Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet (Explained)

Are you a wine enthusiast or simply curious about the world of red wine varietals? If so, understanding the difference between Merlot and Cabernet is essential. These two grape varietals may appear similar, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will delve into the nuances of Merlot and Cabernet, exploring their differences in tannins, color, body, bouquet, acidity, flavor, strength, finish, fruit notes, and oak notes. By unraveling these details, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for these popular red wines and be better equipped to choose the perfect bottle for any occasion.

difference between merlot and cabernet

Key Takeaways:

  • Merlot and Cabernet are the two most-planted wine grape varietals globally.
  • Merlot offers a softer, fruit-forward profile, while Cabernet is bolder and more age-worthy.
  • Both wines pair well with food, but Merlot is great for enjoying on its own, while Cabernet shines with rich dishes.
  • When choosing between the two, consider personal preference and the desired food pairing.
  • Exploring the world of Merlot and Cabernet can be a delightful journey for wine enthusiasts.

Cabernet Sauvignon Description – How Cabernet Differs from Merlot

Cabernet sauvignon is a red wine that originates from Bordeaux, France. It is one of the most widely recognized and cultivated grape varietals around the world. Cabernet sauvignon is known for its bold and powerful characteristics, setting it apart from merlot.

One of the distinguishing factors of cabernet sauvignon is its medium-to-high tannin levels. Tannins are natural compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems that contribute to the wine’s texture and mouthfeel. In cabernet sauvignon, tannins provide a firm and drying sensation in the mouth, creating a robust and structured wine.

In terms of color, cabernet sauvignon displays a lush, deep red burgundy tone. The color is rich and intense, with opaque centers and faded rims. This vibrant hue adds to the visual appeal of the wine when served in a glass.

The flavor profile of cabernet sauvignon is complex and multi-layered. It is often described as having a full body, which means it has a weighty and substantial presence on the palate. The wine exhibits a rich and unctuous texture, with flavors ranging from dark fruits like blackcurrants and blackberries to earthy notes of peppers, dark chocolate, and peppercorns. These elements contribute to the wine’s depth and intensity.

Characteristic Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Tannins Medium-to-high Low-to-medium
Color Lush, deep red burgundy Ruby red
Body Full Medium to full
Bouquet Earthy, peppers, cassis, dark chocolate, peppercorns Cherries, berries, earthy
Acidity Medium Medium
Flavor Rich, unctuous Soft, fruity
Strength Moderate to intense Moderate to intense
Finish Long, savory Silky
Fruit Notes Blackberries, black currants, black cherries, figs, black plums, boysenberry, blueberry Red berries, cherries, plums
Oak Notes Delicate, adding complexity Coffee, cocoa

“Cabernet sauvignon is often referred to as the king of red wines due to its full-bodied nature and bold flavors. It pairs exceptionally well with hearty dishes like steak or lamb, as the wine’s structure can stand up to rich flavors. When enjoying cabernet sauvignon, expect a luxurious and robust experience that showcases the best of this esteemed grape varietal.”

Merlot Description – How Merlot Differs from Cabernet

Merlot is a red wine grape varietal that originated from the Bordeaux region in France. It is one of the most widely grown grape varieties and is now produced in many wine regions around the world. Merlot has its unique characteristics that differentiate it from Cabernet Sauvignon.

When it comes to tannins, Merlot typically has softer and smoother tannins compared to the bolder and firmer tannins found in Cabernet Sauvignon. This results in a more approachable and less astringent wine. The color of Merlot is a beautiful ruby red, often with darker centers and orange edges, creating an appealing visual experience.

In terms of body and flavor profile, Merlot is considered medium to full-bodied, with a composition described as airy, refreshing, and fragrant. It offers a wide range of fruity notes, such as cherries, berries, and plums, along with earthy and savory tones. The acidity in Merlot is typically moderate, providing a balanced and smooth taste.

The finish of a Merlot wine is often described as silky, with notes of anise, peppercorn, ripe dark berries, and fresh-cut wood. The oak notes present in Merlot are usually in the form of subtle hints of coffee and cocoa, adding complexity and depth to the overall flavor profile.

Merlot Description at a Glance:

Tannins Color Body Bouquet Acidity Flavor Finish Fruit Notes Oak Notes
Softer and smoother Ruby red with darker centers and orange edges Medium to full-bodied Fruity, earthy, and savory Moderate Cherries, berries, plums Silky with anise, peppercorn, ripe dark berries, and fresh-cut wood Subtle red fruit notes Delicate hints of coffee and cocoa

Overall, Merlot offers a unique wine experience with its softer tannins, refreshing body, and fruity flavor profile. It pairs well with a variety of dishes, making it a versatile choice for red wine enthusiasts.

Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon: How to Pick Between the Two

Choosing between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can be a delightful dilemma for wine enthusiasts. While both wines have their unique characteristics, understanding their differences can help you make an informed decision. Here, we will explore the similarities and differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with some food pairing suggestions to enhance your wine-tasting experience.


  • Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are hearty, red wines with rich flavors.
  • They pair well with meat dishes, such as grilled steak or roasted lamb.
  • Both wines can be enjoyed on their own or as part of a meal.


Now, let’s delve into the key distinctions between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon:

Aspect Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon
Tannins Lower tannins, resulting in a softer mouthfeel Higher tannins, creating a more pronounced structure
Acidity Moderate acidity, making it approachable and easy-drinking Higher acidity, providing a lively and refreshing taste
Flavor Profile Fruit-forward with notes of cherries and berries Bolder with flavors of blackberries and cassis
Age-worthiness Merlot is generally ready to drink upon release Cabernet Sauvignon benefits from aging and can improve over time

Food Pairings

To make the most of your wine and food pairing experience, consider the following suggestions:

  • Pair Merlot with roasted poultry, pasta dishes, or soft cheeses.
  • Pair Cabernet Sauvignon with hearty red meat, such as beef or venison, or aged cheeses.
  • For a balanced meal, you can also enjoy both wines with a charcuterie board featuring a variety of cured meats and savory accompaniments.

Ultimately, the choice between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon comes down to personal preference. Whether you prefer the softer, fruit-forward profile of Merlot or the bold structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, exploring both wines will undoubtedly lead to a delightful journey in the world of red wines.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can greatly enhance your wine experience. These two popular red wines have distinct characteristics in terms of tannins, color, body, bouquet, acidity, flavor, strength, finish, fruit notes, and oak notes.

Merlot offers a softer, fruit-forward profile with lower tannins and acidity compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a delightful choice for those who prefer a more approachable and “easy drinking” wine. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon is bolder, richer, and more age-worthy. Its higher tannins and acidity make it a perfect companion for rich dishes and a favorite among wine enthusiasts.

Whether you lean towards the elegance of Merlot or the robustness of Cabernet Sauvignon, exploring the world of these two varietals will open up a delightful journey of flavors and aromas. Understanding their differences allows you to make informed choices and select the perfect wine for any occasion or food pairing. So, raise a glass and savor the unique characteristics of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as you embark on a sensory adventure in the world of red wine.


What are the differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon differ in terms of tannins, color, body, bouquet, acidity, flavor, strength, finish, fruit notes, and oak notes. Merlot has lower tannins and acidity compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, making it softer and more “easy drinking.”

Where do Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon originate from?

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon both originate from Bordeaux, France.

What are the characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon has medium-to-high tannin levels, a lush deep red burgundy color, a full body, earthy bouquet with notes of peppers, cassis, and dark chocolate, medium acidity, and a dry flavor profile.

What are the characteristics of Merlot?

Merlot has a ruby red color, medium to full-bodied composition, fruity and earthy bouquet, medium acidity, and a dry flavor profile.

What food pairings work well with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with meat dishes. Merlot is great for enjoying on its own, while Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with rich, hearty dishes.

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