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    Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon

    Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon

    Quick Summary

    Cabernet Sauvignon

    Pick a Cabernet if you want…

    • A great gift to give someone
    • Pepper flavours and with savoury black currant
    • Something you can drink without food
    • High tannin


    Pick a Merlot if you want…

    • A flavour that’s driven by plums and cherries
    • Low tannin
    • Cheap option
    • Something to drink with food

    Cabernet and Merlot are two of the most commonly known red wines in the world (and we love them too!).

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    Cabernet tends to be used to refer to the famous Cabernet Sauvignon, but it also refers to other grape types as well, such as Cabernet Franc, Dorsa, Gros to name a few.

    A little known fact: Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid grape, created from the Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Franc varieties.

    However, to not over-complicate this article we will be focusing solely on the Cabernet Sauvignon as it’s regarded as one of the most successful/popular wines out there and also, it’s one of the most widely grown grape type on the world.

    The Merlot grape is used in both mixing (wineries mix two or more different types of grapes to create a unique blend) and varietal wine (This is when a single grape type is used to produce a wine bottle).

    Here is some more detail about each type, and the differences between them:



    This type of grape grows in the Cabernet region in France. It’s also the most popular grape grown there. The flavor of the Merlot can greatly change depending on how it was produced. There are two ways that are used in producing this wine.

    First, we have the “Bordeaux Style”. This method is not commonly used and is usually found in old world wine areas. This term is referred to countries that have been making wine for over 400 years. These are mainly European countries like Spain, France and Portugal. New world areas are used to refer to countries that have been making wine for less than 400 years, like the US, Chile, Australia etc.

    Merlot grapes that are used to produce Bordeaux Style Merlot are harvested early, leaving the wine with a medium-body and a more apparent line of acidity. It also contains fresh red berry notes. Unlike the “Bordeaux Style”, in the “ International Style”, the grapes are harvested later in the season.

    Being harvested late means that the grapes will be more mature, and will have a more balanced sugar level. This leads to the wine being more full-bodied and the fruit notes will progress from red berries (raspberries, strawberries etc..) to darker fruits (Plum, blackberries etc.)

    Even though the Bordeaux Style is mostly practiced in Bordeaux, not all wineries there use this method and many opt to use the international style instead of the tradition Bordeaux Style. Wines that are produced in a cool climate will often show higher levels of acidity. However, wines produced in warmer climates will often have a fruitier flavor.

    How do you pair your Merlot with your food? If you have a Bordeaux style wine, then it’s best to pair it with dishes that have a high level of salt and umami flavors, like bacon, salmon or mushroom sauce. The fruit in the Bordeaux style wine will balance the flavors perfectly.

    If you have an International Style Merlot, then it’s paired the same way as a Cabernet. It is best to pair it with dishes that are fatty like steaks. The tannins and fat will mix together, improving the overall taste of the steak and the wine.

    Learn more about Merlot here.

    Cabernet Sauvignon

    Cabernet Sauvignon


    Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular Cabernet wine in the whole world, and often ranks amongst the top of most people's preferences.

    It originated from the south-western region of France, where is was incredibly popular amongst winemakers as it was easy to grow - perhaps influencing the general consumer taste for it, as it may have been historically more widely available.

    Similar to the Merlot, the taste of Cab Sauv will be influenced by the way it has been produced or grown, in particular whether it has been aged on oak or fermented in oak barrels.

    There is also the impact of Maceration, which is a term used to describe the skin to grape contact, and it greatly influences the tannins level in the wine. The longer the maceration period, the more you need to age the wine to mellow out the harsh tannins in the wine.

    Cabernets are great for aging due to the high tannin levels and its natural acidity.

    The Cabernet Sauvignon will have notes of things, like tobacco, leather, vanilla if it has been fermented in oak barrels or aged. If the Cabernet comes from a cool climate, then you can expect higher acidity levels and notes of cedar, blackberries and green bell peppers too.

    If the Cabernet comes from a warm climate, then expect black cherry and black current flavor notes. The warmer the climate, the fruiter and sweeter the wine will be.

    Cabernet Sauvignon are best paired with dishes that have a high percentage of fat in them, like steak. The tannins blend in with the fat creating the perfect tasting experience.

    Learn more about Cabernet Sauvignon here.

    What’s the Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot are full-bodied red wine, and they're both from France.

    They also both show notes of berries, and have acidic tangs.

    The main differences between them are the levels of acidity and tannins, with Cabernet having high levels of both, and Merlot having average levels of both.

    These two wines are competing together for the most popular grape in the world, and are used in several famous blends of wine that you may have heard of.

    cabernet sauvignon in bowl glass with grapes


    If you’re searching for a wine to pair with your meal then the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot are two excellent choices - so you can't really go wrong!

    However, if you’re looking for a type of wine that you can drink without food, then the Merlot is the better choice since it has less tannins than the Cabernet Sauvignon.

    One of the biggest differences between both wines is the way they are produced. This also means that one Merlot can be very different from another Merlot according to how it was produced.

    Of course, this all goes down to your personal preference and you’re free to choose whichever you like more. You have such a large number of wine offerings from both the Merlot and Cabernet. You can even find a bottle that you’d love in both production types.

    Related Cabernet Sauvignon articles:

    Which is Sweeter? Cabernet vs. Merlot

    Technically neither but, as a matter of taste, Merlot tends to taste more fruity and thus, sweeter than Cab Sav. Of course, this very much depends on where it’s from.

    Which is bolder? Cabernet vs. Merlot?

    If both wines are produced in the same manner from the same area, Cabernet Sauvignon tastes bolder than Merlot because of its high tannin content. However, that doesn’t mean Merlot doesn’t pack a punch!

    If you are looking for bolder Merlot wines, start in the warmer climate regions (such as the North Coast of California). Keep your eyes peeled for Merlot from hillside estates. When the grapes are more exposed to more sun and wind (on the hills) they produce ticker-skinned grapes and thus, bolder tannins.

    Which one should you buy if you want to impress your friends or guests at dinner?

    Both wines are a good choice to impress guests, but I would prefer a bottle Cabernet Sauvignon near Merlot† This wine has more body and complexity than Merlot, and tends to ripen better so you can enjoy it for years to come. But both wines are sure to please!

    Read our related wine guides here:

    Is one better than the other?

    That really depends on your taste. Some people prefer the lighter, fruitier flavours of Merlot, while others Cabernet Sauvignon fuller and more complex. It is often said that young Merlots are best enjoyed up to three years after harvest, while Cabernets can mature for up to 20 years or more!

    Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines both have different qualities than the other and it can be difficult to decide which one you like best. Merlot wines are usually made with only Merlot-grapes, while Cabernet Sauvignon-wines more often a blend are of grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to be more tannic and more powerful than Merlot wines, and these two types of wine can have vastly different flavours due to their different juice composition.

    For those who want a lighter Red wine want with hints of blackberry, raspberry and cassis with a slight acidity, is Merlot often the best choice. However, for those who want a fuller variety with earthy flavours like dark cherry or plum, Cabernet Sauvignon generally better suited.

    Ultimately, there is no right answer, as it all depends on your personal taste preferences. What type Red wine you prefer, it will most likely be your favourite!

    Learn more about Red Wine Grapes here.


    We hope you enjoyed our article on Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon.

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    philip thompson Author: Philip Thompson
    Philip is the General Manager at Expert Wine Storage, and is very knowledgable about all things relating to wine and wine storage, including wine fridges. He is regularly featured in media outlets sharing his knowledge on wine. Connect on Linkedin

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