10 Best Merlot Wines in the Napa Valley (2021)

Best Merlot in Napa Valley Featured

In Search of the Smooth and Gentle Introduction

Want to discover what the best Merlot in Napa Valley is? Read on as we delve into the wonderful world of Napa Valley Merlot. The name ‘Merlot’ is derived from the French word for ‘little blackbird’ but there is some uncertainty as to whether the name refers to the color of the grape or the blackbirds that have a great appetite for eating the grapes.

The grape was originally widely planted in Bordeaux. The history of Merlot in France has been a rather traumatic one following a severe frost in 1956 which all but destroyed the Merlot and Malbec vines. After the deep freeze, new plantings of Merlot suffered extensively from rot until eventually, the French government banned the planting of new Merlot in 1970. The ban was lifted in 1975 and new plantings of Merlot were enthusiastically undertaken because of the surge in popularity of Merlot.

The International Appeal of Merlot

Merlot has become the fourth most popular wine in the USA and is the fifth most popular wine in Italy. However, Merlot is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon globally as the most popular planted varietal. First brought to the Napa Valley in the mid-nineteen hundred it was initially primarily used as a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon to add supple smoothness. However, the popularity of the reduced tannins and the pleasant palate of the varietal initiated the production of Merlot as a standalone wine. The popularity of the wine encouraged further plantings in the states of Washington, Maryland, and Virginia.


Best Napa Valley Merlot Wines

Best Overall Best Value Best Under $15 Best Under $20 Best Under $25 Best Under $30 Best Under $40 Best Under $50 Best Under $100 Best With Unlimited Budget
Bottle
Name Emmolo Merlot Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot Cannonball Merlot Textbook Merlot Stag’s Leap Merlot The Prisoner Thorn Merlot Freemark Abbey Merlot Peju Merlot Pahlmeyer Merlot Blankiet Paradise Hills Merlot
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, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot Merlot, Petit Syrah, Syrah Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Petit Syrah Merlot, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Malbec Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Taste Black Cherry, Dark Fruits, Cocoa, Vanilla, Hints Of Smoke Black Cherry, Blackberry, Black Plum, Bit Of Earthiness Cherry, Raspberry, Plum, Vanilla, Cocoa Dried Raspberries, Dark Plums, Vanilla, Spice Plum, Blackberry, Chocolate, Oak Dark Fruits, Blackberry, Black Cherry, Chocolate, Oak Cherries, Plums, Blackberry, Dark Chocolate Cherries, Cranberries, Oak, White Pepper Black Cherries, Plums, Blueberries, Red Fruit, Vanilla Black Cherries, Plums, Dark Chocolate, Herbal Notes
Food Pairing Argentinian Steak, Roasted Duck, Beef Wellington, Roasted Lamb Brussel Sprouts, Dry Aged Steak, Porcini Filet Mignon, Venison Duck, Tomato Pasta, Prime Rib, Roasted Vegetables Beef BBQ, Roast Lamb, Burger, Braised Venison Grilled Meat, Chicken Parmesan, Rabbit Casseroles, Seared Salmon Flank Steak, Curry, Meaty Stews, Roasted Vegetables, Cocoa Desserts Grilled Pork Chops, Filet Mignon, Aged Cheeses Roast Lamb, Spicy Food, Marinara, Dark Chocolate Filet Mignon, Crispy Duck, Spicy Dishes, Meatballs Grilled Cuts, Fresh Tuna, Asian Dishes
Alcohol Content 15.2% 14.5% 13.7% 13.3% 14.5% 15.3% 14.4% 14.5% 15.2% 14.8%
Sugar Content Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry Dry
Our Rating 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5) 4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5) 4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) 4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5) 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5) 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)
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Best Overall

  • Name — Emmolo Merlot
  • Winery — Emmolo
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Cherry, Blackberry, Plum, Cocoa, Vanilla
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Black Cherry, Dark Fruits, Cocoa, Vanilla, Hints Of Smoke
  • Alcohol Content — 15.2%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Argentinian Steak, Roasted Duck, Beef Wellington, Roasted Lamb
Overall Rating: 4.8

Positives
  • Delicious Ripe Flavors
  • Velvety Smooth
  • Well-Balanced
Negatives
  • Could Be A Bit More Complex

The Emmolo Wine brand was established by Cheryl Emmolo over twenty-five years ago on the Rutherford Estate which has been in her family for over a hundred years. Originally from Italy, Salvatore Emmolo founded the estate in 1923 and produced grapevine rootstock that became widely used in the Napa Valley.

The estate is managed by her daughter Jenny Wagner and focuses on Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes are sourced from the Oak Knoll estate and sometimes further afield from the Carneros and Atlas Peak areas. The cooler weather of the Oak Knoll district together with the light gravelly soils and the implementation of crop thinning results in a Merlot rich in dark berry flavors with a smooth tannin compliment. The wine is aged in French barrels for just over a year and a half.

Winemaker Jenny Wagner intends to make a distinctive Merlot, different from what is generally expected from Californian Merlot. She has created a Merlot rich in lush fruits with supple earthy qualities and soft, gentle tannins which has made it one of the top-rated Merlot wines in Napa Valley. This Merlot greets with a fragrant kaleidoscope of blueberries, anise, and wildflowers with perhaps a touch of leather and coffee. It is a wine that fills the mouth with smooth flavors of dark berries that float on gentle tannins that hold their softness through a long and flavor-filled finish.


Best Value

  • Name — Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
  • Winery — Duckhorn
  • Country/Region — United States, Napa Valley, California
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Red Fruits, Oak, Black Cherry, Spice
  • Grapes — 77% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, .5% Malbec, .5 % Petit Verdot
  • Taste — Black Cherry, Blackberry, Black Plum, Bit Of Earthiness
  • Alcohol Content — 14.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Brussel Sprouts, Dry Aged Steak, Porcini Filet Mignon, Venison
Overall Rating: 4.7

Positives
  • Beautiful Color
  • Very Balanced
  • Pleasant Finish
  • Silky Texture
Negatives
  • Needs To Age A Little Bit More

The Merlot of the Napa Valley tends to produce softer tannins and forthright raspberry and blackberry fruits. Daniel and Margaret Duckhorn, founders of the estate have championed the proliferation of Merlot as a standalone varietal. Their dedication has resulted in their Three Palms Merlot being judged as the best Merlot in the Napa Valley.

The Three Palms Merlot uses grapes from the north-eastern side of the Napa Valley and although the Three Palms Vineyard is not owned by the Duckhorn’s they have signed an exclusivity agreement with owners John and Sloan Upton to receive the wines from Three Palms. The Merlot grapes are blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cab Franc and a touch of Petit Verdot. The wine is a wonderful combination of rich fruit and structured tannins and is rated as the best Napa Valley Merlot. The concentrated fruits range from dark to red fruits interlaced with enticing soft spices and cocoa.


Best Under $15

  • Name — Cannonball Merlot
  • Winery — Cannonball Wines
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry, Licorice, Oak
  • Grapes — Merlot, Petit Syrah, Syrah
  • Taste — Cherry, Raspberry, Plum, Vanilla, Cocoa
  • Alcohol Content — 13.7%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Duck, Tomato Pasta, Prime Rib, Roasted Vegetables
Overall Rating: 4.3

Positives
  • Easy-Drinking
  • Smooth Finish
  • Great Price
Negatives
  • Needs A Bit More Body

Cannonball Merlot is the second varietal produced by the Cannonball team. The Cannonball project was started just over fifteen years ago and had as its aim to introduce wines that were fun, uninhibited, and offered irresistible value. The first wine released was the Cannonball Cabernet which was soon followed by a Chardonnay and then Merlot. The grapes are sourced from selected regions of the Napa Valley ensuring a great consistency by careful blending of fruit from the various micro-climates and soil types of the region. The extremely competitive pricing has ensured that this wine has become one of the best-selling Merlot wines in Napa Valley.

The wine is dark, rich, and fruity with an uncomplicated introduction to the palate. It is impressively smooth with a greeting of dark fruit, plums, spice, and vanilla. The Merlot is comfortably joined by a combination of Petit Syrah and Syrah to ensure a long and satisfying finish to the wine. With an alcohol content in the higher regions of thirteen percent and an exceptionally low sugar content of two grams per liter the wine achieves a most harmonious balance with the rich dark fruit.


Best Under $20

  • Name — Textbook Merlot
  • Winery — Alexander Valley Estate
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Blackberry, Black Cherry, Dried Figs, Vanilla
  • Grapes — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Taste — Dried Raspberries, Dark Plums, Vanilla, Spice
  • Alcohol Content — 13.3%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Beef BBQ, Roast Lamb, Burger, Braised Venison
Overall Rating: 4.5

Positives
  • Well-Balanced
  • Smooth Mouthfeel
  • Fairly Bold
Negatives
  • Needs To Age A Bit

Almost twenty years ago Jonathon and Susan Pey established the Textbook winery utilizing grapes from the Napa Valley and Oakville sites. Jonathon coupled his living and working experience in France with a Californian agricultural degree. The winery leans strongly on the philosophy of the quality of the wine being determined in the vineyard. Consequently, great attention is bestowed on the crafting of the vines to ensure the wine produced boasts of an eloquent balance. The dark red fruit quality is derived from a combination of ninety-two percent Merlot and eight percent Cabernet Sauvignon.

The ratio of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varies with vintages and in 2018 the Cabernet Sauvignon content was increased to twenty percent. The increased amount of cabernet sauvignon has created a wine with soft tannins and a wonderfully smooth and lengthy finish. French oak is utilized during the fourteen-month fermentation process. The wine is delicately balanced between the spiciness of sandalwood and allspice matched by the richness of cherries, dried raspberry, and dark plums. The Larkspur Wine Company purchased the Textbook winery just over two years ago.


Best Under $25

  • Name — Stag’s Leap Merlot
  • Winery — Stag’s 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: 4.5

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

One of the older vineyards in the Napa Valley dating back one hundred and fifty years ago to when grapes were planted by T L Grigsby. The first wines were released in 1893, but production only lasted for fifteen years. Further interruptions occurred as a result of Prohibition and the Great Depression. Production was resumed in 1972 and twenty-five years later the estate was purchased by Treasury Wine Estates. Even though the estate does have a little over six acres of Merlot, the grapes for this Merlot are sourced predominantly from the southern section of the Napa Valley which produces fruit of distinct freshness and bright acidity.

The quality and consistency of the wine are managed by Winemaker Christophe Paubert who learned his trade in the Bordeaux region of France. The tannins are nicely balanced by rich dark fruit, dark plums, strawberry jam, and chocolate. This Merlot verges on the dry side with a medium body. The influence of light oak creates a spicy aroma and a lovely rich and round mouth-filling quality. The vintages display a variation in fruit complexity ranging from cherry, cranberry, and pomegranate to the lush darker fruits of dark plums mixed with caramel and cinnamon nuances that linger together with the long, smooth finish.


Best Under $30

  • Name — The Prisoner Thorn Merlot
  • Winery — The Prisoner Wine Company
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Dark Fruit, Caramel, Rose, Vanilla, Coffee
  • Grapes — Merlot, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Malbec
  • Taste — Dark Fruits, Blackberry, Black Cherry, Chocolate, Oak
  • Alcohol Content — 15.3%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Flank Steak, Curry, Meaty Stews, Roasted Vegetables, Cocoa Desserts
Overall Rating: 4.7

Positives
  • Very Drinkable
  • Smooth Taste
  • Sleek And Powerful
Negatives
  • Fairly High Alcohol Content

This intensely dark Merlot is blended with approximately twenty-three percent Syrah, Malbec, and a hint of Petit Sirah, to enhance both the fruit and the tannins. Syrah was introduced to strengthen the body while Malbec brings the fruit to the fore. Fermented in both French and Hungarian Oak, the rich dark fruit of black cherries is supported by the spicy tones and cedar. The rich fruitiness is balanced by a hefty fifteen percent ABV.

The rather unusual name of the wine is derived from the work of the Spanish artist Francisca Goya titled ‘Le Petit Prisoner’. Winemaker, Chrissy Wittmann aims at producing wines that are bold and full-bodied, following an independent path. The grapes are sourced from numerous vineyards throughout California and the result is a wine of dense dark fruits coupled with a spiciness and savory balance. The medium tannins supply the foundation for the well-rounded fruits and the finish is long and smooth with just a hint of white pepper.


Best Under $40

  • Name — Freemark Abbey Merlot
  • Winery — Freemark Abbey
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Cherry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Vanilla, Spice
  • Grapes — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot
  • Taste — Cherries, Plums, Blackberry, Dark Chocolate
  • Alcohol Content — 14.4%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Grilled Pork Chops, Filet Mignon, Aged Cheeses
Overall Rating: 4.5

Positives
  • Well-Rounded
  • Long Finish
  • Soft Tannins
Negatives
  • Could Be A Bit Richer

The winery was established over one hundred and thirty years ago and is in the fortunate position of being able to source its wines from a variety of vineyards. This Merlot follows the trend of obtaining fruit from various locations. In this case, six areas are used to provide a wide spectrum of nuances that combine to make an exceptionally well-balanced Merlot. Providing the greatest share of the fruit, the vines from the high elevation of the Howell Mountains at Keyes, bear testimony to the cool nights and warm sunshine. Next, the rather harsh terrain at Atlas Peak produces small fruit with concentrated intensity. The fruit from this area is nicely balanced with the more clay-like soils of the Calistoga and Oakville Vineyards.

The generous fourteen and a half percent ABV provides a strong foundation upon with the rich dark fruit can excel. The wine is aged for approximately sixteen months in barrels of which just over a quarter are new oak. The Merlot is joined by just under six percent Cabernet Sauvignon and almost three percent Petit Verdot. The subtle opening of the wine with the cherry and plum fruits travels comfortably together with the spice, leather, and the herbaceous touch of arugula. The wine has a full mouthfeel to it as the balance of the fruit and the well-structured tannins produce a smooth and long-lasting finish.


Best Under $50

  • Name — Peju Merlot
  • Winery — Peju Province Winery
  • Country/Region — United States, Napa Valley, California
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Raspberry, Blueberry, Dark Fruit, Spice
  • Grapes — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot
  • Taste — Cherries, Cranberries, Oak, White Pepper
  • Alcohol Content — 14.5%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Roast Lamb, Spicy Food, Marinara, Dark Chocolate
Overall Rating: 4.7

Positives
  • Nice Complexity
  • Very Pleasant
  • Super Smooth
Negatives
  • Slightly Too Acidic

Tony and Herta Peju bought a thirty-acre plot in 1983. A house existed but, no winery. Together they have over the years developed the farm starting in the early years with grapes purchased from other areas. The couple has managed to increase their acreage and Peju now owns and manages over five hundred and fifty acres in the Napa Valley. They currently produce a wide variety of wines ranging from sparkling wine to single varietal wines.

The Merlot welcomes with rich and warm spice elements, leather, and sweet tobacco. The fruit is dominated by cherries and cranberries and is well balanced by the structured tannins. The Merlot is blended with almost twenty percent Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Petit Verdot (five percent). The Peju winery boasts an impressive culinary element with which the wines are expertly paired. The Merlot is elegantly coupled with wild mushrooms and meat dishes like roast lamb and pot roasts.


Best Under $100

  • Name — Pahlmeyer Merlot
  • Winery — Pahlmeyer
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Black Currant, Blackberry, Plum, Cherry, Tobacco
  • Grapes — Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Taste — Black Cherries, Plums, Blueberries, Red Fruit, Vanilla
  • Alcohol Content — 15.2%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Filet Mignon, Crispy Duck, Spicy Dishes, Meatballs
Overall Rating: 4.8

Positives
  • Extremely Smooth
  • Balanced Finish
  • Silky Tannins
  • Super Creamy
Negatives
  • Could Be A Little Bit More Complex

Launched a little over forty years ago Jason Pahlmeyer combined with Randy Dunn to make this superb Merlot. This is a one hundred percent Merlot in some vintages (2015) and in others, a small amount of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon is added. The estate sorts the fruit manually and only free-run juice is utilized in making this wine. The grapes are specially selected and any fruit not meeting the highest standards is discarded. The intense darkness of the wine is an indication of the superb depth of the fruit.

Following five days of cold maceration and forty-odd days of primary fermentation the wine is gently basket pressed before being allowed to work its magic in one hundred percent new French oak barrels for approximately twenty months. The wine is a symphony of aromas balanced between the dark cherries, anise, rose petal, and leather. Fruit flavors come to the fore, the dark fruits of black cherries, blackberries, and blueberries.

Berry flavors gently linger awaiting the arrival of the earthy nuances of allspice, cloves, and sage. The finish is smooth and delightfully long as the fruit fades on a wisp of spice. The tannins are plush and indicative of a wine that will provide bountiful enjoyment by being aged for good few years. The 2005 vintage is still available and the consensus is that it would still be spectacular in another fifteen years.


Best With Unlimited Budget

  • Name — Blankiet Paradise Hills Merlot
  • Winery — Blankiet Estate
  • Country/Region — United States, California, Napa Valley
  • Type — Californian Merlot
  • Aroma — Raspberry, Plums, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Oak
  • Grapes — Merlot
  • Taste — Black Cherries, Plums, Dark Chocolate, Herbal Notes
  • Alcohol Content — 14.8%
  • Sugar — Dry
  • Pairing — Grilled Cuts, Fresh Tuna, Asian Dishes
Overall Rating: 4.9

Positives
  • Complex
  • Layered
  • Balanced
  • Absolutely Fantastic
Negatives
  • None

Situated at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains the estate vineyard is divided into four sections with the Merlot planted in the rich alluvial clay soils. The harvesting of the grapes is all done by hand and the grapes are cold macerated for seven days and then warmed to initiate the fermentation process. Malolactic fermentation in new French barrels lasts for a few months in the warm cave environment before the wine is transferred into the colder caves where the wine is allowed to reach its potential over two years.

The wine is intensely dark and bellows with an immensely rich combination of flavors of black cherries, spice, and spring flowers. It is a full-bodied wine almost opulent in its generosity of flavors. Dark chocolate balanced with Provencal herbs lays easily on a foundation of firm tannins. The wine can last for another fifteen years and will retain its quality of being one of the best examples of a Napa Merlot.

Conclusion

IMerlot is one of the better varieties to introduce new wine drinkers to the world of red wine. It is the inherent softness of the wine that makes the introduction so effortless. Ever since it was introduced to add softness and luscious fruit to other blends, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has consistently held its place as one of the most sought-after varietals.

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