Guide to Napa Valley Merlot Wines & Wineries

Updated March 14, 2022
Napa valley merlot vineyard

Napa Valley merlot is a soft, plummy, perennial favorite. The hills of Napa wine country produce delicious, deeply hued merlots with velvety texture and soft tannins. Feature one of these Napa merlots for you next dinner party.

Napa Valley Merlot Profile

The famous New World wine region throws down some heavy hitters when it comes to red wine. Situated in northern California near San Francisco, Napa Valley sits along the Napa River, which snakes north to south for about 25 miles. Merlot is widely planted here and is commonly used in blends to soften and round out a wine. On its own, it expresses lush notes of black plum, blackberry, and raspberry paired with cocoa, clove, vanilla, iris and cinnamon. Typically, Napa merlot is medium to full bodied with concentrated fruit and velvety tannins.

Napa Terroir

With moderate temperatures and varied soils, Napa Valley is an ideal climate and region for producing exceptional merlot. While merlot is grown throughout the valley, the American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of Chiles Valley, Coombsville, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, St. Helena, and Yountville grow substantial amounts. Each nested sub-region has varying soil and micro-climates which create subtle differences in the wines characteristics and flavors. For example, merlot grown in Chiles Valley AVA is at an elevation between 600-1,200 feet (182-336 meters) and typically expresses strong notes of black cherry with chocolate, while merlot from Los Carneros AVA is planted at significantly lower elevations, starting at sea level up to 700 feet (0-213 meters). This AVA produces lighter bodied merlot with a subtle herbaceousness.

Drinking Your Napa Valley Merlot

When it comes to drinking your Napa Valley merlot, it's best served around 60-65°F (15-18°C). The slightly cooler temperature will keep the flavors fresh on your palate and keep the alcohol in check. The medium to full bodied nature of merlot is the perfect pairing for char-grilled steak, burgers with bacon and caramelized onions, or marinated portabello mushrooms. Think hearty and fairly bold foods without going overboard. Really strong flavors, such as some blue cheeses, can overpower this gentle giant.

Search Out These Merlots

Merlot, just like all other wines, can run the gamut in quality. While a sub-par merlot is likely to disappoint, there are plenty of affordable options that will have you reaching for another glass. Unlike the more popular California cab sauv, merlot drinks well much younger thanks to its smooth tannins. Numerous wineries throughout Napa consistently produce high quality merlot. Ferella, a family-owned vineyard and cellar in Coombsville, makes a fresh and fruity merlot with brambly black currant notes. Frog's Leap makes a soft, yet structured natural merlot with abundant black plum, black cherry, dried fig, dark chocolate, and violet. In the Rutherford area, Cakebread Cellars makes a stunning expression which has aromas of blackberry, violet, and crushed gravel along with a rich palate of concentrated dark fruit balanced by lean acidity.

Rutherford Hill Winery focuses on more than just cabernet sauvignon. They have been creating high quality merlots since the 70s and continue to make elegant expressions that reflect their unique microclimate. With aromas of boysenberry pie and anise, a glass of this merlot is a real treat. Paloma Vineyard is another one to try. Tucked on a hillside at the northern end of the valley, cool morning fogs linger in the vineyard during the warm sunny days of summer, maintaining moderate temperatures for the fruit. Their heady merlot has rich fruit flavors of black stone fruit, cassis, and spice.

Diverse, Delicious Merlots

Gushing over Napa merlot yet? From south to north and valley floor to hillside, there are a diverse range of merlots that will really make you swoon. Don't overlook this easy drinking, food friendly red; go out and find a quality bottle and get tasting.

Guide to Napa Valley Merlot Wines & Wineries