it comes to its thoughts on the varietal, which explodes with dark fruit flavor and is one of the softest red wines on the palate. Here are some of the lushest expressions of the delightful grape in honor of National Merlot Day (Nov. 7). Cheers!

2021 Trefethen Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

A true pioneer in making the varietal in California, Trefethen has been planting its vineyards with the grape since the 1960’s. The bright fruit is a treat here as is the silkiness on the palate and balance, courtesy of just enough earth. $50

Rutherford Hill 2014 Cask Reserve Merlot Napa Valley

The award-winning winery uses hand-selected fruit to make this limited-edition reserve California Merlot, and it shows. On the nose, enjoy boysenberry and chocolate, perhaps with just the slightest touch of warm spic and wood. Upon tasting, that boysenberry carries through along with a hint of perfectly ripened plum. $105

ONEHOPE Reserve Merlot

The juicy and jammy notes in this California Merlot are absolutely delightful, as are the roasted coffee notes, perfect for the fall and winter months. Add to that baked blueberry and semi-sweet chocolate on the palate, and it becomes over-the-top terrific. $60

california merlot Cass Merlot

Cass Winery 2020 M&M

Primarily a Merlot but with some Malbec for good measure, this well-structured wine from lauded Paso Robles winemaker Sterling Kragten is smooth with flavors that build as it is sipped. Expect layers of pomegranate, warm spice and a bright acidity, followed by berry compote and even a little vanilla or toasty almond toward the end. $62

Gentleman Farmer Wines 2019 Napa Valley Red Wine

While a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Merlot is clearly the dominant grape in this bottle, though it has a little help from Cabernet grapes as well. It tastes of freshly baked cherry pie, sour cherry candy and even has a nib of Coke or Pepsi. $77

Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2020 Merlot

Similarly inspired by Bordeaux, there are soft, delicate tannins here that create a beautiful base for the flavors of black cherry, plum, currant, wild berry and a hint of spice to come. $24

Faust 2021 The Lure Merlot

Lure? More like intoxicatingly alluring. Structured with an oaky spice, this California Merlot has a perfume of cigar box and certainly has some earth to it, but there is no missing the luscious ripe plum and beautiful blackberry in every sip either. $90

Coppola Diamond Collection Merlot

Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but wine is everyone’s, especially this fruit-forward but not sweet take on the expression. Expect the fruit notes, especially cherries and red berries, to dominate and to be lifted by aromatics and flavors of caramel, chocolate and even a hint of vanilla. $19

2019 Ferrari-Carano Merlot

Hello, English toffee! The perfect fall treat is ever-present in this medium-bodied beauty. It is only enhanced with the complementing notes of cola and vanilla, and is balanced with palate-pleasing black cherry, plum and just a hint of herbs. $37

Sullivan Rutherford Estate 2020 Estate Merlot

Sullivan winemaker Jeff Cole is a worldwide leader in Merlot. His proprietary techniques are that of legend. The 2020 vintage is especially lovely even by Cole’s standards with gorgeous notes of cinnamon spice – perfect for the holiday season – intermingled with chocolate, black cherries and just a touch of herbs for balance. $95

california merlot Wente Vineyards nth DEGREE Merlot2

Wente Vineyards 2019 nth DEGREE Merlot

This is Livermore Merlot at its finest. First, there is this oaky chocolate combined with cherries and a sweet-and-sour berry essence. Then, a symphony of baking spice and minerality joins the party, with that tastes just the teensiest bit like maple syrup, all working together so surprisingly well. $95

Alexander Valley 2020 Merlot

The team at Alexander Valley refers to this stunner as a Merlot for Cabernet lovers. Given its texture and structure–not to mention its bouquet of black cherry, plum, cassis and vanilla and palate of chocolate, plum and berry–it makes total sense. $24

Merriam 2019 Russian River Valley Merlot

Light and bright for a Merlot, there is a perfume of raspberries and cranberries on the nose with just the faintest hint of vanilla. On the palate, the savory characteristics come to play along with bittersweet chocolate and a final burst of tart berry. $38

Ehret 2019 Merlot

Is that light olive notes we detect? Indeed, and they pair exquisitely well with the vanilla and cocoa nib as well as the dark, juicy raspberry and cherry notes in every sip. There is also just enough plum to elevate the entire flavor profile to an even higher level. $65

Jessup 2018 Merlot Napa Valley

A vibrant red gemstone in a glass, it is hard to miss the fragrant aromatics once this wine is poured into a glass, with notes of red, black and blueberries tickling the nose at the same time. To the taste, it is dry and has an extra-long finish, with notes of vanilla bean, flowers and even a bit of espresso on the palate. $70

Hestan 2018 Stephanie Merlot

Named for founders Stanley and Helen’s only daughter, Stephanie, and emblazoned with a harp as she plays the soothing instrument, this California Merlot opens with notes of red licorice and sour candy berries. To the taste, it transitions to blueberry and holiday spice on the palate. $45, pictured at top of page

california merlot Ehlers Merlot

Ehlers Estate 2019 Merlot

Every aspect of this medium-bodied Merlot is a marvel. On the nose, there are delicious notes of raspberry, red berry mix jam, fresh herbs and vanilla. And then to the taste, there is a burst of red berries but also a bit of sexy smokiness and even some forest floor that give the wine impressive depth. $69

2021 J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot

Enjoy a fragrant bouquet of plum, currant and violet upon opening, with baking spices at is comes closer to the nose and mouth. There are tiny bits of Malbec and Cabernet Franc added during the winemaking process, which add notes of pomegranate, hibiscus and even a bit of chocolate to the black cherry profile on the palate. $15

JUSTIN 2020 Merlot

One of the most full-bodied Merlots on the market right now, the tannins are exceptionally firm here, and there is a clear Bordeaux style, so on the savory side. But there is also some great ripe fruit, too, just not at the forefront. $35

Charles Krug 2020 Napa Valley Merlot

Blueberry and chocolate are such an underrated pairing. Case in point: this perfect marriage of the two. Medium-bodied and bursting with these flavor notes, there are also kisses of black cherry, violets and ever-so-light hints of oak that are similarly sublime. $28

2021 Emmolo Merlot

The vineyards used to source this wine have been in the brand’s families for generations. The result is an elegant vintage with both leather and dark berry fruit, with a rich smoothness that prepares the palate for another sip. $60

Rodney Strong Sonoma County 2021 Merlot

Do not sleep on the oak and spice in this California Merlot, made to enjoy every day. These richer flavors are in lockstep with the other bounty in the bottling, including blackberry, fig compote and cassis. $23

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