Over the past few months, we’ve tasted some 50 Merlot and Malbec wines, purchased from warehouse stores, local merchants and on-line discount sites. Here are nine that scored best and are good matches for food, mostly dishes with heartier sauces. The vintages may not be available, since some were purchased on blow-out sales to clear old inventories. Subsequent vintages from these producers should have similar styles and are worth a little organoleptic exploration.
- Sonoma County Merlot 2015 St. Francis $15. Sharp, mid-dark garnet; interesting smoky, cocoa and mint nose; mid-body; good Merlot fruit; a little unbalanced; long semi-hot (14.8 alc.) semi-chewy finish. w/burgers, BBQ. 15.5 UC Davis scale; 88-89 other scales.
- 2015 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar Napa Valley Merlot $15. Just 408 barrels made. Mid-dark garnet; berry, wood and cocoa nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit extract and flavor; long fruity finish. w/beef. 16/90.
- Calif. Merlot $17 2015 Rutherford Hill Napa Valley. Bright mid-ruby; blackberry, cedar, light cocoa nose; mid-body, balanced, good fruit, some style for the cost, long varietal finish, hints of oak, slightly hot (14.5 alc.). 16/90.
- $18 Napa Valley Merlot 2016 Athenaeum. Mid-garnet; black fruit, ripe grape, plum nose; mid-body; balanced; semi-tight tannins; long semi-chewy hot (14.2 alc.) finish. With pasta and red sauce. 16/90.
- Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2014. Mid-garnet; blackberry, cocoa, sweet wood (hyacinth) nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; long fruity finish, a touch hot (14.5 alc.); $38). w/beef. 16.5/91.
- $12 Chilean Malbec, 2017 Montes Alpha, Colchagua Valley. Dark garnet; prune, black currant, ripe grape nose (14.5 alc.); mid-big body; berries, wood, prune on the palate; BBQ, burger, pizza and stew wine. 15/88.
- Great value in Valle de Uco Mendoza Malbec blend, 2016 Bodega Catena Zapata D.V. Catena Tinto Historico $14. 72% Malbec, 21% Bonarda, 7% Petit Verdot. Mid-dark garnet; peppery, plum, blueberry, clove, cedar nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit; smooth tannins. w/pizza, pasta, burgers, appetizers. 15.5-16/89-90.
- Poesia 2009 Clos des Andes Malbec Reserve $16 (online markdown). Dark garnet; ripe grape, peppery, woody nose; mid-body; balanced; long smooth fruity finish; hints of wood. w/burgers, BBQ. 16/90.
- Zorzal 2016 Malbec Gran Terroir $23. Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupangato. Shows aging potential. Mid-dark purple; peppery, wet pine, grape jam nose; mid-body; tight structure; some style; long, balanced, fruity, refined finish. w/tri-tip, comfort food (meat loaf). 16.5/91.
- Mendoza 2018 Achával-Ferrer Malbec $23. Darkest purple; plum, anise, charcoal nose; mid-big body; young; chewy; long hot finish (14.5 alc.). w/BBQ, pasta. 15.5/88.