Five Must-Try Merlot Regions

Many articles about Merlot begin with a few dusty Sideways jokes followed by context on its rise, decline, and hopeful renaissance. I guess I'm doing the same thing here, but what I want to say is, it's time to change the narrative around Merlot. That movie was 16 years ago, and quite honestly, today's wine lovers don't care!

What do they care about? Stories, and places. Especially now as travel is limited, we want to journey through wine. Like Chardonnay, Merlot will adjust and adapt to many different sites and climates, warm and cool alike. It can take you on a vacation to a chilly region, like the Finger Lakes or Northern Italy. Or you can imagine you're sipping somewhere hot, like Paso Robles or South Australia. Given its flexibility, there are countless options to compare and contrast its expressions from around the globe.

If you've tried Merlot from one place and didn't love it, give it another go from somewhere completely different. Even better: try distinct regions side-by-side and observe the differences! You'll be surprised by its range as you mentally escape to places like Bordeaux, California, Tuscany, and South Africa.

But where to begin? These are my five must-try Merlot-growing regions. Try one, try a few, or try 'em all!

Merlot lover's dream

Some of my favorite Merlot-growing regions

Saint-Émilion Satellite Appellations, Bordeaux

It's no secret that Saint-Émilion is my favorite appellation in Bordeaux. But when I'm shopping for values, I turn my attention to its satellite appellations: Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion, and Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion. They are located northeast of the primary Saint-Émilion appellation and share its cool limestone and clay soils. Montagne-Saint-Émilion tends to be the easiest to find stateside.

Château La Bastienne 2016 Montagne-Saint-Émilion, $20

Château Lyonnat 2015 Lussac-Saint-Émilion, $27

Vieux Château Saint André 2017 Montagne-Saint-Émilion, $40

Finger Lakes, New York

Hear me out. I understand that Merlot isn't as well-suited for the region as Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch. However, thanks to its adaptability and early ripening, it can shine in ideal locations in the Finger Lakes. Like many red grapes that work in cool climates, it has mild tannins—perfect for those who prefer silkier wines. If you like the soft, earthy Merlots of Bordeaux and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, try these.

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars 2017 Merlot Block 137, $23

Sheldrake Point Winery 2017 Merlot, $22

Bloomer Creek 2018 Vin d'été, $25

Read more about my newfound enthusiasm for Finger Lakes reds. 

Central Coast, California

The Central Coast is a large region of California that runs from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Unfortunately due to endless acres, the Central Coast AVA has a reputation for mass-produced wines without character. The key is to focus on quality producers in specific appellations based on your personal preferences. If you like Merlot from warmer climates, turn to Paso Robles. If you prefer cooler climate, Monterey and the Santa Cruz Mountains are better for you!

LaZarre 2017 Merlot Paso Robles, $48*

McIntyre Vineyards 2016 Kimberly Merlot Arroyo Seco, $28*

Bonny Doon 2018 Merlot Santa Cruz Mountains, $34

Napa Valley Mountain Appellations, California

In the shadow of the more famous of "Napa Cab" (Cabernet Sauvignon), Napa Valley Merlot waits patiently for your attention. Don't overlook it! Instead, look up—to the mountain appellations. The areas of Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Mount Veeder produce my favorite Merlots in the region (and my favorite Cabs, too!). In these higher elevation spots, you'll find fresher, cooler Merlot than from the warmer valley floor.

Rutherford Hill 2017 Merlot Atlas Peak, $62*

La Jota Vineyards 2017 Merlot Howell Mountain, $85*

Mt. Brave 2016 Merlot Mount Veeder, $80

Columbia Valley, Washington

If you love bold Merlot, it's time to explore Columbia Valley in Washington State. Home to AVAs like Walla Walla Valley and Horse Heaven Hills, this region covers almost 9 million acres—about one third of the state. Given the size, there's a lot of variation in Columbia Valley, but I find that Merlot is generally fruity, dusty, and herbaceous here. In addition to Merlot, they produce fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, too.

Northstar 2016 Merlot Columbia Valley, $41*

Nine Hats 2015 Merlot Columbia Valley, $25*

L'Ecole 2017 Merlot Columbia Valley, $24

Rather shop based on tastes? Check out my ultimate guide to Merlot for every type of wine lover.

*These wines were provided as samples.