Where to Taste Merlot in Sonoma County
Once the darling of the wine scene, Merlot was famously disparaged in the 2004 movie "Sideways" — and for years afterward, you'd think this easygoing red variety had dropped straight off the map. Not in Sonoma County, though, where you'll find about 4,400 acres of Merlot and pioneering producers who make it at its best.
Let's tour the county's Merlot-loving appellations:
This Sonoma winery is known for its "wine castle" appeal in a gorgeous setting under the Mayacamas Mountains. Its critically acclaimed flagship Cinq Cepages is a Bordeaux-styled blend, which means that one of those cepages, or varieties, is Merlot.
Notable for their exclusive Jack London Vineyard Merlot from the famous author's Sonoma Mountain estate, Kenwood Vineyards is big on Merlot, offering no fewer than three additional Sonoma County, appellation, and club-only Merlots. A new look and under new ownership, but still quite reasonable prices and an old-fashioned tasting room.
For many years, one of the top wines at this mountaintop winery, and which gets regular attention and acclaim from the top critics, has been their unusually labeled Sonoma-Napa Merlot. In fact, the ranch is split between the counties. Seated tastings and tours available.
Making a claim as the first to plant Merlot in Sonoma Valley in the 1970s, this iconic, California mission-styled winery hosts a popular, sumptuous wine and food program. The reserve Merlot comes from their certified sustainable Behler vineyard down the road, and even the entry-level Merlot is also partly sourced from Behler and the Wild Oak vineyard adjacent the winery.
This winery may have been associated with Chardonnay in the 1980s, and many people love them for their lavender fields, but Matanzas Creek also has a longstanding reputation for Merlot. Nestled below Sonoma Mountain in the path of coastal breezes, Bennett Valley is a cooler location that promotes a "structured" style of Merlot, while the winery's inclusion in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio affords access to warmer Alexander Valley and Knights Valley Merlot as well.
Dry Creek Valley
With its grand lodge vibe and warm, wood-paneled barrel room view, this Dry Creek Valley winery is an inviting spot to linger over elegant Merlot and other Bordeaux varieties made with a no-expense-spared mandate.
This rustically picturesque winery, located just outside of Healdsburg at the very southern tip of Dry Creek Valley, has been making estate Merlot since 1976, but they've modernized their winemaking facility in recent years. A family-owned and cozy place to say, "Yes, I'd like the Merlot, please!"
Calling theirs a Merlot for Cab lovers, this family-owned Sonoma County classic will take you on a tour of the cool cave in which it ages, no extra charge.
One Merlot is offered at this historic estate, alongside Bordeaux companions Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and, of course, the king of reds itself, Cabernet Sauvignon.
This highly regarded estate near Chalk Hill launched in 2001 with a focus on the Bordeaux varieties—and one of them is a beautiful Merlot.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight