Merlot is a delicious, bold red wine beloved around the world for its black cherry flavors, supple tannins, and chocolatey finish. Merlot has a huge quality range, and bottles can range from $6 to almost $3,000. With such a huge variation in pricing, how do you pick the best wine for your budget? How do you get the most bang for your buck?
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about shopping for Merlot, from the descriptions to look for the average price range. Plus, we’ll even recommend some of our favorite bottles under $25.
What is Merlot?
Merlot is one of the world’s most popular red wines. In one survey, Merlot was the most popular choice for red wine-drinking adults, as 19% of people indicated it was their red of choice. Merlot just slightly edged out Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most popular red wines in the United States.
Merlot is known for its soft texture and approachable style. It’s a very versatile wine, and flavors can range from velvety and plummy to rich and oaky, depending on the climate in which the grapes are grown. With so many variants of Merlot out there, there’s something everyone can enjoy.
The word “Merlot” is said to derive from the French word for “little blackbird.” This is most likely about the dark blue, almost black, a hue of Merlot grapes, which give Merlot its rich, lush color. Merlot originated in the Bordeaux region of France but is now grown worldwide, from Italy to the United States to Australia to Chile.
What does Merlot taste like?
Merlot is known as the chameleon of wines because it can adapt to a huge variety of warm and cold climates. Merlots will take on different characteristics depending on the grapes’ region and the winemaking techniques used.
Merlot is typically a dry, medium to full-bodied wine, with moderate acidity, moderate to high ABV, and soft, yet present, tannins. Flavors in Merlot can range from graphite and herbs to berries and plums to cocoa and clove. In most bottles, the primary flavors you’ll notice are cherry, plum, chocolate, bay leaf, and vanilla.
Merlots from warmer climates tend to be more fruity, with refined tannins. These wines are extremely bold, and they often age in oak, which can add vanilla, chocolate, and smoky cedar notes. Warm climate Merlots are dry, with big fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry, plum, and raspberry. Popular warm Merlot production regions are Napa Valley, California, Australia, and Argentina.
Merlots for cooler climates tend to be more structured, with earthy flavors. Cool climate Merlots are often confused with Cabernet Sauvignons in blind tastings. These wines are generally more medium-bodied, and the fruit flavors are usually ripe or slightly tart and can include raspberry, cherry, plum, blackberry, and fig. You may also notice purple floral notes of violet and iris or herbal notes of tobacco leaf, bay leaf, and mint. Licorice, anise, mushroom, and truffle are also common. Popular cool-climate growing regions are Bordeaux, Northern Italy, and Chile.
Best Merlots under $25
Just because a bottle of Merlot is affordable doesn’t mean it’s not decadent, complex, and delicious. There are a huge variety of amazing bottles of Merlot out there at various reasonable price points. Here’s the list of our favorite bottles under $25.
Chateau St. Jean Merlot: $14.99
Hailing from California, the Chateau St. Jean Merlot is dry and medium-bodied and full of ripe berry, dark fruit, oak, and spice flavors. It is barrel-aged, so the wine is very layered and has a rich nose of pepper. This Merlot is plush and elegant yet still easy to drink, making it a great, impressive choice for a dinner party. And at only $14.99 a bottle, you really can’t go wrong.
Columbia Crest H3 Merlot: $9.99
Columbia Crest produces various affordable wines out of Washington State, all of which are pretty consistently high-quality, especially considering the price point. Their Columbia Crest H3 Merlot opens with aromas of raspberries, black pepper, and earthy tones, giving way to deeper, fruitier flavors of cherry, plum, and chocolate. The palate is silky smooth, and the finish is intense yet elegant. Your friends will never believe it only costs $9.99 a bottle.
Decoy Napa Valley Merlot: $23.49
If you’re looking for something at a slightly higher price point that’s still affordable, we recommend the Decoy Napa Valley Merlot. Hailing from Sonoma County, CA, this Merlot has notes of plum, cedar, and notes of baking spices. It’s beautifully layered, with flavors of strawberries and fresh raspberries that saturate the palette. The finish is soft and smooth, and the well-integrated tannins provide a lovely structure. It’s slightly more expensive than the others on the list, but you’ll definitely notice the increased quality when sipping.
Yellow Tail Merlot: $7.59
Yellow Tail Merlot is extremely affordable, especially when you consider its quality. Hailing from Australia, this Merlot is medium-bodied and just very slightly off-dry, with a subtle bit of sweetness. It’s a gorgeous, medium ruby-red color, with flavors and aromas of dark fruit, spice, berry, plum, and vanilla. It has a sweet fruit center that eventually gives way to a lush, soft finish. At only $7.59 a bottle, you may as well pick up two (or three).
Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot: $14.99
Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot is just as the name suggests: decadently smooth and dangerously rich and explosive. It’s produced in Columbia Valley, Washington, and offers the classic Merlot aromas of dark cherries, cedar, and pipe tobacco. The wine is balanced and rich, with red plum and bittersweet cocoa flavors, with hints of smoke and cedar. It’s full-bodied and intense, so it’s a great choice if you want to wow your dinner guests. Plus, at only $14.99 a bottle, you’re getting a huge amount of bang for your buck.
Gnarly Head Merlot: $11.99
Gnarly Head’s Merlot is the platonic ideal of what an affordable Merlot should taste like. It’s a great, easy-drinking, everyday bottle, marked by rich fruit flavors and a smooth mouth-feel. It’s truly dry and with classic Merlot flavors like black raspberries, cherries, and chocolate-covered raisins. It perfectly straddles the line of boldness and smoothness. This is a great bottle for someone who hasn’t tried many Merlots, as it’s very flavorful yet easy to sip.
Dark Horse Merlot: $10.99
Dark Horse Merlot hails from California. It’s elegant and refined yet still showcases bold, robust flavors, like jammy dark fruit. It has wonderful layers, as the fruit gives way to lovely toasted oak, carefully integrated molasses, and brown spice. All of these flavors culminate into a long, plush finish. Dark Horse Merlot is carefully aged to allow the dark fruit and mocha aromas to develop. It’s full-bodied yet elegant and very reasonably priced at $10.99 per bottle.
Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Merlot: $21.49
The Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Merlot is dramatic and vibrant yet still smooth. It is fruit-forward, boasting aromas of plums, currants, and anise, and bold flavors of blueberry pie, cherries, and toasted oak. It has supple tannins, which provide balance and structure to the aromas and flavors. It is vibrant, lush, and complex. It’s definitely a crowd-pleaser and still an affordable bottle, retailing at about $21.49.
Napa Cellars Merlot: $24.49
Coming in at just under the $25, Napa Cellars Merlot is a little bit more of a splurge but so incredibly worth it. This Merlot is full-bodied, well-balanced, and intensely satisfying. It combines berry flavors with floral, spice, and woody notes, leading to a delightfully complex, lush palette. It offers flavors of juicy red currant and plum, with tannins that coat the back of the palette and notes of clove and mocha at the finish. This is an impressive bottle to break out at a dinner party, and it’s sure to get all your guests talking.
Merlot is a beloved red wine, and it’s extremely versatile, so you’re sure to be able to find a bottle you love from the list above. Merlot’s popularity is a blessing and a curse because there are so many cheap bottles available, but it’s hard to know if you’re getting a quality product. You won’t go wrong with any of the bottles from the list above.
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