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When I recently asked some friends to name their favorite red wines, there were only two answers: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Nobody said merlot. It’s a shame because merlot can produce lush, complex reds that are soft and elegant. After all, merlot is the star of the coveted reds wines from the famous Pomerol estates of Ch teau Pétrus and Le Pin. While those wines can cost thousands of dollars, the following are two affordable, very good California merlots that would go well with steak and other hearty fare.

Tangley Oaks 2013 Merlot, Napa Valley, California

Bought • Friar Tuck, 9053 Watson Road, in May for $12.99

Description • Most Napa Valley merlots are priced above $15, so Tangley Oaks, a Terlato Wines International brand, was a terrific find. In addition, this merlot comes in the kind of impressive heavy bottle that’s often used for more expensive wines. Made from 100 percent merlot, this is a full-bodied red with firm tannins and good acidity. Aged in oak for 20 months, it tastes of juicy plums and dark cherries and ends with a long, smooth finish.

Simi 2013 Merlot, Sonoma County, California

Bought • Friar Tuck, 9053 Watson Road, in May for $14.99

Description • This rich, delicious red comes from the Simi Winery, which was founded in 1876 and has been in continuous operation longer than any other Sonoma County winery, Simi is known for its consistently high-quality wines, and this merlot is a fine example. Made primarily from merlot, it also has a smaller amount of cabernet sauvignon and just a touch of malbec. The resulting red has lots of character and is a tad bigger, softer and more complex than the Tangley Oaks.

Follow Gail on Twitter @GailAppleson.