A versatile red that pairs fantastically with fall

A versatile red that pairs fantastically with fall

By Alison Bailin Batz

In “Sideways,” the iconic 2004 movie on all things wine, Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, famously hates merlot. During the film, he goes so far as to say “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) merlot.” A few years after the film, Sonoma State University did a study, finding the movie was directly responsible for a massive blow to the merlot market, which flourished at an unprecedented level just prior.

Well, forget “Sideways,” at least when it comes to its thoughts on the varietal, which explodes with dark fruit flavor and is one of the softest red wines on the palate. Here are some of the lushest expressions of the delightful grape available today, each especially perfect as we move into fall.

2017 Crusher Merlot

The deep red of this bottle is reminiscent of cherry pie, which is fitting because every sip bursts with mixed berry pie filling, dark cherry, currant, warm vanilla and a subtle spearmint note. The wine is medium-bodied and loaded with juicy fruit flavors, spice rack notes and a silky finesse. $16

2014 South Coast Winery Wild Horse Peak Merlot

This Los Angeles International Wine Competition gold medal winner will have blueberries dancing on your palate upon tastings. Then, it gets pleasantly earthy, almost with a hint of coffee followed by just the slightest bit of rose petals. $26

2014 Oak Mountain Merlot

This wine is perfect for a (socially distanced) dinner party, as it goes with any dish you can dream up. To some, they’ll taste chocolate, while others get plums and licorice and even others will get black cherry and a big ole jammy finish. Everyone will love the velvety finish. $30

Swanson 6016 Merlot, Napa Valley

Deep in color and rich in aroma—you won’t soon forget the combination of blue fruit, pie crust and a touch of coconut husk on the nose. This full-bodied merlot delights with ripe plum along with cassis flavors. There are also secondary flavors present, predominantly a touch of cigar box and maybe graphite? $32

2016 Long Meadow Ranch Napa Valley Merlot

Stunning in every sip, it starts with bright fruit aromas of dark and red fruits—even a bit of berry—which then give way to subtle plum notes and even what tastes like Crème de Cassis (a sweet, dark red liqueur made from black currants). The grand finale of each sip is the big, rich aroma and then taste of cherry followed by raspberry. $40

Midnight Cellars 2017 Estate Merlot

Eerily dark in color and richly provoking with its nose of smoky, earthy, plum and leather all at once. The mouthfeel is full of structured tannin from the black fruit, ripe plum, earth and mineral flavor profiles. Dense and dusty tannins carry into the impossibly long finish. $44

2017 Rombauer Napa Valley Merlot

This wine should be a staple in all homes. Upon opening, the aromas of fresh, ripe blueberries, ripe plum and black currants are enchanting, heighted by the secondary aromas of cedar and vanilla. Upon tasting this medium-bodied merlot, you will be delighted by the flavors of plums and blueberries again, but this time with figs sweetening the experience. $45

Prospice 2017 Walla Walla Valley Merlot

Vibrantly juicy up front, but then seductively earthy and a bit spicy as it finishes, this Washington wine surprises in every sip. Some have notes of dark chocolate, while others red fruit and others a combination of both flavors, all balanced with the earthy heat. $50

Dusted Valley 2017 BFM

This merlot gets a little bit of cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, making it one of the biggest and boldest options at this price point. All of the lush red and dark fruits are there, but with some hefty richness in every sip. $55

2015 Leoness Cellars VS Merlot: Los Caballos

Aged for 24 months in small French and European oak barrels, this merlot is well balanced and well structured, with beautiful layers of blackberry, black cherry and plum complemented by earthy aromas typical of this vineyard. Enjoy the subtle nuances of tobacco and vanilla that develop as the wine finishes long and smooth. $60

Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Merlot 2017

This famed merlot is a love letter to blackberries, black cherries and black plums. The juiciness of these fruits is perfectly balanced by bright and refreshing acidity as well as defined minerality. Bold and complex, this elegant merlot would change even Miles’ mind. $69.99

Beringer Vineyards 2016 Bancroft Ranch (Howell Mountain) Merlot

Distinctive, even decadent, this full-bodied plush wine is well structured and balanced with complex aromas and flavors of dark fruits, milk chocolate, black cherry and licorice. It is then accented with herbal notes and baking spices. Soft but potent, it delivers a memorable, spicy finish. $90