Merlot vs. Cabernet: Profile, Regions, Food Pairings & Best Brands

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon share many similarities, which is why they are often compared.

However, these two wines are very different if you know their profiles. So to clear the Merlot vs. Cabernet comparisons, here is a general guide about these two famous wines.

General Profile of Merlot and Cabernet

Merlot Cabernet
Notable notes Black cherry





Plum sauce

Black pepper


Tannin Medium High
Acidity Medium High
Mouthfeel Smooth Velvety
Alcohol 12–14% ABV 13–15% ABV


Both Merlot and Cabernet originated in Bordeaux. However, the grapes used for these wines have different needs and grow better in separate soils and climates.

This is why these two wines are now found in different regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is mostly produced in the Médoc region, while Merlot is in the Gironde estuary region.

Grape Characteristics


The grapes used for making Merlot and Cabernet are among the two wines’ top distinctions.

For starters, the cabernet grape is small in size, dark and thick-skinned, and full of tannins. Moreover, this grape variety is great with barrel-aging because the oak barrels help to condition the tannins giving the wine a rich flavor and aroma.

As for the Merlot grape, it has deep red skin but is lighter in color than the cabernet grape. It also has a thick skin and is very good with multiple weather conditions.

However, unlike the cabernet grape, Merlot is commonly used for blending because it is smoother and rounder, which helps balance wines with high tannin content.


Cabernet Sauvignon grapes thrive in almost all kinds of weather and can survive against pest infestations. However, cabernet grapes grow better in warm regions, and the heat helps the grapes to ripen faster.

On the other hand, Merlot grapes are more suitable in cooler weather, like the Gironde estuary region. Due to this, Merlot grapes ripen later than Cabernet.



In terms of aroma, Merlot and Cabernet can be hard to differentiate if you are new to wine tasting.

You can hint at strong notes of black fruits from both wines, like blackcurrant and black cherries. Merlot and Cabernet are also oak-aged, so you can spot oak notes when smelling these wines.


The main reason why Merlot and Cabernet wines are often compared is that their taste has the same impact and finish. Although different in terms of flavor, you can hint at similar notes when blind tasting these two wines.

However, you can spot a difference in their overall body because Merlot tends to be fruity and softer in the mouth compared to Cabernet, which has harsh tannins and acidity.

Moreover, Merlot and Cabernet are dry wines, which means they are not sweet due to the absence of residual sugar after they go through the winemaking process.


As mentioned before, Merlot has a softer body than Cabernet. This is because the latter tend to have more tannins and alcohol content than Merlot. Furthermore, Merlot is rounder, while Cabernet is intense and has a spike of acidity when in the mouth.


Merlot and Cabernet have a deep red color, but Cabernet tends to be darker, and some have a deep garnet color.

Merlot and Cabernet Production Process


The grapes used to make Merlot are typically harvested two weeks before those used to make Cabernet.

And in oak aging, Merlot aged faster compared to Cabernet, aged for up to 25 years. The shorter time Merlot ages in oak barrels results in a fruitier and softer flavor profile for the wine.

As for the aging of Cabernet in oak barrels, it is one of the factors that lead to the wine having a flavor that is both exquisite and rich.

The winemaker’s maturing process results in red wine with a flavor that is harmoniously balanced between oaky and acidic characteristics.

How to Best Enjoy Merlot and Cabernet

Even serving Merlot and Cabernet wines, has their similarities and differences. This is because they have a distinct personality within them that makes them the kind of wine they are.

You might need to serve them at a different temperature in the same glass or pair them with the same food. You can’t tell unless you know everything about these two. So see below the best ways to serve these luxurious wines.

1. Cabernet Serving

The best temperature to serve Cabernet wine is around 16 °C. Don’t serve it too chilled or too warm, as it can ruin your drinking experience because it will hinder the overall aroma and mouthfeel of the wine.

Moreover, since Cabernet is a full-bodied red wine, you should serve it using a Bordeaux glass. This glass has a long stem and tall bowl that helps you enjoy the full aroma of the wine while minimizing the harsh tannins and alcohol that go to your nose.

2. Merlot Serving

Since Merlot is a more easy-drinking type of wine, you can serve it a bit chiller than Cabernet at 14 °C to 16 °C. And to best enjoy the aroma of the wine, use a Bordeaux glass rather than a standard red wine glass.

Moreover, you can also try and decanter the wine for an hour before serving, especially if it is an aged Merlot. This will help the wine breathe and give you the smoothest drink.

Food Pairings


Although Merlot and Cabernet have a lot of similarities, they still are different when it comes to food pairings. Both of these wines have distinct qualities that need to be considered when considering what food to pair them with.


Because of Merlot’s ability to easily complement any kind of food, it is popular among seasoned wine lovers. If you opt for a less complicated wine like the California Merlot, you can easily pair it with barbecue or dishes with a flavorful sauce.

And for more expensive Merlot wines, you need to be careful when choosing what to pair them with to ensure you don’t ruin the overall flavor of the wine. Savory meat or roasted vegetables may be what you need.


Since Cabernet tends to be stronger than Merlot, some varieties call for bold meat and saucy dishes to balance the wine’s harsh tannins.

For a perfect dinner date, pair your Cabernet wine with a prime rib or fillet mignon for the ultimate experience. Or, if you are looking for something light, pair the wine with a fried or crusted tuna.

Which Wine Should I Get?


In the end, there is no correct answer because it entirely depends on the individual’s choices regarding matters of taste. What kind of red wine do you enjoy drinking the most? That’s probably your go-to bottle.

If you prefer smoother, less strong red wine, go for a Merlot. Since it gives a more fruity taste and mouthfeel compared to Cabernet, Merlot offers a more relaxed drinking experience.

But if you want something robust and bolder, then Cabernet is for you. This is best when drunk during your alone time as it gives you the comfort you need while still tasting strong.

Can I Get Both?

Can’t make up your mind about which wine to drink? You do not need to do that! These two wines are frequently combined, and one of the most well-known examples is the Bordeaux Cabernet-Merlot blend.

The unique combinations of taste, texture, and acidity they bring to the table result in outstanding wines.

Because it contains lower tannin levels, Merlot makes Cabernet gentler and less stinging on the taste. Merlot receives a more vibrant taste and structure due to the increased acidity that Cabernet contributes to the blend.

Best Wine Brands for Merlot and Cabernet


Although Merlot is always compared to Cabernet, it has wine brands under top brands worth multiple recognition and praise.

You can find tens to hundreds of premium Merlot bottles on the market, and regardless of the price, you’ll surely find something your palate will love.


Brand Region Average Price
Château Canon-la-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru $100
Tua Rita Redigaffi Toscana Tuscany $230
Chateau L’Evangile Bordeaux $259
Masseto Toscana Tuscany $1000
Château Pétrus Pomerol $4,000

For Cabernet, you will notice that most of our top-picked brands are from Napa Valley. This is because this region has the best terrain and climate for Cabernet.

As a result, the grape varieties here grow beautifully and are in perfect condition to go through the winemaking process and give the greatest wine with the best flavor and aroma.


Brand Region Average Price
Silver Oak Alexander Valley California $70
2018 Caymus Cabernet Napa Valley $100
2017 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $150
Ghost Horse Vineyard ‘Apparition’ Napa Valley $3,000
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $4,000


Even with all these Merlot vs. Cabernet comparisons, if you are an avid wine enthusiast, you’ll know these two shines independently and has their unique quality. So to enjoy it to the fullest, try both of these wines and see which one you like the most.


Leave a Comment