Brews, Bites & Bottles

Merlot vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

Bottles, Cabernet, California Grapes, Reds, Wine, MerlotNatalie Wright
Merlot vs. Cabernet

Am I the only one who can't really tell the difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon? To me, they seem to (generally) be drier, medium-heavy bodied wines that come from California that I very much enjoy drinking.

So, I sought out to find the differences. When I did so, I found that there were actually a lot of similarities between the two (I guess I shouldn't be surprised):

  • Origin: both varieties of grapes originated in Bordeaux, France in the 15th century. 
  • Where They're Grown Now: you can find these grapes in many places now, like certain parts of California, France, Australia, etc. and for the most part they do still share the same region of growth. 
  • Climate: both grapes are dependent on their climate. Cooler climates lead to a drier wine with earthy flavor and higher tannins. Warmer climates lead to a fruitier flavor and less tannin. 
  • Oak-Aged: both Merlot and Cabernet are aged in oak barrels.

So, yes, there are many similarities that can be found between the two wines. Which, again, brings me to the question: how are they different? So, here we go. Unique characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot:

Cabernet: best grown on soil that has gravel to allow for more absorption of heat which leads to faster ripened grapes. Cabernet has higher tannin levels which makes it a grape that can stand alone rather than in a blend. Best to pair with heavier, rich foods (due to tannins).

Merlot: best grown on soil that has clay to allow the growth process to be cooler and the grape can be slower to ripen. Merlot is typically blended with other grapes which is what gives it less tannins and a lighter body than you'll find in a Cabernet. Best paired with lighter dishes.

There you have it! A brief breakdown of differences between the mysterious Merlot and Cabernet grapes. Are there any wines you have a hard time telling the difference between?