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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
2013 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.
2014 Clos du Bois North Coast Merlot ($12)
Frank Woods founded Clos du Bois in 1974 in pursuit of producing approachable, balanced wine. Over 40 years later, winemaker Melissa Stackhouse honors Frank's vision by crafting wines that are an expression of Old World sensibility in California.
2014 Raymond R Collection California Merlot ($12)
Sourced from California's finest vineyards, this medium-bodied, minty Merlot is more structured and focused than many similarly priced bottles.
2013 Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir ($12)
Castle Rock's winemaker Eric Laumann makes some of the best value Pinots around, from many of California’s top regions. In 2013, his herbal Mendocino bottling shines the brightest.
2013 Mark West California Pinot Noir ($11)
Jason Becker, 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.
2015 DeLoach California Pinot Noir ($11)
French Burgundy négociant Boisset purchased DeLoach in 2003, and made a wise decision naming Brian Maloney winemaker—as this light-bodied but flavorful bottling makes clear.
2014 Chalone Monterey County Pinot Noir ($12)
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.