Merlot $10-$20 Wine Reviews

Are you a fan of merlot? Here's a tasting done with five wines ranging from $10-$20. Our tasting group included winetasters of all levels of experience, and we tried our samples with and without food.

If you've never tried merlot before, read up on my merlot information. In short, until a few years ago merlot was really only used as a blending wine. It was the "smoothing agent" in red Bordeaux. Its flavors, when you can distinguish them, are the soft, muted flavors of plum, black cherry and violets.

Many people who are new to winedrinking begin with merlot, because the flavors are gentle and easy to drink. Ironically, we found most of the merlot labels to be completely unhelpful for new wine drinkers in terms of telling them what flavors to expect or anything else. If you're new to wine, feel free to ask me if you have any questions about terms used or how these wines might suit your own preferences!

2003 Fat Bastard Merlot, $9.99

We used this as the entry merlot in our set, because many new wine drinkers buy this brand for its hip name. The back of the label says "enjoy with food and friends" - saying nothing about its flavor or pairing suggestions. We decided that's because there really were no strong flavors. A dusty cherry flavor was quite mild, and a hint of fruity was detected as well. Relatively short finish. A fine casual drinking wine.

2000 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley Merlot, $15.99

The label on this one said it had "intensity and flavor" but neglected to mention the flavors of *what*. While we did find it to be a bit fruitier than the Fat Bastard, it was still on the thin side. In a wine, thin and thick refer to the mouthfeel of the wine. Thin would be like water; thick would be like cream.

1999 Carmody McKnight Merlot, $15.99

The Carmody was both spicy and smooth, with a hint of sweetness as you first drank it that developed into nice fruit flavors. There was a nice, flavorful finish on the wine as well. Finish in a wine is how long the flavor lingers in your mouth after you finish drinking it.

2001 Tobin James Merlot, $16.99

A well balanced wine, not too thin but not too heavy either. The flavors were spicy, rich and complex, but again nothing strong stood out and screamed "strawberry" or "tobacco". This is a great mellow wine to serve with a dish that has a special flavor you wish to appreciate. The wine won't overwhelm the food's flavors, but is nice to drink.

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley, $18.99

This wine was the most expensive wine in the set, and came from a well known (and well respected) winery. The wine indeed ended up being the best of the group. The wine featured ripe, rich fruit with smooth, easy drinking flavors that had you enjoying the finish long after the glass was put down. The merlot was both lovely for sitting and sipping, and also helped bring out the spice / herb flavors of our food better.

Being a blending wine, merlot works well with many dishes. It is a light red wine, so many people enjoy it with medium-heavy dishes, such as a chicken in dark sauce or a pan-seared steak with mushroom-merlot sauce. The steak was especially good with the merlots we tried, and yes we cooked the steak with the merlot we were drinking. Remember to always cook with a wine you like - if anything, the cooking process concentrates that wine's flavors. If you start with a bad wine, you'll end up with concentrated bad wine flavors in your food!

Our final suggestion here is to try any of these wines to see how mild a merlot in general is - and to try the Chateau Ste Michelle to get a sense of the more complex flavors a good merlot can offer. As always, feel free to write Lisa and her tasting crew to chime in with your own views on these wines, or suggestions of what we should try next!

We buy all of these wines with our own money at our local wine shop, so we are drinking the exact same selections that you can find yourself. If you can't find these wines locally, please let us know!

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