How to Pick the Best Merlot for Any Budget

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Shopping for red wine? Looking for a varietal that’s slightly softer than vino with strong, tannic power of cabernet sauvignon, but something that’s not as seductively luscious as a syrah or zinfandel?

Vertical image of a glass filled with red wine next to a cheese and meat plate, with text in the middle and on the bottom of the image.

Have you considered merlot for this particular purchase?

Yes, the one that you seem to always pass up at the store, thinking it’s just “so-so,” or “meh,” or too “basic” of a red wine option to make it worthy of serving at a dinner party.

Let’s give merlot its glorious moment to shine!

Merlot is the second-most-planted wine grape worldwide, following cabernet sauvignon, and is the most-often planted grape variety in the Bordeaux region of France.

As described by Christine Marsiglio, a certified Master of Wine and head wine educator at in Wine Folly, merlot is the “smooth operator” of red wine grape varieties – its subdued tannins are smooth on the palate, with an approachable, moderate acidity level that isn’t overly harsh.

Merlot is also popular for its adaptability to a variety of climates – depending on what region the merlot grape is grown in around the world, the wine’s aroma and taste can vary immensely.

Generally, in cooler climates, wines made with it can taste and smell of fresh plums and black cherries, while in warmer climates, merlot is often reminiscent of baked, bursting, juicy blackberries.

The longer merlot wine ages, the more it will develop notes of leather, tobacco, and dark, bittersweet chocolate. And if it is aged in oak barrels, merlot may exude vanilla, cedar, bay leaf, and black pepper notes.

These versatile qualities make merlot a popular grape for wine blends, as well as a reliable, food-friendly choice for serving with many different dishes.

And it also means you can find this selection at a wide range of price points!

Are you trying to maintain a disciplined financial plan with minimal hits to your bank account? Or are you sitting on top of a hefty mountain of disposable income and you’re prepared – and excited! – to splurge on a top-notch bottle?

There’s an excellent merlot available for any budget to place on your home wine rack!

We’ll review three different price points, and offer stellar wine suggestions to purchase within each of these budget ranges.

Inexpensive – But Not Cheap

Even when you are trying to stay within a strict spending limit, you can find many lovely, low-budget bottles of merlot for under $20, and some lower than $15!

This is as long as you buy from reputable sources who have done the research to select the best producers, of course, who make wine with quality in mind.

The 2022 Killari Merlot from the Cremaschi Furlotti winery in the Valle Central region of Chile is one such wine!Image of a bottle of Cremaschi Furlotti Killari.

Cremaschi Furlotti 2022 Killari Merlot, available from Wine Insiders

Cremaschi Furlotti follows high standards of quality and maintains multiple operation certifications, such as the International Featured Standards (IFS) Food Standard Certification and the ISO 9001 Certification in quality management. Their pursuit of excellence is apparent in this particular wine, which recently won a gold medal at the 2023 Critics Challenge Wine Competition.

It has mild, pleasing levels of tannins and acidity, with notes of black cherry, raspberry, and plum.

You can purchase this inexpensive bottle at Wine Insiders.

Choosing wines that are produced and sold domestically in the United States is another strategy to save you some money, since the retail cost will not be affected by any duties on international imports.

Image of the Fair Oaks Ranch wine bottle.

Fair Oaks Ranch 2019 Merlot, available from Wine Insiders

A delicious choice produced in California is the 2019 Fair Oaks Ranch Merlot, which won a silver medal at the 2021 Harvest Challenge Wine Competition.

This option is aged in oak barrels, creating expressive butterscotch, caramel, and vanilla notes along with plum and cherry.

Find this bottle and review pricing at Wine Insiders now.

Modestly Moderate – The Perfect Middle Ground

Do you want a bottle that’s an upgrade from the low-budget picks, but you still want to honor a practical price cap? Purchase merlot with a mid-range price!

A budget of $40 or less will give you an impressively wide selection of high-quality options when you’re shopping.

Be on the lookout for red wine blends featuring merlot – especially when all the grapes represented in the blend are grown at the same vineyard, you’ll be able to experience a multifaceted taste of the vineyard’s unique terroir. And you can do that without spending a fortune!

Image of the Chateau Grandefont La Gabare bottle.

2022 Château Grandefont La Gabare Bordeaux, available from Wine Insiders

The merlot grape is prominently featured in red Bordeaux wine blends, like this 2022 Château Grandefont La Gabare Bordeaux, which is available to purchase from Wine Insiders.

An elegant blend, it was awarded a gold medal at the 2021 Harvest Challenge Wine Competition.

Produced by Chateau Grandefort in the Bordeaux region of France, this blend has rich body and velvety tannins, with notes of ripe red fruits, vanilla, and spice.

Do you prefer domestic wine? Would you rather taste your merlot as a single varietal instead of in a blend?

Image of a bottle of 2020 Vespertine.

2020 Vespertine Merlot, available from Wine Insiders

You’ll enjoy the moderately priced 2020 Vespertine Merlot, available now at Wine Insiders.

This award-winning selection comes from the Verspertine Vintners winery located in the Lodi region of Northern California.

With a notably strong profile, this wine’s dark chocolate, cherry, blackberry, and toasted spice flavors meld particularly well with its dry texture and robust body.

Splurge-Worthy – The Best Quality or Biggest Quantity

If money is no object, let’s go on a shopping spree! A budget of $40 or more unleashes the grandest assortment of buying choices.

Vertical image of two glasses filled with red wine on a table next to a charcuterie plate.

Generally, excellent wines that are exclusively grown, harvested, and produced by only one estate from a single vintage will be more expensive than commercial, non-vintage wines produced in bulk by an offsite manufacturer.

This, among many other factors, is one reason why certain wines will be more expensive than others.

A beautiful expression of California wine country, Titus Vineyards 2019 Napa Valley Merlot is a fine choice to buy at a higher price point.

A blend of 77% merlot, 17% malbec, and 6% cabernet sauvignon grapes, it has a soft, creamy texture and red fruit notes of pomegranate, raspberry, and cranberry. A strong combination of red plums, graphite, and spices makes for an unforgettable finish!

You can purchase this bottle now from California Wine Club.

Size is also a consideration for how much you would like to spend. In order to serve larger parties of wine drinkers, you have the opportunity with a bigger budget to buy merlot in larger quantities, or merlot that is bottled in a bigger format.

A serious advantage of buying wine in a larger format is the value that you’ll gain – you’ll get to enjoy more wine for less money. As long as you understand that you need to drink all of the contents in a timely manner to preserve its quality once the bottle is opened, this is a purchasing decision worth pursuing.

All things considered, this an ideal choice for a party with fellow red wine drinkers in attendance!

The standard bottle size is 750 milliliters, or about five servings of wine. A magnum bottle size is 1.5 liters, which is equivalent to two standard bottles.

With about 10 servings per magnum bottle, you’ll be able to serve more people the same drink in an impressive, elaborate, and larger-than-life style.

Image of a bottle of Chateau Guillaume Blanc on a table.

Château Guillaume Blanc 1562 Bordeaux Supérieur Magnum, available from Wine Insiders

The Château Guillaume Blanc 1562 Bordeaux Supérieur Magnum is produced in the Bordeaux region of France, made with a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes.

Smooth and well balanced, you’ll be proud to open and pour this fine selection to many of your guests!

If you’re interested, find it now at Wine Insiders. You can also purchase this selection in a set of three, if hosting events and parties in your household is a common occurrence.

For the best information on top merlot selections currently available in your area, we advise that you consult the expert sales staff at your local wine purveyor, or speak with a sommelier at a local restaurant with a lauded wine program.

What Are Some Suggested Food Pairings?

The quintessential dinner wine, merlot is a mild, versatile beverage to serve alongside so many different kinds of savory dishes that typically pair well with red wine.

Horizontal image of two glasses filled with red wine on a dining table next to a meat and cheese plate.

It’s a foolproof companion to a whole roasted chicken, a perfect pairing with roasted pork tenderloin, a reliable vegetarian buddy with creamy polenta and herbed mushrooms, and a smart ingredient to use in a red-wine braised beef recipe.

Red wine and seafood? Sure, let’s explore this realistically feasible pairing!

Just be a little more cautious of what style of merlot you pair with what kind of seafood dish – the spicier profile of a barrel-aged merlot will pair beautifully with heartier seafood stews like a French bouillabaisse, but it might be too overpowering for something more delicate, like a simply baked tilapia with white asparagus.

The more you taste, study, reflect, and experiment, the more you’ll discover your own preferred merlot pairings you can save as tried-and-true options.

What are your favorite dishes to pair with merlot? What are your strategies to save or splurge when purchasing wine? Let us know in the comment section below!

If you enjoyed reading this guide, pour yourself another glass of wine and dig more deeply into our entire collection of wine-related articles. We have so much more to share with you, like these helpful reads:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Wine Insiders and California Wine Club. Originally published on August 20, 2014. Last updated on August 8, 2023.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

8 thoughts on “How to Pick the Best Merlot for Any Budget”

  1. This was a great Merlot overview. When I first started drinking wine all of the information was very overwhelming. I still not sure my palate is as sophisticated as it should be but I think that comes with time.

  2. Jhoover85 I agree with you about the overwhelming amount of information there is out there to accompany drinking wine.When I walk into the store I just kind of stand there in front of the wine and stare. But hey, now I know to avoid the twist off caps! Each time I read one of your post I constantly finding myself taking away some bit of useful information. 🙂

  3. Great information! I love this advice. I totally agree with everything. Being a wine drinker I think this information will help me lots. I love a nice glass of merlot in the evening, especially with red meat. I don’t like cheap bottles either. I think its important that your variety goes well with what you are eating.

  4. I love a glass of merlot every now and again. I’ve only ever distinguished between the wines by price. I’ll have to keep all of this in mind next time I buy some. Thank you for the information!

  5. Thanks for this indispensible guide, whilst I do enjoy a glass of Merlot, I know very little about wine in general.

  6. My husband I started experimenting with vino not too long ago. We enjoy trying new things and learning more about it. This type is very nice, but yeah, I wouldn’t buy any bottle of any type with a screw on cap.

    A new retailer in the area has tastings on occasion (nothing formal), where you can sample a few different types or different brands of a certain type. It’s quite nice to be able to try a good variety without having to purchase all those extra bottles to do so.

    I’ve also asked the advice of shopkeepers, but mainly we go online and do a bit of research first. I’ll add this article to my folder. Thanks.

  7. Merlot’s are my favorite actually..just a hint of sweet mixed with the tart taste. I don’t go for the more fruity tasting wine..I feel like it may be loaded with sugar and not exactly good for me. There are many red whines that I adore.

  8. Thanks for the great article. I am a red wine drinker and experiment with different wines a lot. I do like to pair my wine with the type of food I am preparing. A merlot is one of my favourites because it has a full flavour to it. It also suits a variety of dishes.


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