Napa Valley Merlot Wines

Karen Frazier

Napa Valley Merlot wines are a popular choice amongst wine drinkers. This soft, plummy wine from California is a perennial favorite for its velvety texture and soft tannins. Napa Valley Merlot is a delicious addition to your next meal.

About Napa Valley

Napa Valley is California's best known wine growing region. As a matter of fact, it is the most well-known United States wine region. Situated in northern California near San Francisco, Napa Valley sits along the Napa River, which winds for about 25 miles on a north to south course. The natural grape growing conditions of the region are ideal because the temperatures are moderate and the soil is varied.

With such ideal conditions for growing grapes, it's no surprise that some of the greatest wines in the world come out of the Napa Valley, including Merlot. In the region, more than 7000 acres are devoted solely to the growing of Merlot grapes.

About Merlot

Merlot is a red wine made from the Merlot grape. Merlot wine is used both in varietal wines and to blend with other wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The best known Merlots in the world come from the Right Bank of the Bordeaux region. It is the most widely planted grape throughout that entire region.

The grape is grown throughout the world, including in Italy, Australia as well as in Washington and California in the United States.

When winemakers use Merlot as a blending wine, it softens the flavors of more tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. When it is used as a varietal wine, it is lush, velvety and earthy.

Napa Valley Merlot Wines

With so many acres dedicated to growing grapes for Napa Valley Merlot, it's no surprise that Napa Valley produces a variety of fine Merlot varietals and blends. In the United States, in order for a wine to be designated a varietal, it must contain at least 70 percent of the grape whose name the wine bears. The remaining 30 percent can come from a variety of blending wines like Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, all of which are grown in the Napa Valley wine region.

Cost and Quality

The Merlot wines in Napa Valley can run the gamut in quality and affordability - from inexpensive bottles that cost less than $20 to bottles that cost well over $100. While in some cases the quality of the wine is commensurate with price, that isn't always the case. There are a number of affordable Merlots that drink well, are highly rated and won't cost you an arm and a leg. Moderately priced quality Merlots (under $50 a bottle) can be found from a variety of winemakers including Cakebread Cellars, Turnbull, Pine Ridge and Sawyer.

Good Vintages

Another consideration when purchasing Napa Valley Merlot is the vintage in which the wine was grown. In a good vintage, often the less expensive wines will be better wines merely because of the quality of the grapes. Wines grown in good vintages are typically consistently better than wines grown in less ideal vintages. Some of Napa Valley's recent good Merlot vintages include:

  • 1997
  • 2001-2006

Fair to Poor Vintages

While it isn't impossible to get a good wine in a fair to poor vintage, the chances that you will get a really good bottle of wine from an inexpensive winemaker decrease in these vintages. In recent years, there have only been a few fair to poor vintages for Napa Valley Merlot:

  • 1998
  • 1999
  • 2000

Premium Winemakers

There are a number of premium winemakers in Napa Valley who consistently make high quality Merlot wines. Some of the top winemakers in the region include:

  • Beringer
  • Cain Vineyard and Winery
  • Cakebread cellars
  • Caymus Vineyards
  • Shafer
  • Joseph Phelps
  • Stags Leap
  • Pine Ridge

Serving Napa Valley Merlot

Napa Valley Merlot wines are best when served at an ideal temperature of about 65 degrees. While the wines aren't terribly tannic, it can help to soften the wine further and develop the flavors by allowing it to breathe for about 60 minutes prior to serving. Napa Valley Merlots are soft and velvety with notes of plum and earth. Because of this, they pair well with foods like tender beef and lamb, salmon, pancetta and mushrooms.Napa Valley makes some of the world's finest Merlot wines. For suggestions about a high quality Napa Valley Merlot that will pair well with the food you are serving while staying within your budget, visit your nearest wine shop and talk with the wine seller about finding the perfect Merlot for your next meal.

Napa Valley Merlot Wines