Merlot from 2 big-name companies, that are worth finding for different reasons

Bonterra 2018 Merlot & Rutherford Hills 2017 Merlot for #MerlotMe

Merlot from 2 big-name companies, that are worth finding for different reasons

It’s October and it’s Merlot Month.  In conjunction with #MerlotMe, we received 7 samples of Merlot from California and Washington.  We featured Merlots from Peju & LaZarre with our “Merlot from elegant to badass”,  and we did a feature on Susie Selby and paired her Selby 2018 Merlot in “Celebrating Merlot Month with a Selby Merlot from Sonoma County.”

The wines in this article were received as samples, no other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

We have two more wines to tell you about today.  These come from some BIG names; Bonterra and Rutherford Hill, who are owned by even bigger companies.

The big names

Concha y Toro

Bonterra is the Organic Biodynamic brand under Fetzer, which was bought in 2011 by the Chilean Wine company Concha y Toro.  I’m sure you have seen Bonterra, at Costco, at Whole Foods, at Trader Joe’s, and lots of other spots.  Concha y Toro is one of the 10 largest wine companies in the world and the largest exporter from Latin America.


Rutherford Hill is owned by the Terlato Family, who purchased the property in 1996.  The Terlato Wine Group is the parent company.  They market…

“…more than 20 percent of wines over $20 and one out of 10 bottles of wine over $14 sold in America. “

Terlato Wines International

This wine family dynasty lost its Patriarch this summer. Tony Terlato, started out working in his dad’s retail store and became one of this country’s top importers and producers. His loss was felt across the industry.

So that’s what I mean by big names.  Let’s get a little more into the stories and the wines.

Bonterra Organic Vineyards

If you have watched the Wine Enthusiast Media series “It Starts with Wine” on Amazon, you might have seen an episode on Joseph Brinkley the Bonterra Director of Organic & Biodynamic Vineyards.  The company focuses on Organic and Biodynamic wines and works with their growers to use regenerative practices.

You know that these growing practices mean a lot to me.  One of their mottos at Bonterra is “Soil is Everything” 

” Bonterra vineyards have been farmed organically since 1987, long before organic products were widely available in America. The inspiration for farming this way was simple: organic grapes produce the purest expressions of the varietals and land on which they are farmed. At Bonterra, we have a deep respect for the environment. Organic farming and regenerative practices enrich the biodiversity in our vineyards year after year.”

Bonterra – Our Commitments

The wines are reasonable, if you need to pick up an under $20 bottle of wine, but want it to be good for the planet, this is a go-to! 

Bonterra 2018 Merlot

I will admit that I could not find production numbers on this wine and it is listed as a “California” Wine, so we don’t get to see exactly what vineyards this wine came from.  They tell us that it is a blend of Mendocino County, Paso Robles, and Lake County Merlot.  Let’s put that into perspective.  Mendocino County sits North of Sonoma, with Lake County just east of it.  Paso is almost 6 hours south in San Luis Obispo county.

Bonterra 2018 Merlot

The details:

  • Organically grown grapes
  • 100% Merlot
  • 13.9% abv
  • 0.2 gram residual sugar
  • Destemmed and pressed
  • fermented in stainless steel tanks
  • Malolactic fermentation to soften the mouthfeel
  • Aged 18 months in a mix of French & American Oak, 50% new
  • SRP $16

The wine had notes of black plum, black cherry and then notes of dark baked fruits with spice. On my palate there were more sweet fruit notes of sweet black cherry and spice.

Pairing with Pulled pork & Bleu cheese nachos

This was a casual night and we made pulled pork nachos that we dressed up with purple cabbage, corn salsa, bleu cheese, and a harvest salsa from Trader Joe’s with Pumpkin, apples, and butternut squash. This pairing worked great. This is a nice wine, but not one that needed alot of my attention. It melded nicely with the nachos, picking up on the blue cheese floral notes and the savory/sweet pulled pork.

Rutherford Hill Winery

For the Terlato Family “Quality is a Way of Life”. They have been in the wine industry since 1955 and when they purchased Rutherford Hill in 1996 they began sourcing Merlot from small high-quality vineyards in the Napa Valley.  These Rutherford Hill wines are made in smaller lots and often limited quantities and yes, they are more expensive, typically $30 and up.   

Rutherford Hill 2017 Atlas Peak Merlot

Rutherford Hill 2017 Atlas Peak Merlot

This wine is made from grapes in the Atlas Peak AVA in the Napa Valley. If you look at the valley, this AVA is in the East climbing up the Vaca Mountains. These are steep slopes with vineyards at 1500 feet above the valley floor.

The details:

  • 311 Cases produced
  • 100% Merlot
  • 15.5% abv
  • SRP $60

This wine was dark in the glass and had a nose that melded black currant and sweet tobacco with notes of anise, cloves, and other mulling spices with a bit of cocoa.  The nose was intoxicating.  In my mouth there was medium acid that let me know it was going to pair well with food, I got chocolate and black fruits with spices and sturdy but fine tannins and then a long finish.

Pairing with bleu cheese, nuts, chocolate and lasagna

This was tasty, but it was big, so I whipped out a cheese plate with bleu cheese, almonds, pistachios, honey, dark chocolate, and some chocolate covered dried cherries.  It went well with everything except the chocolate covered cherries. Perhaps it was the lower quality chocolate that it didn’t like.

Later, we curled up with some lasagna to relax and enjoy this bottle.  It was a celebration, we had been out that day on the first day of voting in Nevada to cast our votes.  Phew!  We deserved a little pamper time.

So what is the wrap up here?

You can find so many great Merlots out there, from big companies to small, in all price ranges, from single-vineyard to blends from multiple regions in a range of alcohol levels and with a range of flavors to pair with a wide range of foods.  There is something for everyone.  So jump on the #MerlotMe wagon and celebrate with us!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
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