Merlot has endured a tarnished reputation for years. Many insiders blame the movie Sideways for making fun of Merlot drinkers while extolling the virtues of Pinot Noir; I’m not convinced an indie film, no matter how good, was solely responsible for Merlot’s downfall. Perhaps we were all simply yearning for lighter-bodied reds. Nonetheless, most of the Merlot out there is well worth checking out.
Neyers Merlot Napa Valley 2010
$40, Prestige Beverage Group
Bruce Neyers, the national sales manager for esteemed French and Italian wine importer Kermit Lynch, could have gone in any direction when it came time to plant his own vineyard. He went with Merlot. He farms these vines organically, and the result is outstanding. Deeply saturated red fruits rest on a rich bed of cocoa and plums.
Chateau de Fontenille Grand Bordeaux 2010
$13, The Country Vintner
Fontenille’s vineyards are located on the gravelly soils of Entre-Deux-Mers. This Merlot-dominated blend (there’s a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the mix) is a perky red, with the wine’s trademark plum-and-soft-cassis tones supported by soft tannins and lively acidity. It has a lot of verve for this price.
Bordeaux is Merlot’s ancestral home, where the wine has been an institution for hundreds of years rather than a passing fad.
Rust en Vrede Stellenbosch Merlot 2012
$20, Bacchus Importers
South African wines tend to straddle the line between new-world opulence and old-world style, and this one is no exception. It shows off attractive, ripe flavors of plum, currant, and cherry, but with the sort of smoke-and-tobacco undertones that one would be hard pressed to unearth in a California wine.