Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Know the Difference

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two of the most popular and widely grown grape varieties in the world. Both are red grapes that are used to make red wine, and both are known for producing rich, full-bodied examples. Significant differences between the two varietals exist, however, in terms of flavor profile, growing regions, and food pairings. It’s time to compare and contrast Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Flavor Profile 

Merlot is known for its softness and elegance. It has a smooth, velvety texture and is often described as having flavors of black cherry, plum, and chocolate. Merlot is generally considered to be a medium-bodied wine with moderate tannins and a moderate acidity level. It is often used as a blending grape to add softness and depth to other wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Cabernet Sauvignon, by contrast, is known for its boldness and complexity. It has a higher tannin level than Merlot, which gives it a firmer structure and longer aging potential. Cabernet Sauvignon is often described as having flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, and tobacco. It is a full-bodied wine with high acidity, which gives it a lively and refreshing taste. 

Growing Regions 

Merlot is grown in many wine regions around the world, including France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, and the United States. It is particularly popular in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to create some of the world's most famous wines. If you see reference to a “Bordeaux blend,” the wine will usually have significant amounts of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown in many regions around the world, but it is particularly popular in the Napa Valley region of California. Other regions that produce high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon include Bordeaux, Australia, Chile, and South Africa. 

Food Pairings 

When you buy red wine, always think about great wine to go with great food. An extremely versatile red wine with medium tannins and often fruit forward, Merlot goes suitably with a wide range of foods. It is particularly good with grilled meats, pasta dishes, and dishes that include mushrooms or truffles. Merlot is also a good choice for cheese plates, particularly those that include softer, creamier cheeses like brie or camembert. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is a bolder wine that pairs well with rich, hearty dishes. It is particularly good with red meat, especially steak, as well as with stews, casseroles, and other dishes that include strong, earthy flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon is also a good choice for aged cheeses like cheddar or gouda. 

Expressing a Sense of Place 

Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon express terroir, which refers to the unique environmental factors, including soil, climate, and topography, that affect the grape's flavor and aroma. 

Terroir is a crucial factor in the production of high-quality wines, and winemakers often seek out specific terroirs that are particularly well-suited for growing certain grape varieties. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in warmer, drier climates with well-draining soils, while Merlot prefers cooler, moister climates with heavier soils. 

Different terroirs can have a significant impact on the flavor profile of the wine. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley region of California tends to have flavors of blackcurrant, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Bordeaux, France, may have more herbal or spicy notes. 

Similarly, Merlot grown in the cooler climate of the Bordeaux region tends to be softer and more delicate, with flavors of black cherry and plum, whereas Merlot grown in the warmer climate of California may have more robust flavors of blackberry and chocolate. 

In all, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two very different grape varieties that produce distinct wines. Merlot is known for its softness and elegance, while Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its boldness and complexity. Merlot is grown in many regions around the world, while Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly popular in the Napa Valley region of California. Both wines pair well with a variety of foods, but Merlot is best suited for lighter dishes while Cabernet Sauvignon is better suited for richer, heartier fare. In the end, you make will choose between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based on personal taste, the food you’re pairing with, and the event; trying a Bordeaux-style blend may be the answer! 

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