Best Merlots Under $25

pouring red wine

Keep reading to find out some of the best merlots under $25 a bottle.

About Merlot

For some people, Merlot wine lacks dimension and depth. Merlot is the noble grape that puts its best face forward as the sidekick to Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and Meritage blends. It shares similar flavors to Cabernet Sauvignon, but its blackberry, cassis, cherries, plums, chocolate and leather flavors step backward with its meeker tannins that round and soften Merlot, relatively speaking.

The wine does rise to the top on its own merit in Bordeaux's Pomerol and St. Emilion reds. It culminates at the pinnacle of its expression as a single varietal wine at Château Pètrus. Château Pètrus new releases go for over $800 a bottle and a single glass costs about $60-$70. So, it definitely does not fall into the under $25 category but the experts think and that is it is one divine Merlot. Since $800 for a single bottle of wine does not fit into most peoples budgets, we'll stick with with more budget friendly merlot's.

What's Good, What's Not So Good

Not all Merlot is equal. That's not an earth-shaking announcement, the same can be said about all wine and that's what makes the squashed grape liquid so interesting: variation. Terroir, weather, and winemaker all influence a wine's result from year to year. To find a good Merlot for less than $25 one has to draw a line somewhere, a point of demarcation that separates the good, the bad, and the mundane. So, the following are some general criteria to follow when in the wine shop and seeking a Merlot.

Stick to Napa, be cautious with Bordeaux, take a shot at Washington, avoid Italy, flirt with Chile and Argentina, look for a humdinger in Australia, and, when in doubt, ask your wine merchant for their advice. You don't always have to take it but you only have yourself to blame when the Merlot turns out to be a black hole rather than a silky red of delight and pleasure.

Merlot Expectations

Expectations don't always match the outcome. For straight Merlot without the adulterating blending benefit of Cabernet Sauvignon for oomph or a dash of Shiraz (like they do in Australia) for pizzazz, one can expect a medium-bodied Cabernet-like wine with a softer and rounder style or one may encounter a simple red without exemplary merit but that has nothing disagreeable to cause offense.

Go-to List

The following is a condensed list of reliable Merlots. No doubt there are many French, Australian, and South American wines that would be on an equal or higher plane, but for the sake of brevity and availability, we'll focus on California and Washington Merlots. No doubt, I have left out your favorite.

California

Okay, Beringer is ubiquitous with Napa Valley and often taken for granted. But don't overlook or dismiss their Merlot. Try their Napa Valley Merlot that cost $19 or less. It offers up a better-than-typical Merlot experience with rich flavor and complexity. Their Founders Estate version is of the simple but drinkable denomination.

This is a Napa Valley winery east of the Silverado Trail near St. Helena. Their $15 ''Napa Valley Merlot" from 2003 is a distinctive full-bodied wine with dark berry fruit, a touch of mint, and balanced structure. A good value Merlot.

Chateau St. Jean puts out a lot of wine from its Sonoma Valley winery, seemingly adept at producing juicy and complex wines from the usual Bordeaux suspects of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Their Merlot Sonoma County is right at the $25 ceiling and is consistently round and brazen, with big juicy berry and cherry flavors that include rustic leather and herbs. Their 2003 release stumbled a bit, but earlier vintages excel and they usually get Merlot right.

Their Alexander Valley Merlot shows fruit-forward characteristics with a force of nature. This is a blend with some Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Petit Verdot. Their non-Reserve version is available for $15-$18.

I've always enjoyed Rodney Strong's wines, they are a world-class winery near Healdsburg, with vineyards dotting the various Sonoma County appellations. Their Sonoma County Merlot can be had for around $12 and for the money, its a lush and fruity red with soft tannins and elegance that is easy to drink.

St. Supéry is a Rutherford winery in the heart of Napa Valley, Cabernet country. No matter, the winery makes a well-defined Merlot with big fruit and style. The award-winning 2001 vintage can be found for less than $20, which is a sweet deal.

Washington

Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the top wineries from the state of Washington. Check out their Columbia Valley Merlot that's made from several vineyards around the valley. It's priced in the low-teens and offers up a breezy fruit-driven style Merlot that is easy to drink. The winery also produces single vineyard Merlots (Indian Wells, Cold Creek, and Canoe Ridge) that offer a step up in intrigue, but prices go up as well, which makes the Columbia Valley a satisfying value.

I always do a double-take when I drink Columbia Crest wine. Their wines are well-crafted, interesting, delicious, and help define the term, value. No doubt if you looked up the word in a wine dictionary you would find Columbia Crest in the definition. Their Grand Estates Merlot can be had for about $8 and most people would be willing to kick in an extra ten after they've had a glass.

This is another one of those surprising Washington wineries in the Columbia Valley that causes people to snicker into their sleeves when they compare their wines' prices to those in California. For less than $10, you can get a Hogue Cellars from Columbia Valley that is more than a basic Merlot, but something with defined fruit, suppleness, character depth, and balanced structure. Check out Hogue's Riesling as well.

No Slight to the Others

There are many other fine Merlots out there to be had for less than $25 and there is no intention to neglect them. The difficulty in locating a French Merlot outside of the most famous is that French wines are generally not labeled by the varietal but by their appellation. To determine if a wine is a Merlot usually requires inside knowledge or a knack of good guessing, if you have it or are good at it, go French. There's also an upshot to Chilean and Argentinean Merlots as well, lush and silky at value prices. Head to your local wine shop and do a little exploring of your own.

Best Merlots Under $25