10 Best Merlot Wines in California (2022)

10 Best Merlot Wines in California Featured

What Is the Best Merlot in California?

Red wine fans love Merlot for its bold cherry flavors, chocolate elements, supple tannins, and enticing finish. It’s a great wine often confused with Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet, although the two wines are not the same, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are commonly giving wines full of flavor and complexity.

Essentially, Merlot is a cross between Cabernet Franc and the rare, but exceptional Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, so in a way, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are siblings. Merlot is the most planted grape in Bordeaux, France, and grows in the same climate as Cabernet Sauvignon (obviously), Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.

When it comes to food pairing, Merlot goes with a multitude of cuisines, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. Pizza, barbeque, bacon, cheeses, roasts, rack of lamb, filet mignon, and ratatouille are some foods you can pair Merlot with. What you would want to avoid are fish dishes and spicy dishes. Riesling is definitely a better choice for those dishes. Read on to find the top-rated Merlot wines in California.


Best Overall Best Value Best Cheap Under $10 Best Under $15 Best Under $20 Best Under $25 Best Under $30 Best Under $50 Best Under $100 Best With Unlimited Budget
Bottle
Name Emmolo Merlot Decoy Sonoma County Merlot Robert Mondavi Private Selection Merlot J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Los Osos Merlot 1000 Stories Gold Rush Red Markham Vineyards Merlot Stags’ Leap Merlot Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot Shafer TD9 Verite La Muse
Color Red Red Red Red Red Red Red Red Red Red
Country United States United States United States United States United States United States United States United States United States United States
Grapes Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot Merlot
Taste Sweet Plum, Blueberry, Cocoa, Cranberry, Pomegranate, Chocolate Plum, Red Currant, Orange, Chocolate, Coffee, Cheese, Prune, Black Pepper, Charred Oak Cherry, Prune, Fig, Raspberry, Charred Wood, Chocolate Butter, Mushrooms, Cherry, Cocoa, Blackberry, Raspberry Prune, Fig, Leather, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Stewed Fruit, Charred Oak, Mint Black Cherry, Black Plum, Chocolate, Tobacco, Mint Plum, Blackberry, Chocolate, Oak Cherries, Raspberry, Black Plum, Tobacco, Oak Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Fig, Plum, Prune, Licorice, Graphite Raspberry, Blackberry, Cherry, Prune, Plum, Fig, Spices, Chocolate, Menthol, Herbs
Food Pairing Smoked Turkey, Argentinian Steak, Roasted Duck, Dark Chocolate Desserts Meatloaf, Rabbit Casserole, Macaroni, And Cheese, Cheeseburgers Rib Eye, Burgers, Seared Salmon, Braised Short Ribs, Rabbit Casserole, Gouda Bourbon Glazed Shrimps, BBQ Ribs, Dark Chocolate, Red Sauce Pasta, Steaks Of All Kind Lasagna, Blackened Salmon, Pork Casserole, Leg Of Lamb, Truffles Crab Cakes, Italian Chicken, Mushroom Dishes, Pork Chops, Beef Tenderloin Grilled Meat, Chicken Parmesan, Rabbit Casseroles, Seared Salmon Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Dry Aged Steak, Porcini Filet Mignon, Roasted Lamb Barbeque, Veggie Bakes, Chorizo, Salmon, Rack Of Lamb, Chicken Casserole Roast Beef, Roast Lamb, Chargrilled Steak, Roast Chicken, Salmon, Jambalaya, Jarlsberg
Alcohol Content 15.1% 13.5% 13.5% 13.9% 15% 14.6% 14.5% 14.5% 15.3% 14.5%
Sugar Content Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry
Our Rating 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5) 4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.6 out of 5 stars (4.6 / 5) 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5) 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
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Best Merlot Wines in California

Best Overall

  • Name — Emmolo Merlot
  • Winery — Emmolo
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Blackberry, Dried Fruit, Mocha, Orange, Cocoa, Vanilla
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Sweet Plum, Blueberry, Cocoa, Cranberry, Pomegranate, Chocolate
  • Alcohol Content — 15.1%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Smoked Turkey, Argentinian Steak, Roasted Duck, Dark Chocolate Desserts
Overall Rating: 4.9

Positives
  • Big And Rich
  • Well-Rounded
  • Very Unique
Negatives
  • Might Be a Little Bit Fruity For Some

Tasting Notes

An intense red, with alluring aromas of dark fruits, berry pie, and earth. The palate builds quickly and expands, presenting flavors of coffee, toasted wood, and cinnamon spice. Smooth tannins and soft texture. Lingering finish. Inviting aromas of plums, raspberries, berry pie, wet soil, and leather define this Merlot’s nose.

These are closely followed by nuances of a cigar, sage, and mint adding aromatic layers. In the mouth, the palate is seduced by flavors of coffee, charred wood, blackberries, boysenberries, and sweet spices. Finally, there is a smooth, lingering finish that brings tastes of chocolate and silky tannins. Moderate acidity.

Distinct Wines

Emmolo produces Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines with a distinctive style. Heading up the winery is winemaker Jenny Wagner, who is interested in developing new vineyard and vinification techniques. Most wines are produced by grapes sourced within the Emmolo estate.


Best Value

  • Name — Decoy Sonoma County Merlot
  • Winery — Decoy
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Sonoma County
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Licorice, Smoke, Vanilla Spice
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Plum, Red Currant, Orange, Chocolate, Coffee, Cheese, Prune, Black Pepper, Charred Oak
  • Alcohol Content — 13.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Meatloaf, Rabbit Casserole, Macaroni, And Cheese, Cheeseburgers
Overall Rating: 4.5

Positives
  • Super Delicious
  • Delicate Texture From The First Sip
  • Structured And Complex
  • Velvety Tannins
  • Long, Creamy Finish
  • Aging Potential
Negatives
  • Acidity Can Be A Bit Overwhelming

Tasting Notes

This Merlot is oaked and has an approachable, plummy feel. Expect to find aromas and flavors of cloves, dried fruits, toasted oak, cranberries, and chocolate. The tannic expression is smooth, while the finish is creamy and full of taste. Possibly the best Californian Merlot.

Aromas of raspberries, plums, dried figs, prunes, and cocoa arise from the glass, accompanied by nuances of violets, charred wood, and tobacco. The palate is similar to the nose, presenting flavors of dark fruits, berries, and leather. Some hints of citrus exist, as well, although they’re faint. The tannins are fine-grained, while the conclusion is elegant. In other words, the wine has great flavor concentration. Yummy!

Expressive Wines

Decoy is part of the Duckhorn Portfolio of wines. The focus of this winery is to produce wines with a distinctive style, ready for consumption upon release. Decoy wines also are expressive and manage to attain high levels of complexity. For this reason, Decoy has evolved from just a wine label to a standalone brand and winery.


Best Cheap Under $10

  • Name — Robert Mondavi Private Selection Merlot
  • Winery — Robert Mondavi
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Central Coast
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Cherry, Plum, Blackberry, Cocoa, Blackcurrant, Dried Herb, Cigar
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Cherry, Prune, Fig, Raspberry, Charred Wood, Chocolate
  • Alcohol Content — 13.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Rib Eye, Burgers, Seared Salmon, Braised Short Ribs, Rabbit Casserole, Gouda
Overall Rating: 4.4

Positives
  • Firm Tannins
  • Dynamic Aromas And Flavors
  • Smooth
Negatives
  • Slightly Acidic

Tasting Notes

A fantastic and dynamic red wine that begins with the aromas of cherries, plums, chocolate, dark fruits, and dried herbs. On the palate, ripe cherries and raspberries dominate. Firm tannins and medium finish. The nose has aromas of ripe summer fruits and cocoa, as well as notes of dried herbs and cigars.

Medium-to-full-bodied, the palate is powerful with tastes of sweet cherries, prunes, figs, raspberries, and charred wood. The tannins are firm and a bit chewy. Refreshing acidity and medium, chocolate-influenced finish. A fantastic selection from Robert Mondavi, who is reputed to be one of California’s premier winemakers.

A Pioneer Winemaker

Founded in 1966 by winemaking pioneer Robert Mondavi, the winery aims to create high-end Napa Valley wines that stand the test of time and are considered to be some of the world’s greatest. Robert Mondavi, however, is not known just for its high-quality wines but for the wine type, he created: Fumé Blanc. Specifically, Robert Mondavi wanted to craft a bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc. At the time, it was sweet in the US, just like in France. Yet, what he ended up with was an oaked Sauvignon Blanc. This Sauvignon was celebrated by wine enthusiasts!


Best Under $15

  • Name — J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Los Osos Merlot
  • Winery — J. Lohr
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Black Plum, Raspberry, Hazelnut, Vanilla, Rum
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Butter, Mushrooms, Cherry, Cocoa, Blackberry, Raspberry
  • Alcohol Content — 13.9%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Bourbon Glazed Shrimps, BBQ Ribs, Dark Chocolate, Red Sauce Pasta, Steaks Of All Kind
Overall Rating: 4.4

Positives
  • Very Velvety
  • Well-Structured
  • Lively And Bright
Negatives
  • Bit Over-Ripe

Tasting Notes

A high-end Merlot with intense varietal aromas of black plums and violets, and a light barrel signature of vanilla spice and charred wood. Flavors of dark and red fruits dominate on the palate. Moderate acidity and smooth, unobtrusive tannins. This Merlot has fine aromas of black plums, prunes, figs, and violets on the nose and barrel undertones.

Of course, the aromatic intensity doesn’t stop there, as nuances of vanilla spice, tobacco, and charred wood follow. As it flows into the mouth, you can find flavors of blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and mocha blended together. Ripe boysenberry and candied florals meet up with the cocoa-powdered tannins. Nutmeg and cinnamon define the finish.

J. Lohr

J. Lohr farms over 4,000 acres of vineyards in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco appellations, Paso Robles, and St. Helena in Napa Valley. The winery has 8 tiers of award-winning releases and has been honored with the 2020 Green Medal Leader Award due to its commitment to sustainability.


Best Under $20

  • Name — 1000 Stories Gold Rush Red
  • Winery — 1000 Stories
  • Country/Region — United States, California
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Plum, Blackberry, Cherry, Raspberry, Dried Soil, Wood, Cocoa
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Prune, Fig, Leather, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Stewed Fruit, Charred Oak, Mint
  • Alcohol Content — 15%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Lasagna, Blackened Salmon, Pork Casserole, Leg Of Lamb, Truffles
Overall Rating: 4.5

Positives
  • Ripe And Toasty
  • Smooth Tannins
  • Long Finish
Negatives
  • Little Bit Bitter

Tasting Notes

Ripe and toasty, the wine has aromas and flavors of black fruits, earth, and toasted barrels. The tannins are smooth, and the finish is long and lingering. Pair it with grilled steak, such as ribeye or pork chops. Savor it with friends.

Dynamic aromas of plums, blackberries, red cherries, and raspberries surface from the glass and blend with nuances of dried soil, wood, and cocoa. On the palate, the residual sugar is apparent and offers structure, as flavors of blackberries, prunes, figs, and leather result in a smooth red wine experience. Great tannins and savory aftertaste. Medium but refreshing acidity.

Began as an Experiment, Became a Passion

1000 Stories signifies a new age for bourbon wine, a reflection of their winemaker’s pioneering spirit. In fact, 1000 stories began as an experiment but became a passion. Over time, their wines and winemaking matured to such an extent that they have managed to create exceptional vintages every single time.


Best Under $25

  • Name — Markham Vineyards Merlot
  • Winery — Markham
  • Country/Region — United States, California, North Coast, Napa County, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Dark Fruit, Vanilla, Oak, Spice, Plum
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Black Cherry, Black Plum, Chocolate, Tobacco, Mint
  • Alcohol Content — 14.6%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Crab Cakes, Italian Chicken, Mushroom Dishes, Pork Chops, Beef Tenderloin
Overall Rating: 4.5

Positives
  • Smooth And Light Acidity
  • Very Approachable
  • Lovely Finish
Negatives
  • Slightly Too Sweet

Tasting Notes

Blackberries and plum, accompanied by caramel and vanilla spice notes from the barrel, define this Merlot. Plush tannins and velvety texture. Good, albeit sour finish. Refreshing acidity. A great red; perhaps the best Merlot in California for some.

The wine begins with the aromas of lavender, dried herbs, blackberries, mulberries, and plums. These nuances are enhanced by touches of charred wood, tobacco, and vanilla spice. The mouth is thick and plush, showing flavors of dark fruits, stewed cherries, cinnamon, mocha, and cocoa. Fine-grained tannins and high acidity. The finish is of good length, but a bit sour. Make no mistake, that’s a Merlot I’d be glad to sip again.

Sustainable Winemaking

Markham Vineyards practice sustainability without sacrificing wine quality. In fact, for them, sustainability begins in the vineyard and focuses on land management practices. In the winery, Markham wines are crafted by Kimberlee Nicholls, a passionate winemaker who knows how to produce expressive vintages with grapes sourced from Oak Knoll, Calistoga, and Yountville.


Best Under $30

  • Name — Stags’ Leap Merlot
  • Winery — Stags’ Leap
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Black Fruit, Plums, Vanilla, Licorice, Coffee
  • Grapes — Merlot, Petit Syrah
  • Taste — Plum, Blackberry, Chocolate, Oak
  • Alcohol Content — 14.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Grilled Meat, Chicken Parmesan, Rabbit Casseroles, Seared Salmon
Overall Rating: 4.6

Positives
  • Surprising Depth
  • Smooth Tannins
  • Lovely Texture
Negatives
  • Slightly Overpriced

Tasting Notes

This Napa Merlot is highly expressive and presents the character of Napa Valley in all of its glory. Juicy fruit flavors, baking spice notes, and a polished structure. The palate is complex with pomegranates, plums, and cherries that persist through the medium-long finish.

As soon as you uncork the glass, expect the aromas of blackberries, boysenberries, flowers, licorice, flower petals, and baking spices to emerge. Incredibly pleasurable on the palate, where flavors of citrus blend with red fruits, such as plums. The complex structure is impressive, as caramel and cinnamon spice notes define the delicious finish. Smooth tannins and lovely texture.

Stags’ Leap

The Stags’ Leap winery has a reputation for producing elegant wines that exhibit finesse and expression. It’s one of the best retreats in the Napa Valley since it is a place of natural beauty with impressive gardens and stunning historical architecture.


Best Under $50

  • Name — Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
  • Winery — Duckhorn
  • Country/Region — United States, Napa Valley, California
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Black Cherry, Spiced Plum, Cedar, Tobacco, Vanilla
  • Grapes — 80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Malbec
  • Taste — Cherries, Raspberry, Black Plum, Tobacco, Oak
  • Alcohol Content — 14.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Dry Aged Steak, Porcini Filet Mignon, Roasted Lamb
Overall Rating: 4.8

Positives
  • Very Unique
  • Bold
  • Full Body
Negatives
  • A Bit Overripe

Tasting Notes

The wine has the aromas of dark fruits, spices, tobacco, and wet soil. Medium-to-full in body with impressive tannins, and a vibrant finish. Focused and delicious. Feel free to drink now or hold for a few years.

Nuances of plums, figs, prunes, and baking spices dominate this wine’s bouquet and are accompanied by aromas of sweet tobacco and wet soil, and forest underbrush. The body is complex and intense, with flavors of cherries, cedar, blackberries, and blueberries. Some notes of clove can be detected, too. The tannins feel a bit austere but they’re not obtrusive. The finish is characterized by coffee bean flavors. Medium acidity.

One of the World’s Best Wineries

Duckhorn winery was founded in 1976, and since then, it has been crafting classic Napa Valley wines for over 40 years. Duckhorn focuses on consistency, expression, and quality, and for this reason, it has been named eight times one of the “Top 100 Wineries” in the world by Wine & Spirits.


Best Under $100

  • Name — Shafer TD9
  • Winery — Shafer
  • Country/Region — United States, California, North Coast, Napa County, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Raspberry, Black Cherry, Rose Petal, Rhubarb, Plum, Leather, Smoke
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Fig, Plum, Prune, Licorice, Graphite
  • Alcohol Content — 15.3%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Barbeque, Veggie Bakes, Chorizo, Salmon, Rack Of Lamb, Chicken Casserole
Overall Rating: 4.9

Positives
  • Complex Palate
  • Long Finish
  • Great Depth
Negatives
  • Slightly Stronger Earthy Notes

Tasting Notes

This wine begins with an aromatic feast of raspberries, black cherries, rose petals, and rhubarb. In the mouth, the racy red shows black and red fruits that are prevalent and combine nicely with baking spices, and ripe tannins. Long finish. Among the best-selling Merlot wines in California.

Fine aromas of red berries and black cherries meet rose petals, rhubarb, and plum nuances on the nose. Some meaty elements can be found, too, adding depth, as well as a hint of smoke. The palate is smooth and savory, full of blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and red plums. Figs and prunes combine with licorice and graphite to complete the complex mouth. Focused and long finish. High acidity.

Shafer Vineyards

Shafer Vineyards is one of Napa Valley’s iconic family-owned wineries and has been named one of the world’s best wineries by wine critics. Shafer’s signature wine is Hillside Select and can be found in wine connoisseurs’ collections and on the wine lists of top hotels and fine dining establishments.


Best With Unlimited Budget

  • Name — Verite La Muse
  • Winery — Verite
  • Country/Region — United States, California, North Coast, Sonoma County
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Wildflower, Lavender, Cherry, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Blackcurrant, Cassis, Licorice
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Raspberry, Blackberry, Cherry, Prune, Plum, Fig, Spices, Chocolate, Menthol, Herbs
  • Alcohol Content — 14.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Roast Beef, Roast Lamb, Chargrilled Steak, Roast Chicken, Salmon, Jambalaya, Jarlsberg
Overall Rating: 5.0

Positives
  • Fresh Bouquet
  • Juicy Palate With Well-integrated Tannins
  • Lingering Finish
  • Exceptional Balance
Negatives
  • Perfection

Tasting Notes

An exceptional Merlot that opens with a classic ruby-red color. The bouquet has wildflowers, cherries, raspberries, and currants. These are fresh and unrestrained. The palate has well-integrated tannins and is full of fruits, too. Lingering finish. Superbly balanced.

The dense nose has the aromas of wildflowers, lavender, cherries, pomegranates, raspberries, and black and red currants. Some cassis is noticeable on the nose, as well as licorice notes. Full-bodied and rich, the mouth exhibits flavors of blackberries, raspberries, cherries, prunes, plums, figs, and spices. On top of that, expect to taste chocolate, menthol, and sautéed herbs. The seductive mid-palate is accented by exotic spices before concluding in a long finish. Velvety tannins. Racy acidity.

Verite

Verite stands for “truth” and reflects the commitment of the winery to crafting authentic and expressive wines. To put it simply, Verite is dedicated to producing high-end red wines of style and substance. They use only traditional methods and source the finest fruit from the best vineyards of Sonoma County.

Conclusion

Merlot is underrated. It might be popular as an easy-to-drink wine, yet it can be complex and inspired, too. So, if you want to have a fun wine night with your friends or open a bottle with a client, Merlot is the way to go!

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