If you like California Merlot, life is sweet these days. The 2012 vintage is one of the best in a long time, offering all the qualities that made Merlot such a hit with consumers: lush texture and gobs of rich, silky fruit.
And what a relief it is after the 2010 and 2011 vintages, which gave us Merlots that were too often hard and green. I've reviewed more than 150 Merlots in the past year and, thus far, about a third of the 2012s have scored an outstanding 90 points or higher on our 100-point scale. The 2013s also look promising, but it's too early to be sure.
The growing season for both vintages was nearly ideal, albeit on the warmish side. That's always good for Merlot drinkers, no matter the budget. The top wines that sell for $50 or more are elegant, rich and complex, while the best values are delicious quaffs.
For more details and full reviews, check out my annual report, "California Merlot Bounces Back," in the Nov. 30 issue of Wine Spectator.
Below I've highlighted a selection of the top wines and values in the report. WineSpectactor.com members can get full reviews by clicking the links.
Markham Merlot Napa Valley 2013 (91 points, $25)
This is what Merlot is all about in California. It's supple and lively.
Beringer Merlot Napa Valley 2013 (89, $19)
Packs in a lot of flavor for the price.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot Alexander Valley 2012 (88,
A family-owned winery still making tasty Merlots with notes of red currant and tobacco.
St. Francis Merlot Sonoma Valley 2012 (88, $20)
Appealing flavors of red currant, toasty spice and herb.
Robert Foley Merlot Napa Valley 2012 (93, $52)
A sexy Merlot with supple, rich flavors
Darioush Merlot Napa Valley Signature 2012 (92, $50)
Complex, well focused and full of personality.
Switchback Ridge Merlot Napa Valley Peterson Family Vineyard
2012 (92, $58)
Plush and rich but with a sleek core of tannins.