Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

cabernet sauvignon vs merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are two of the world’s most popular red wine varieties. And in fact, they are siblings as both share their parent grape Cabernet Franc.

But many get confused as to which one to choose for themselves. So, let’s get into the similarities and differences of these two famous red wines.

Hopefully, in the end, you’ll know which wine is best for you. But to be honest, the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can be very similar. And depending on the winery/winemaker/region where you got a bottle from, a Merlot can have the characteristics of a Cab and vice versa.

In the end, it’s your choice. But neither is a wrong choice!

Table of Contents

What Is Cabernet Sauvignon? Where Is It Produced?

Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably one of the most famous and most widely planted grape varietals in the plane. It’s a full-bodied red wine loved for its strong tannins and mouthwatering acidity that lingers.

Cabernet is famously grown in the gravelly soils on the Left Bank of Bordeaux region where it develops earthy flavors. Other famous wine regions for Cabernet grapes:

  • Napa Valleywhere it’s the signature wine varietal
  • Paso Robles – home to the best Cabernet Sauvignon at the best prices
  • Italy – use in Super Tuscans
  • Chile, Australia, Argentina are a few other regions
cabernet sauvignon vs merlot regions

What Is Merlot? Where Is It Produced?

Merlot means ‘the little blackbird’ in French, also known to be a chameleon grape varietal wine because it can adapt well to many climates. It’s a very versatile wine. 

But the cool climate Merlot grape is most common in the limestone-clay soils in the Right Bank of Bordeaux (St. Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac). Other best regions for Merlot:

  • CaliforniaNapa Valley, Paso Robles, and Sonoma County
  • Italy – particularly in the Friuli region, the place for the best Merlot-Cabernet red blends
  • Chile – where Merlot grapes are among the widely planted variety, third to be exact after Listan Prieto and Cabernet
  • Australia and Washington State

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

cabernet sauvignon vs merlot comparison

Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon is mostly tart with black currant and black cherry tasting notes, while Merlot is softer, milder with the fruit flavors of dark plums. Both can be aged in oak barrels to give more secondary and tertiary flavors. 

Appearance: Cabernet Sauvignon is a darker-hued variety, typically darker than Merlot. Although both change in color with age.

Aroma: Merlot can present deep aromas of chocolate and coffee with top notes of dark cherries. In contrast, Cabernet can also produce similar aromas but also hints of spicy and peppery notes.

Is Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot Sweeter? Which One Is Bolder?

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be bolder with its high tannin content, giving you very rich and robust flavors. Meanwhile, Merlot is slightly more delicate and is usually fruit-forward red wine. 

Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are considered “dry” red wines, so neither is considered sweet wine. But Merlot based wines have a seemingly balanced flavor profile, and with its fruitier flavor, it tends to taste sweeter than Cabernet.

cabernet sauvignon vs merlot comparison pinot noir

But again, whether which is sweeter or bolder between the two depends on where the grapes are from. The climate of the wine region makes a lot of difference in the flavor profile of the wine. So, if you choose a Cab from Napa and a St. Emilion (Merlot) from France, you’re going to get a more fruit-forward Cabernet that’s also essentially sweeter than your Merlot.

The only way to really compare these two wines are to try a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from either the same region or, ideally, from the same winery or winemaker.

Food Pairing Guide | Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot

cabernet sauvignon blanc food pairing

Pair Cabernet Sauvignon with:

  • Rich meals like grilled steak, burgers, and sausages
  • Red meat is a prime choice for deep, dark Cabernet
  • Salty, fatty foods to bring out the fruitiness of the wine
  • Anything savory and rich that won’t get overpowered by the bold flavors of the Cab
cabernet sauvignon vs merlot food pairing

Pair Merlot with:

  • Similar light-flavored dishes like chicken and braised meat
  • Savory foods like meat and potatoes will bring out their oakiness
  • Comfort foods like pizza and tomato-based pasta dishes
  • French vanilla ice cream

Cabernet or Merlot | Which One Should You Choose?

Do you want something usually more approachable? Then Merlot!

Do you want something bolder? Choose a Cabernet (which normally has higher tannin content).

Do you usually want something with a fuller body? Choose Cabernet Sauvignon.

Do you want something more fruit-forward/fruity flavor? Choose by region!

Do you want to cellar it? Cabernet is very age-worthy, while Merlot drinks well young.

But the best way to learn the difference between a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is to try, taste, and experience yourself. So below, we have options for you to try. Check them out. And if don’t enjoy either of these red wines, Pinot Noir might be the better choice for you!

Buy These Wines for More Research!

  • Napa – Peju Cab vs. Peju Merlot
  • Bordeaux – Right Bank Cab vs. Left Bank Merlot

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