California Merlot

California Merlot

The Fifty Best California Merlot Tasting of 2021


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of California Merlot wines with 11 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh wine glasses from new sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and hard crusted white peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded for this tasting. Medals are provided based entirely on merit and only to products judged worthy of such award.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax. Clicking on the brands' names will link to their websites.


Smith Devereaux 2017 IBEX Merlot
(St. Helena, Napa Valley)  $45.

Aroma: Blackberry, boysenberry, a giant bowl of berries, black cherry, plum, minty, menthol, eucalyptus, spicy, earthy, dusty, leather, clean, aromatic.
Palate: Raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, currants, plum, grapefruit citrus, violets, spicy, balanced, high intensity, smooth.
Finish: Plum, cranberry, berries, balanced citrus, slightly tannic, oak, well balanced, complex, super interesting, soft, pleasant, delicious.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Smith Devereaux IBEX Merlot


Lorenzi Estate 2017 Merlot
The Contrarian Vineyard

(Temecula Valley)  $75.

Aroma: Raspberry, dried cherries black plum, cassis, rye toast, sweet spices, pine-y, woody, flint, after rain, ripe, elegant.
Palate: Blackberry, blueberry, dried cherries, black plum, ripe plum, peach, herbal, spice, hint of cinnamon, leather, solid wood treatment, balanced, layered, complex, bright, elegant.
Finish: Consistent black plum, boysenberry, honey, rose, floral, herbal, leather, cigar box, soft tannins, excellent balance, so well balanced, can be aged, great.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lorenzi Estate Merlot The Contrarian Vineyard

Darioush 2018 Napa Valley Merlot
(Napa Valley)  $65.

This wine was made from a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon that following fermentation was aged for 18 months in French oak (45% new, 55% neutral) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, jammy, sugarcane, cocoa, dark chocolate, bread, nutmeg, spice, burnt popcorn, tobacco, leather, earthiness, wet wood, light wood, oaky, pine, fresh.
Palate: Red raspberry, blackberry, dark cherry, currants, plum, dark chocolate, apricot, grapefruit, croutons, peanut, gamey, nice tannins, wood.
Finish: Red plum, cranberry, marionberry, spicy, oak, light tannins, well balanced, very pretty, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Darioush Napa Valley Merlot


Paloma 2018 Merlot
(Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley)  $59

Made from a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was fermented and then aged in French oak (33% new) for 18 months before bottling, and then bottle-aged for an additional 18 months prior to release.

Aroma: Blackberry, blueberry, high elevation fruit, green tea, dried herbs, rosemary, thyme, new leather, wet stone, earthy, a layer of funk, intriguing.
Palate: Plum, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, rich baked berry, apple, juicy, vanilla, spice, spicy, mineral, stone, balanced tannin, very appealing, explosive.
Finish: Cherry, blueberry, roasted coffee, spicy, wet granite, soil, tannins, super lean, vibrant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Paloma Merlot




California Merlot Back On the Rise

Merlot is by far the most widely planted wine grape variety of the Bordeaux region, and the second most widely-planted black wine grape in the world. Château Pétrus is almost all merlot. Vintners have historically used merlot as a blending grape to soften a wine, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot tannins are less forceful than Cabernet Sauvignon, so merlot wine tends to mature earlier – up to two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot was brought to California in the 1850s and 1870s, but the grape didn't become fashionable until the 1990s. In 1985 less than 2,000 acres of merlot existed in California, and by 2003 that increased to over 50,000 acres. Researchers at the University of California at Davis discovered that the merlot grape is a offspring of the Cabernet Franc grape. Its sibling grapes include Carmenere and Malbec. Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. Grown throughout the state of California, merlot vines are planted most predominantly in Lodi/San Joaquin County, followed by Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Monterey counties.

California merlots are fruit driven and can range from simple wines to more serious, complex barrel-aged examples. The grape tends to show ripe blackberry and black raspberry notes, and also flavors of plum, black cherry, tea leaf, cinnamon, chocolate, leather and tobacco, with less prevalent tannins and a smooth finish.

Merlot's popularity came crashing down in 2004 after the release of the film "Sideways", in which the lead character, a Pinot Noir fan, adamantly refuses to drink Merlot wine. Termed the "Sideways Effect", the film influenced the buying patterns of movie-going wine drinkers nationwide. Today, merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased in the U.S. There were 17 million cases sold in the U.S. in 2017, proving that merlots from California are appreciated once again.



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