Sorry for the long delay, I believe I was going to chime in on Pinot Noir and Merlot, per your original request. I agree with Chris's first two choices
I like California Pinots from Sonoma/Russian River and Carneros, including those from Schug, Acacia, Rochioli. If you're feeling flush, Williams Seylem is good (note these all make several bottlings, so you might need to experiment). Hartford Estates has a very burgundian approach: some small production wines from small vineyards, as well as "regional" Pinot. Further down the coast, Estancia Pinnacles is a good value, and I've always liked Calera. Oregon has some outstanding producers in the Williamette Valley...Ken Wright is very good. Merlot - haven't experimented much with California Merlot in quite a while; I recall Souverain being good and a good value. You can also look to Long Island - wineries on the North Fork are doing a decent job with Merlot now. Bedell is well known but there are others. Members in Manhattan - you can try out NY state wines at Vintage New York - there's one in Soho at Broome and Wooster (or Greene). Bordeaux from Pomerol and St. Emilion generally have a higher proportion of Merlot in them than do other Bordeaux. For all wine types I've tried, Echelon has been a very good value. Of course wine pricing is all over the map. Not sure if you want to keep the well/top shelf notion going for wines, but you could look at the average cost per serving for the spirits and base some of your wine choices accordingly.