Yellow Tail Merlot

Mass-market, low-priced Australian wines are of a particular style: super fruity, maybe a touch sweet, and very straightforward. Some may dismiss them as fruit juice (as one of us does), but even they can acknowledge that there are good and bad examples of this style. This 2009 Merlot, at $5, is pretty good. The nose provides a prominent alcohol burn, but there’s enough plum, cherry, and spice to keep it grounded. On the palate, it’s fairly acidic, with cherry as the dominant fruit.

Yalumba “Y Series” Merlot

Another split opinion. The nose is either grassy and vegetable, or replete with strawberry and apricot. On the palate, it’s either soft and refreshing, or thin and acidic.

Charles Shaw Merlot

The infamous Two Buck Chuck. We’ve had this a few times over the years, with mostly unfavorable opinions. Focusing as we are on Trader Joe’s wines, it seemed like a good time to give this bargain-basement bottling another try. The nose is very fruity, dominated by boysenberry and blackberry. But there’s also something a little sour—almost cheesy. The taste is on the tart side. But we’ve had much worse at several times the price. If $2 is your budget, this is your wine.

Red Diamond Merlot

We think there’s some fruit in here somewhere. Good luck wrestling it away from the oak monster, though. It tastes like sweet vanilla (of course). Some people really like this style. And some people even pay upwards of $100 for wine that is made in this style. But at any price, this is still an abomination.

Napa River Merlot, Napa County

This is a relatively light-bodied Merlot that smells and tastes un-oaked. There is bright, red fruit and some gingerbread spice in the nose. Not very exciting, but a decent drinker for the price.