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12 best merlots

These red wines are great with a meaty casserole, a Sunday roast or a mild curry

Paul Giamatti as wine-lover Miles in Sideways (20th Century Fox)

Think of ripe plums, black cherries, soft tannins and a touch of spice and you’re describing the appeal of merlot. Originally, the grapes in this wine would have come from Bordeaux, although merlots are now produced around the world.

Merlot’s reputation suffered in the Noughties from a spate of inferior merlots produced in California (see the film Sideways for further proof). However, it has now recovered, with splendid merlots available from France, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile at very affordable prices.  

Montes Single Vineyard Merlot 2015 75cl, 14%: £11.99, Majestic

Made from grapes handpicked in the Colchagua Valley wine region some 80 miles south of Chile’s capital Santiago, this robust single vineyard merlot has an abundance of black fruit, plum and black cherry flavours with herb and spices overtones and structured tannins.

Enjoy it with a lamb or beef casserole.

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Jean Bon Merlot 2017 IGP Pays D'Oc 75cl, 13.5%: £7.99, Majestic

This reasonably priced merlot comes from France’s Pay D’Oc, an area that accounts for more than half of all wine production in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

It has Indication Géographique Protégée status – a classification between Vin de Table and Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) – and is bursting with ripe, full-on fruit flavours with hints of peppery spice and herbs.

It’s an ideal accompaniment to the Sunday roast.

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M&S Dolphin Bay Merlot 75cl, 14.5%: £6, M&S

Produced under Fairtrade regulations in the Western Cape area of South Africa, this a bold merlot that stakes its claim for a place on the supper table with the intense and yet fresh flavours of plum and raspberry and a long and pleasing finish.

Aged in oak for four months, it is a superb match for fresh pasta or a well-spiced chicken cacciatore.

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Chateau Fongrave Black Merlot Bordeaux 2008 75cl, 12.5%: £14.10, Winebuyers​​

From independent wine-maker François Brouard, of Saint-André-du-Bois in the heart of Bordeaux comes a well-named merlot with its deep purple-black colour and inimitable textured flavours of red and black fruit allied to a hint of liquorice and minty notes of herbs and spice.

As the days begin to draw in this one to enjoy with a meaty casserole or some ripe French cheese.

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Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec 2015 75cl, 14%: £12.95, Winedirect​​

The name’s quite a mouthful, but then so is the wine in a really good way.

It’s produced from merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec grapes from the Gimblett Gravels area of New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay, where the yields per vine are kept low to maximise quality.

It’s then aged in oak barrels for 12 months before blending.

The result is a full-bodied and succulent red wine with black fruit and cherry flavours and soft tannins.

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Merlot Ekuò Cielo e Terre 2016 75cl, 13%: £9.75, Ocado​​

A full-bodied and rich organic merlot made by the fourth generation of the wine-making Cielo family from grapes grown on the volcanic Berici Hills between Verona and Padua in Italy.

Soft, smooth and nicely balanced, it slips down easily and there’s an added bonus that buying a bottle will help to fund the Murialdo World charity which supports humanitarian projects in 16 countries around the world.

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Nederburg 1791 Merlot 2016 75cl, 14%: £4.85, Sainsbury’s

Finding a good bottle of wine for under a fiver can be a struggle sometimes but this fruity and well-rounded merlot from the Western Cape of South Africa fits the bill nicely.

They’ve been making wines at Nederburg since the company’s founder Philippus Wolvaart bought some land in Paarl in, yes, you guessed it, 1791 so you can safely say that they know what they’re doing.

Great to have with pasta or a burger. No doubt in the past a few burghers have enjoyed it, too.

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M&S La Fortezza Merlot 2017 75cl, 13%: £7, M&S

Sicilian wine sometimes gets a bad press but this easy-drinking Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) merlot with its rich, full-fruit plum and dark berry flavours balanced by notes of herbs and spice  and smooth tannins is a great accompaniment to sausages, spare ribs or even a mild curry.

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Domaine V La Grange Pays D'oc 2015 75cl, 12.5%: £11.76, Winebuyers​

Belgian winemaker Pierre Degroote has been producing great wines from his vineyards midway between Béziers and Narbonne, just 10km away from the Mediterranean in the south of France since 1970.

This purple-hued merlot offers seductively balanced flavours of blackcurrant liqueur, fresh strawberries and black cherries with soothing tannins.

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Chateau St Michelle Columbia Valley Merlot 2015 75cl, 13.5%: £18.95, Slurp

A rich, layered merlot from the Columbia Valley vineyards in Washington State where the annual rainfall is just 6 to 8 inches and sunny days and cool evening temperatures produce wines with intense aroma and character.

Aged 14 months in French and American oak, it has lashings of cherry and bold dark fruit flavours while a touch of syrah adds a luscious and almost jam-like tang.

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The Verdict: Best merlots

French merlots including the Jean Bon Merlot, the Chateau Fongrave and Domaine V La Grange have all the juicy and velvety appeal you would expect from its home terroir.

The Washington State Chateau Ste Michelle with its touch of Syrah, and the expertly blended Esk Valley with its cabernet sauvignon and malbec additions offer different but no less attractive perspectives.

Meanwhile, the Fairtrade Dolphin Bay from New Zealand and the aid-supporting Ekuò Cielo e Terre provide a welcome ethical dimension.

Our best buy is the Montes Single Vineyard Merlot from Chile with its boatload of delectable and succulent flavours.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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