It's been a tough decade for Merlot.

Once the default for a whole generation of aspiring drinkers, the grape's public image now revolves around the notorious dissing it received in a certain 2004 film.

It might not be as geeky or hip as other wines in our rotation. But when grown by dedicated winemakers in prime soil, Merlot remains capable of delivering seductive, elegantly structured wine.

Here are three examples from California guaranteed to silence the snobs and misguided detractors.

Sourced from estate vines nestled high on the slopes of Napa's Mount Veeder, the 2007 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot ($45 for 750 ml) encapsulates this classically minded winery's old-school approach, combining subtle earthiness with surprisingly bright cherry notes and a shadow of tobacco-like herbs.

A stellar effort from one of Napa's true pioneers, the 2007 Grgich Hills Merlot ($45 for 750 ml) drinks like the platonic ideal of a pedigreed Merlot. Plump and juicy on the palate, with a spine of acidity, it's the perfect steakhouse red.

Newer to the scene, the 2008 Korbin Kameron Merlot ($35 for 750 ml), from a family-run estate in the emerging Sonoma Mountain AVA, shows a more modern sensibility, with notes of chocolate and plums, and a touch of oak that never goes overboard.