Just plain good Merlot…upright.

Origin: Paso Robles, CA

Composition: Merlot (86%), Malbec (7%), Zinfandel (7%)

Appearance: dense Crayola red-violet with an opaque core and blue-tinged edges

Nose: ripe brambly berries, vanilla, tobacco

Palate: immediate hit of ripe cherry-berry fruit; a nice acid-driven mid-palate, oak vanilla, cinnamon and leather finish; overall medium-bodied with satiny body and velvety tannins

Ancient Peaks has historically been a top Paso Robles grower first and awesome winery second, but the qualitative gap is narrowing. A recent meeting with founding family member and VP of Sales & Marketing, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, revealed that the philosophy of the company on the whole is not likely to change any time soon—Ancient Peaks will always be focused on providing the best fruit possible from its Margarita Vineyard (which features broadly varied vine plantings on dramatically diverse soils).

The 2010 Merlot is a pleasant surprise. Elegant and smooth for a Paso Merlot coming in at a reasonable (for the region) 14.5% alcohol. Unlike many Paso Robles reds, there is no alcohol heat—particularly surprising given that it is not overripe and jammy. This is all about balance. Ripeness is there but not at all overbearing as it is held in check by ample acid. Most importantly, it is exactly the kind of wine that should bring back one-time Merlot lovers in droves. The wine is a perfect expression of food-friendly, but eminently quaffable California Merlot at a great price.

You should be able to find this at about $17.