Best American Wines $15 & Under: Merlot & Pinot Noir

Food & Wine: Pinot Noir
© Kang Kim
After tasting more than 300 affordable American wines, Ray Isle reports on his most exciting Merlot and Pinot Noir finds.
Additional research by Megan Krigbaum


2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Merlot ($11)

This dark Merlot from Washington state is so luscious that it’s hard to stop drinking it. A touch of spicy oak keeps the wine’s Rubenesque fruit from becoming overwhelming.

2005 Lange Twins California Merlot ($13)

A blackberry-inflected Merlot from the up-and-coming Lodi region of California, this red is made with sustainably farmed grapes from some of the 246 acres of vineyards owned by Randy and Brad Lange.

2004 Keltie Brook North Coast Merlot ($15)

For some time, insiders have known that the wines on Steve Macrostie’s primary label, Macrostie, offer great quality for their price. Keltie Brook, his even more affordable second label, gives more of the same value with wines like this refined, cherry-and-black-currant-inflected red.

2005 Raymond R Collection California Merlot ($15)

A quarter of the blend for this medium-bodied, minty Merlot is Cabernet Sauvignon, helping give it more structure and focus than many similarly priced Merlots.

Pinot Noir

2006 Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir ($12)

Castle Rock consulting winemaker August Briggs makes some of the best value Pinots around, from many of California’s top regions. In 2006, his herbal Mendocino bottling shines the brightest.

2006 Mark West California Pinot Noir ($13)

Alex Cose, the winemaker for this bargain Pinot specialist, uses grapes from throughout California—the Central Coast, Sonoma County, Mendocino, Napa Valley and, as the winery puts it, “other”—to fashion a balanced, cherry-inflected red.

2006 DeLoach California Pinot Noir ($13)

When French Burgundy négociant Boisset purchased DeLoach in 2003, they installed Pinot Noir specialist Greg LaFollette as winemaker—a very smart move, as this light-bodied but flavorful bottling makes clear.

2006 Chalone Monterey County Pinot Noir ($14)

High up in Monterey’s Gavilan Mountains, Chalone made its name with pricey estate Pinot Noirs. But the winery also produces a fine bargain Pinot, as shown by this streamlined cuvée, its fruit sourced from vineyards around California’s Monterey County region.

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