17+ Best Merlot Wine for 2023

Best Merlot Wine Under $30

"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) Merlot."

Because of Sideways, Merlot sales decreased, and Pinot Noir sales increased drastically for both. Even now many wineries that can label their wines as ‘Merlot’ choose to label them as ‘red blends’ instead.

But in reality, after a couple of years since Sideways was released, to this day – the quality of Merlot increased, and the quality of Pinot Noir decreased.

UNDERRATED - Some of the best wines in the world are Merlots

Merlot has been, and is still, underrated. But in fact, it’s a remarkable grape that makes some of the most wonderful wines in the world (Right Bank Bordeaux).

In fact even in the movie, Sideways, he’s drinking MERLOT.

At the end of the movie, Sideways, Miles is drinking at a hamburger joint out of a styrofoam cup. He is drinking a 1961 Cheval Blanc (~ $5,000 bottle), which is a blend of MERLOT and Cabernet Franc.

Table of Contents

What is Merlot Wine?

merlot descriptions medium bodied red wines

Merlot makes a delicious and classically softer, fleshier wine than most varietals. It has a reputation of being the best wine for first-time wine drinkers – a starter wine of sorts.

You might not realize it, but wines made using Merlot grapes are probably your favorite reds. Because they tend to be full-bodied (or medium-bodied) and plump, with soft, fresh fruit flavors. Merlot wines are famous for their smooth and sensual texture and approachable style – a perfect food-friendly wine.

Typically, Merlot is known as a standalone varietal as well as a blending grape. And Merlot grapes is endemic in Bordeaux, although vineyards around the warmer European appellations also grow them for the past 200 years. 

Merlot vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

So, what is the difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

merlot vs cabernet

Good question. While Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are different grapes, it can be hard to differentiate the two, especially in blind tastings. After all, they share the same parent – Cabernet Franc. So essentially, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are siblings with many similar qualities.

For one, grapes from their family have that signature aromatic compound that gives them herbal notes, primarily when grown in cooler regions. It doesn’t help that Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are blending partners to make a red Bordeaux wine.

But here’s the difference – Merlot is fruitier, softer, less complex, and normally cheaper than Cabernet Sauvignon!

5 Best Regions of Merlot

  1. Bordeaux – the best Merlot starts in Bordeaux. Some of the best bottles come from Bordeaux’s Right Bank, particularly in Pomerol, St. Emilion, and Fronsac appellations.
  2. California – the warm climates, particularly around Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, and Paso Robles, is ideal for producing some of the best Merlot wines.
  3. Washingtonwhere Old World and New World Merlot attributes combine.
  4. Chile – where Merlot is the third most widely grown varietal, next to Listan Prieto and Cabernet Sauvignon
  5. Friuli – the cooler regions of northern Italy is where you can find some of the best Merlot-Cabernet blends

Old World Merlot is earthier, while New World Merlot is more fruit-forward

Quick Fun Facts About Merlot

  • Blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot’s qualities balance the Cab’s herbaceous and more rustic features.
  • Great party wine – with soft tannins and ripe, fruity balance.
  • Drink Young – Merlot grapes produce wines with low acidity and high alcohol. Most don’t improve much with aging – single varietal Merlot wines are best drunk young.
  • Plum – If a glass of red has an overriding plum flavor, it’s got to be Merlot!

Choosing the best Merlot requires tasting a hundred of them, at the least, which I’ve happily done for years. Here are my best picks for the best Merlot wines (under $30) when you need a good drink for any occasion.

What are the Best Merlot Wines Under $30?

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BORDEAUX

merlot

A real gem – this classic Bordeaux red is robust in flavor but brings out a good balance between tannins and acidity. The bottle opens with an inviting red cherry aroma laced with exotic Asian spices, cedar, and tobacco – finishing with a structured flavor of dark and fresh red fruits.

This Right Bank wine’s concentration and balance – with silky tannins and fruity aromas – make it a perfect wine for prepared dishes, white meats, and poultry. Another great wine from the Bordeaux region, that red wine drinkers will enjoy. 

Tasting Notes: Earthy notes with red fruit flavors like cherry and raspberry. And some notes of leather, oak, and tobacco.  

left bank merlot

A Left Bank Bordeaux Merlot is not common (Merlot grown in the Right Bank is common). Normally the wine grapes you will find in that region would be the Cabernet Sauvignon.

And this dry wine has an elegance to it from the ripe Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. Also the wood aging gives some spice and texture that is sure not be found anywhere else!

Perfect for you red wine drinkers that enjoy the Old World wines.

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, plum, earthy, leather, oak, tobacco

NAPA VALLEY

best merlot

Aged in 100% French oak barrels for up to 15 months, this Californian Merlot brings a concentrated, lavish flavor of lush tannins accented with dry currants, cocoa, and caramel for every sip. And it has an intricate layer of flavor that is built to enjoy any and every day.

best merlot

Explosive flavors of black stone fruits and intense aromas of allspice, mocha, and ripe plum marry in this Vintage 2019 bottle – aged 15 months in 100% French oak barrels (38% new). With its generous mid-palate, this wine will give you full, balanced, almost sweet tannins at the end.

Full-bodied, rich, and intense. This Merlot delivers plenty of depth with notes of dark fruit, black currant, and plum. And it has fresh acidity (after 18 months of aging), keeping the palate cool and balance, driving a juicy mouthfeel.

This Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec blend is produced from Napa Valley’s only wooden gravity-flow winery, a national historic landmark. And this supple Merlot pairs well with any savory dish, because of the lush tannins and acidity along with its abundance of juicy dark fruits and oak flavors.

PASO ROBLES

Designed with its own story to tell, each glass of this Merlot carries the classic claret character. And the result is a hearty fruit forward wine. 

COLUMBIA VALLEY

A fun, ‘drink-me-now’ red table wine blend that will keep you reaching for a second glass. And it’s a perfect food pairing wine as well. It’s just a perfect representation of the quintessential Washington Merlot.

What are the Best Merlot Wines?

peju merlot

Family-owned winery in the middle of the Rutherford District of Napa Valley. They are a certified Napa Green Winery and Vineyard! Quite honestly this Merlot will hit the spot for all you Cab drinkers

And this fantastic dry wine is incredibly smooth, fruit-forward, with plum, cherry, and chocolate notes. The structured tannins add texture and length to the very enjoyable finish.

emmolo merlot

From the famous Wagner Family of Wines, this wine does not disappoint. People call it the “Caymus Merlot” and rightfully so. The wine is a full-bodied, fruit forward, and smooth Napa Valley Merlot. It is one of our favorites that can be paired nicely with many different foods.

Tasting Notes: Plum, blackberry, vanilla, oak, leather, chocolate

merlot napa

One of the premium Napa wineries that make some of the best Merlot in the region. World-renowned for their signature 3 Palms Vineyards Merlot, this Napa Valley wine is also a great Merlot and more affordable. 

Tasting Notes: Plum, oak, cherry, vanilla, chocolate

merlot

When you’re looking for a good time in Napa, one of the best places to be is at this winery. They have an amazing Sustainable Vines Tour  so that you can see all of the different grape varieties and wine production process. Most importantly, their wines are all delicious! 

This Merlot is a full-bodied wine with savory, dark fruit flavors, and velvety smooth finish.

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, black cherry, plum, oak

merlot

Another one of my favorite wineries in Napa because they make some excellent wine, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon. I was actually surprised that Nickel & Nickel makes Merlot.

But with ripe fruit flavors of juicy plum and dark fruits, earthy notes of tobacco, and velvety tannins to finish. This is truly another fantastic wine from their winery. 

merlot sweet

Grown on the beautiful Paradigm Oakville estate, this wine uses a simple approach to making it. They want to showcase the terroir without heavy-handed intervention from winemakers. May not be as well known as the other wines on this list, the warmer climate terroir brought out the ripe fruit in this Merlot while keeping the balanced acidity. 

merlot grape

Their Mt. George Vineyard is the site of one of Napa Valley’s first grape plantings, and it yields Merlot grape fruit with bold and balanced structure from their deep volcanic soils. 

For this Merlot, you must let it open up for an hour or so. It will provide you with this smooth and delicious red wine. Red wine drinkers will enjoy the earth notes of this wine. 

Tasting Notes: Oak, tobacco, blackberry, plum, earthy

Thorn Merlot from The Prisoner

From one of the more popular wineries in Napa Valley. It is a fantastic Merlot blend, filled with medium tannins and ending with a juicy finish. It features dark cherry aromas with cocoa, mocha, and espresso accents.

tuscan merlot northern italy

One of largest and most famous wineries in the world. The winery is world-renowned for its Chianti, Super Tuscans, and other Italian grape varietals. And this wine reminds me of a Right bank Merlot with some Tuscan style. Very smooth and very delicious, it competes with any great Merlots from any other regions. 

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Still not a fan of Merlot, check out our list for Best CA Cabernet Sauvignon Under $25!

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