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Senior Tim Fish joined the Wine Spectator staff in 2001. His tasting beat includes Oregon, Washington, California Zinfandel and Rhône-style reds, and U.S. sparkling wines.
Tim Fish

Merlot for the Budget Conscious

Cycles Gladiator Merlot California 2007

Tim Fish
Posted: April 9, 2010

Cheap Merlot is one of the best-selling wines in America, and in theory, you can understand why. Anyone can appreciate an easygoing red for everyday drinking if the price is right. But in reality, most of the $10-and-under Merlots are not worth drinking at any price. I review California Merlots for the magazine, so I speak from experience.

But every year, I find a few Merlots that beat the odds, and the latest is Cycles Gladiator California 2007 ($10.) I’ll admit that I’m even more excited about finding a good 10-buck Merlot than I am about reviewing an outstanding one. Great California Merlots are easier to find (if price is no issue).

I recommended the 2007 Cycles Gladiator to a budget-conscious friend and he recently shared a glass with me. It was everything I remembered: juicy, with vibrant cherry fruit and a hint of herbs and just enough structure to keep it interesting. I rated it 86 points, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com members: Get scores and tasting notes for other Top Value California Merlots for $30 or less.

Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  April 9, 2010 5:10pm ET
great pick Tim! Cycles Gladiator is a really a well done wine for that Monday thru Thursday occasion.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 10, 2010 8:48pm ET
Thanks, Tim, I only wish there were more good-value California Merlots.
David Tietz
Columbus, OH —  April 10, 2010 10:51pm ET
I know Harvey tastes them for the magazine, but how do you compare inexpensive Cali merlots to inexpensive WA merlots? I joined in the #WAMerlot twitter tasting last month & had a single vineyard wine for only $13 that was quite nice for the price, 86 pts with nice raspberry/chocolate in my book.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 11, 2010 12:46am ET

I haven't had value WA Merlots consistently enough to compare but if anyone respects a good value, it's Harvey. You're Merlot sounds like a beauty. Thanks for commenting.
Adam Wallstein
Spokane, WA —  April 11, 2010 8:33pm ET
Concerning a slightly less low-budget Merlot, your review for the '07 Shafer (my first bottle of which I'm happily enjoying as I type), seems to omit an end date for the drinking window. I'm Just curious what longevity you would estimate (based on the blind tasting, or otherwise).
Keep up the good work.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 11, 2010 10:27pm ET

Thanks for pointing out that oversight. The Shafer Merlot is one that needs a few years more than most. That said, it depends how fresh and youthful you prefer your fruit. In general, I'd give the Shafer a year or two after release, perhaps more. Thanks for commenting.

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