There’s nothing quite like a jammy, sumptuous glass of merlot. Thing is, it’s tough to sort between the different price points on your way to a relaxing evening. That’s what we’re here for!
Merlot is a famed grape for its mellow, yet complex flavor notes. Unlike the more tart pinot noir and smoky tempranillo, merlot is a gentle in-between that satisfies a wide range of palates.
It’s a great wine to round out your busy work week with, best suited to lounging on the couch instead of throwing a party.
Not sure whether to shell out $10 or $50? Read our merlot price guide to expand your red wine journey without breaking the bank. We’ll explore the history of the grape, its standout characteristics, and which brands will suit you best.
The Origin of the Merlot Grape
Appreciating every last drop of your wine glass starts with history. This dark, bold grape variety is commonly used in both standalone vintages and blends around the world.
The Merlot grape dates all the way back to the 1700s, cropping up in the legendary Bordeaux region of France. This location started to come into its own in the 12th century from Roman influence, bearing witness to the rise and fall of entire empires.
Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are commonly associated with this region, though Merlot reigns supreme in terms of sheer numbers.
What Makes Merlot Different Than Other Red Wines?
When you think of red wines, you likely think of fruitiness and a bold aroma. Merlot isn’t all that different in that regard, standing out instead for its reduced bitterness and chocolatey kick.
What are the Characteristics of Merlot?
Pinot Noir leans toward tart and bright. Cabernet Sauvignon is often bitter and complex. Merlot’s character is simultaneously more mellow and lush than many of its cousins.
Merlot retains dominant characteristics that remain constant from terroir to technique. This grape is frequently likened to jam and chocolate for its thick mouthfeel and soft flavors.
Some of the most common flavor notes in your glass will be:
- Blackberry jam
- Light or dark chocolate
- Red or ripe plum
- Dark cherry
You can find Merlot grown in just about any wine-producing country, with two distinctive styles depending on the location and the climate: International-style and Bordeaux-style.
International-style Merlot is possibly the best-known version of the grape, leaning toward softer flavors and a full-bodied mouthfeel. Any Merlot grown outside of France is considered International-style.
Chile, Australia, and New Zealand are among the top producers of Merlot grapes outside of France.
If you want a smoother and more medium-bodied Merlot, go for Bordeaux-style. This version is more acidic and boasts earthy, leafy aftertastes.
That said, you can still find some sweeter variations on this grape depending on the winery’s cultivation and growing techniques.
Best Food Pairings With Merlot
Pairing food with wine is complex at the best of times. Once you understand the function behind this art, you’ll find pairings coming to you naturally.
Ideally, you want food that exaggerates Merlot’s unique flavors. Since Merlot is more mellow (the words even sound similar!), spicy and bitter foods will drown out the flavor. Savory and salty allow the jammy fruitiness of Merlot to stand out, while also bringing out the taste in your dish. A win-win.
Try the following food pairings when you pop open your Merlot bottle:
The complex interplay of dry and fruity makes Merlot go great with a more fatty dish like pork.
There’s a reason why so many red wines are paired with beef. The juicy, oily nature of beef contrasts nicely with the fruit-forward nature of Merlot.
Don’t eat meat? No problem. Merlot’s softer tannins and dark fruit flavors make the more acidic flavor of tomato-based pasta dishes pop. Consider ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, and vegetarian meatballs.
How to Bring Out the Best in Your Merlot
Whether you purchase a $10 Merlot or a $100 Merlot, there are techniques you can use to bring out your wine’s flavor.
Decanting your wine is a science and an art. The function of decanting is to separate sediment and expose your wine to oxygen to reduce bitterness, astringency, and odd flavors.
This process works by separating leftover sediment from the liquid, ensuring your wine’s flavors aren’t being negatively impacted.
Save for a Later Date
Think you can wait for a little before opening? Red wines are famous for bringing out hidden characteristics when aged and Merlot is no different.
Three to five years is considered the sweet spot for Merlot, so double-check your bottle’s creation date.
The Merlot Price Guide
Price shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to getting wine that makes your week.
We’ve broken down our Merlot price guide by different price ranges while still focusing on quality flavor and aroma.
The $10 to $15 Merlot Price Range
How much is merlot? It depends on where you look and what event you’re planning. We’re firm believers that affordable wine can still taste fantastic, especially when you get acquainted with decanting!
These Merlot prices are casual enough to pull out for a quick dinner or over Zoom parties.
- Dark Horse Merlot Get started with this brilliant grape variety with the Dark Horse Merlot. Classic flavors such as dark fruit, a jammy mouthfeel, and a molasses sweetness make this a nice end-of-the-week treat.
- Barefoot Cellars Merlot While Merlot isn’t a very bitter or tart grape variety, you can still look for the mildest versions around. Barefoot Cellars offers a particularly subtle and soft approach with this bottle, offering boysenberry and chocolate flavors.
- Josh Cellars Merlot Red Wine The famed Josh Cellars has made waves for providing decadent wine that’s easy to find and affordable. Their Merlot provides a complex blend of floral fragrances and a chocolatey flavor. This is a layered, delicate wine that’d make a great addition to a dinner for two.
- Bogle Merlot Do you prefer your wine aged or fresh? The Bogle Merlot comes with a full twelve months of aging to add a richer flavor to the grape’s best-known flavors. Expect a heady oak finish and a more full-bodied mouthfeel with this low-cost bottle.
- 14 Hands Merlot Last but not least, you can’t go wrong with 14 Hands. This popular winery has all but fine-tuned the art of tasty table wine. This Merlot provides a spiced kick to a classic range of cherries, plums, and chocolate.
The $20 to $30 Merlot Price Range
This range is a little higher up the price point, but still not enough to wear out your wallet.
Consider saving these bottles for the holidays, a birthday celebration, or your long-awaited movie binge session.
- Townshend Cellars Merlot Townshend is an esteemed Washington winery with an impressive range of varietals to its name. Their Merlot is full-bodied and earthy, leaning toward the drier end of the grape’s already dry spectrum.
- Napa Cellars Merlot 2018Great wine is a well-rounded experience. Napa Cellars’ Merlot 2018 dazzles with its fragrant floral aroma and deep flavor notes. Not only will you enjoy traditional black cherry and dark chocolate, but this bottle also boasts a smoky aftertaste. Save this purchase for a special occasion and take your time sipping.
- Cross fork Creek Merlot Yakima, 2019 If you’re a fan of baking spices (think vanilla or cloves), you’ll adore this bottle. The Cross fork Creek Merlot Yakima 2019 has rich cherry and blackberry notes with a special sprinkle of earthy, vanilla notes.
The $35 to $50 Merlot Price Range
Want some truly spectacular wine for a very special occasion? This price range will expose you to some of the more delectable high-end wines.
- Five Star Cellars Merlot For those who want to try a Merlot that’s a little more on the tart side, Five Star Cellars is ready to meet you halfway. This bottle leans toward red plum and blackberry, with surprisingly bold acidity for the normally mellow grape. Keep this bottle for any occasion that calls for salty, savory dishes.
- Monticello Vineyards Merlot Estate Oak Knoll Warm and rustic, Monticello Vineyards embraces the traditional Merlot from top to bottom. Dark fruit, raspberry, and chocolate fill out the palate, while vanilla and cola linger in the aftertaste.
- Rutherford Hill Merlot 2019 Napa Valley has long since earned its reputation for stunning, layered wines. Rutherford Hill leans off the beaten path with a smooth Merlot with black tea-like flavors.
The $55 to $75 Merlot Price Range
If you’ve got a little extra to spare, consider this next price range. These vintages are often older and come from a limited quantity.
- Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot, 2017 Merlot is famed for its depth of color. This dark, inky bottle offers black currant and ripe plum notes, offset by a sumptuous oak finish.
- Château Rouget Pomerol, 2012 This vintage is an exception to the rule, technically not a complete Merlot. Chateau Rouget Pomerol offers a nicely aged dominant Merlot blend with just a hint of Cabernet Franc. Chocolate and cherry are the dominant flavor notes here, topped off with bright acidity.
The $80 to $100+ Merlot Price Range
Last but not least, we have the highest price range around.
- Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Merlot 2019 Want to see just how complex a glass of Merlot can get? This bottle provides classic flavors such as dark cherry and black plum, then adds a dash of hazelnut and spice sweetness.
- Petrolo Galatrona 2017 Try Merlot straight from the sun-kissed hills of Italy. This layered wine brings flavors of strawberry and raspberry, almost like a Pinot Noir if not for its toasted, chocolatey aftertaste.
Got a few more questions about this delectable wine grape variety? We’ll answer them below.
1. Is Merlot a Dry or Sweet Wine?
If you want a wine that has a touch of sweetness but isn’t quite so sugary, Merlot is a fantastic pick. This wine leans toward the drier side, though not quite to the extent of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo.
2. Is Merlot Better Than Cabernet Sauvignon?
The term ‘better’ for wine is extremely relative. One person’s beloved glass is another person’s uninterested shrug.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold, fruit-forward wine known for its bitterness, tartness, and extremely dry character. It’s particularly good for recipes due to how easily its flavor lasts throughout the cooking process.
Merlot is comparatively softer, leaning toward chocolatey and dark fruit flavors.
Depending on your personal tastes, either wine could be a good fit!
Your Merlot price shouldn’t dictate your enjoyment. As long as you embrace your unique tastes and give your wine room to breathe (literally), you’ll have a great glass on your hands.
Merlot is a softer red wine, leaning toward a dry style with fewer tannins. Its dominant flavors range from blackberry to plum, though certain harvesting styles can create notes of baking spices, hazelnut, and earthiness. You’ll gain a larger Merlot vocabulary by trying out International styles and Bordeaux styles.