Napa Merlots

Forget Sideways: These 15 delicious, affordable (under $75!) reds deserve a second look


In 2004, the movie Sideways put a major dent in California Merlot sales when Miles uttered the immortal words “I am not drinking fucking Merlot!” At that point there were a lot of ripe, insipid Merlots on the market—many grown in areas that were too hot for the grape to ripen slowly, gaining full physiological maturity—so Miles’ sentiments resonated with a lot of wine lovers.
In the last several years, however, Merlot from the Napa Valley has become a delicious and approachable alternative to the region’s Cabernet Sauvignon, which typically takes at least a few years of bottle age to even begin to be ready to drink. Merlot is also, indisputably, Napa’s greatest red wine value.
Merlot is the second most planted red variety in Napa after Cabernet Sauvignon, and the third most widely planted grape in the region if you include Chardonnay. Whereas my top 15 Napa Cabernets average over $450 in price, my top 15 Napa Merlots average $63.50 a bottle—more than seven times cheaper than Napa’s top Cabs. 
So we can thank Miles for depressing the demand for Merlot and keeping even the Napa versions relatively affordable. When looking for well made, delicious reds from Napa, however, Snooth’s savvy wine shoppers know to go for the Merlot.
The biggest single value on the following list is the Trefethen, which sells for about $30. The Castello di Amorosa and Robert Keenan Napa appellation bottlings are also fairly reasonable, at $34 each. And unlike much higher priced Cabernet Sauvignons or equivalently priced Petite Sirahs from the region, you’ll find most of these wines pretty approachable right out of the gate.

Red wine glass image via shuttersrtock
1. Darioush 
Darioush has 95 acres of estate vineyards in the appellations of Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder and Oak Knoll. The owner is Darioush Khaledi, who hails from Shiraz, Iran, and the winemaker is Steve Devitt. The winery’s focus is primarily Bordeaux varieties and their top wine is a Bordeaux blend. These are rich, elegant Merlots that tend to score very highly for me in blind tastings.
Dark ruby color; redolent, focused, berry, black fruit nose; tasty, poised, rich but elegant, blackberry, ripe black fruit, cedar palate; medium-plus finish. (90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc; 22 mos. in 70% new French oak; 14.5% alcohol) 94 points
Medium red violet color; tart cassis, cedar, blackcurrant nose; plush, ripe blackcurrant, espresso palate with sweet, fine tannins; medium-plus finish. (100% Merlot; 24 mos. in 70% new French oak; 14.5% alcohol) 93+ points
Dark ruby color; cedar, French oak, cassis, blackcurrant nose; poised, tasty, ripe black currant, cassis, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish. (90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc; 22 mos. in 70% new French oak; 14.5% alcohol) 93 points

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