As to the question of merlots, it's hard to put my finger on it. A good merlot has an amzingly smooth, velvetty feel to it. But the flavor is a little lacking. I either want the jammy, spicy, zesty punch you in the face flavor of a Shiraz, Zin or Cab, or I want a subtle and nuanced Pinot. Merlot falls in between these two and doesn't do much for me. I will say this. I don't touch the French wines much as I just don't know much about them. I can spend the rest of my life drinking nothing but Californian and Australian wines and never regret it. The Frenches seem almost overwhelming of an undertaking to learn. Maybe I just don't want to step out of my comfort zone or I'm intimidated. I did have a great French recently. Domaine La Garrigue - Vacqueyras Red Rhone. About $22/bottle here in St. Louis and paired perfectly with the grilled meatloaf I did. Yeah, I grill just about everything (Chicken Cordon Bleu, Crostinis, Romaine Lettuce, among others, along with old stand bys of steak, ribs, brisket, etc). Back to the wine. This stuff was amazing: And yes my kitchen table does have grape vines custom stenciled onto it. I was actually looking for a merlot to pair with the meat loaf as I felt a Shiraz/Zin/Cab might over power it and it would overpower a Pinot. This is what was recommended to me and I enjoyed it. But I don't normally go this route. You described my reason for not being a big fan of CA and AUS wines. They tend to be 100% of a certain grape (Carbernet, Merlot, etc.) which makes the wines less balanced or less complex than French wines in my opinion. If you feel the flavor is a little lacking in merlot wines, French wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion (mentioned earlier) are perfect. Unlike New World style, the French wines are just "based" on merlot, but are blended with other grapes to give them more character. You can get anything from light/easy drinking to bold/character style merlots. Also, I think merlot is a convenient wine to pair with certain dishes. It is a fairly versatile wine.