I was recently drawn to the 2007 Merlot from 181 Wine Cellars on the strength of the company's name alone. After all, that's a lot of cellars to expect people to traipse through in search of their favorite fare. Maybe the proprietors of this Lodi firm hold, like, month-long tours or something. Or maybe they're just a bunch of flaming sadists. From an economic perspective, that would make a ton more sense.
Fortunately, I don't have to trudge through all those cellars, or even one, to pick up this very nice entry. I just bop into my favorite wine store, shell over some bucks and take it away, anticipating the versatility that makes the Merlot grape such a vital part of the best viticulture. Merlot tastes enough like a Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy that culture's most hardened members, yet white wine partisans (like me) enjoy the fact that it declares itself unassumingly, making no attempt to recruit the drinker to the red side if he isn't willing to go there. This one holds hard and fast to those standards, and since it's on the dry side, it politely makes way for the foods and desserts that melt in your mouth. My recent company thought this one paired well with milk chocolate and sour cream; it also works nicely with my personal combo fave, which happens to be cottage cheese and ketchup (deal with it).
A bottle of the 1990 Chateau Petrus Merlot costs an otherworldly $1,700, a lot of that owing to the fact that Merlot grapes are easily destroyed by birds and thus at a greater premium in certain parts of the world. So far, so good around here. The 181 will run you $12.99 or so—and although you're welcome to offer the cashier that spare $1,700, she probably won't take it. If she does, she should be ashamed. Boy, I sure would.