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    The Difference Between Pinot Noir & Merlot

    Pinot Noir Vs Merlot

    Pinot Noir and Merlot are some of the most popular red wines out there.

    You’ll be hard pressed to find a wine list or wine shelf without at least one of the two on offer.

    They are both delicious, red wines - so what, actually, is the difference between them?

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    Pinot Noir vs Merlot: 7 Main Differences

    Pinot Noir vs Merlot Wine

    What is the difference between Pinot Noir and Merlot?

    They’re both very popular red wines that look very similar once poured into a wine glass, so what separates one from the other?

    Here are 7 main differences between Pinot Noir and Merlot to help you impress your friends the next time you’re perusing a wine list:

    1. Origins

    Pinot Noir Origins

    Both Pinot Noir and Merlot originate from France, but the specific French regions they are native to play a key role in being able to tell them apart.

    Pinot Noir originates in Burgundy, whilst Merlot is native to the Bordeaux region of France.

    Both Burgundy and Bordeaux have reputations for making exceptional levels of fine wine and as a result Merlot and Pinot Noir are grown in wine regions all over the world.

    Some International New World examples of Merlot and Pinot Noir can be found in the USA, Chile and New Zealand.

    So how do these origins shape the characteristics of Pinot Noir and Merlot?

    2. Grape Characteristics

    What are the characteristics of the Pinot Noir and Merlot red wine grapes?

    For a very popular wine, Pinot Noir is a notoriously tricky grape to grow.

    Pinot Noir grapes have very thin skin, making them susceptible to damage, and grow in small, tight clusters where mould and rot can easily form.

    When grown successfully, Pinot Noir makes wines with perfumed aromas and light tannins, as a result of its thinner skin.

    Merlot, on the other hand, has a thicker skin so is far easier to grow.

    As a result Merlot is the most planted grape in Bordeaux.

    But how does thickness of skin affect the wine’s appearance? What do Merlot and Pinot Noir wines look like?

    3. Appearance

    When it comes to red wine grapes there is a very simple rule: the thicker the skins the darker the wine will appear in the glass.

    Pinot Noir and Merlot will look very different once poured into a glass next to each other.

    Pinot Noir will pour a very light and delicate ruby whilst Merlot will pour a much darker shade of red.

    So will this affect the serving suggestions for Merlot and Pinot Noir? How should you serve the two wines?

    4. Serving

    Pinot Noir Serving Temperature

    As a rule, as long as you enjoy the wine and enjoy the company you are in there is no right or wrong way to serve your wine.

    However, if you want to get the best out of your wine there are some differences between the way you can serve your Pinot Noir and Merlot.

    Especially when it comes to glassware.

    • As Pinot Noir makes a lighter and softer red wine it can be served in a Burgundy style, medium sized wine glass.
    • The ideal serving temperature for lighter-bodied red wines, such as pinot noir, is 55°F (13°C). 
    • Merlot, on the other hand, makes a darker and deeper red wine so can be better suited to a larger, Bordeaux style wine glass which will help to really open the wine's aromas up.
    • Merlot, a dry wine with a medium to a whole body, is best served at a temperature of 15-18°C (60-65°F).

    Merlot Serving Temperature

    We have more information on different types of red and white wine glasses here.

    5. Tasting Notes

    Pinot Noir Profile

    Do Pinot Noir and Merlot taste different?

    Yes, whilst Pinot Noir and Merlot may be red wines they will have very different tasting notes.

    • Pinot Noir - is a lighter, more delicate red wine with notes of chocolate covered violets and ripe raspberry, as well as more earthier notes of forest floor and fresh mushrooms.
    • Merlot - on the other hand will have higher levels of tannins and more darker fruit flavours. Think punnets of blackberries and cooked, juicy plums. Read more about what Merlot tastes like here.

    Will the tasting notes of Pinot Noir and Merlot affect how they pair with food? What food pairs best with Pinot Noir and Merlot?

    6. Food Pairings

    Do Pinot Noir and Merlot taste different?

    Yes, whilst Pinot Noir and Merlot may be red wines they will have very different tasting notes.

    • Pinot Noir is a lighter, more delicate red wine with notes of chocolate covered violets and ripe raspberry, as well as more earthier notes of forest floor and fresh mushrooms.
    • Merlot on the other hand will have higher levels of tannins and more darker fruit flavours. Think punnets of blackberries and cooked, juicy plums.

    Merlot Food Pairings

    Will the tasting notes of Pinot Noir and Merlot affect how they pair with food? What food pairs best with Pinot Noir and Merlot?

    7. Price

    While both Burgundy and Bordeaux make very expensive fine wines when grown as varietals, Pinot Noir and Merlot may have different price ranges.

    As we’ve discussed, Pinot Noir’s lighter skin makes it a tricker grape to grow. As a result it can be a more expensive wine to buy because the production costs involved will be higher.

    Merlot is often a cheaper alternative as it is an easy to grow grape that makes an easy to drink wine, perfect for making and selling on a larger scale.

    So now you can tell the difference between Pinot Noir and Merlot, which is better? How do you choose between the two?

    Which Is Better: Pinot Noir Or Merlot?

    The only person who can answer the question is Pinot Noir better than Merlot is yourself.

    If you prefer lighter styles of red wine then Pinot Noir is your friend here, but if you want something a bit deeper and darker then a Merlot is a perfect choice.

    Whilst facts are facts, taste is subjective so the best way to find out which wine is better is to drink Pinot Noir and Merlot together to see which you prefer.

    It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it!

    Summary of the differences between Pinot Noir and Merlot

    Difference Pinot Noir Merlot
    Origin Burgundy, France Bordeaux, France
    Grape Characteristics Thin skin, delicate aroma, light tannins Thick skin, higher tannins, darker fruit flavors
    Appearance Light and delicate ruby Darker shade of red
    Serving Burgundy-style glass Bordeaux-style glass
    Tasting Notes Chocolate covered violets, ripe raspberry, earthy notes Blackberries, juicy plums, higher tannins
    Food Pairings Lighter dishes, mushrooms Heartier dishes, red meats
    Price Can be more expensive due to production costs

    Often cheaper and produced on a larger scale

    Before You Go... 

    We hope this article answers any questions you may have on Pinot Noir vs Merlot.

    If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, or email us at info@expertwinestorage.co.uk

    If you want to learn more about other types, consider our related blog posts:

    You can also shop new wine coolers online at Expertwinestorage.co.uk.

    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