Difference between Merlot and Cabernet

Updated on February 13, 2017

Imagine preparing a nice dinner for your friends. You have made for them your favorite dish, the one that pairs well with a nice, red wine. Now imagine you have Merlot wine and a guest brings Cabernet Sauvignon. Which wine do you serve for this dinner? Let us give you a hand in understanding the differences between them.



Merlot is a fleshy and soft wine that pairs very well with a wide variety of dishes. The grapes this wine is made of ripen early, and they grow in clay and limestone-based soils. Today, the Pomerol, Fronsac and St. Emilion regions are the most famous Merlot growing regions.

You must pick these grapes immediately after ripening. If you do it too late, they lose their acidity. The wine is then left to age in oak barrels or it has oak chips added to the content.

A Merlot wine is usually more palatable, it is sweet and fruity and it has a lighter tannin. It is also more accessible. Therefore, while it is a nice wine to have in your home and serve to your friends, it is not a good idea for a gift.

Carbernet Sauvignon is one of the finest red wines and it is among the most appreciated. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown in every major wine producing area. It is full-bodied, high in tannins and very acidic. Some say that although it is considered one of the best types of wine, it is somewhat of an acquired taste. It gives you that mouth-drying sensation and it needs decanting for at least 30 minutes, especially if the wine is still young.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do better in cooler climates. The specific Cabernet Sauvignon regions of Bordeaux are Medoc and Pessac-Leognan. The wine is aged in oak barrels until the wine has the perfect balance of bitterness and acidity.

This wine is bolder in taste and does not pair well with everything. Dishes high in protein like duck, pheasant, and other heavier meats are a good match. Therefore, oily fish and light meals are not a good choice as the wine may overpower the taste or may respond in an unpleasant way to the oil. On the other hand, a Cabernet Sauvignon is a more expensive wine. Therefore, it makes a good gift.

Merlot vs Cabernet

So what is the difference between Merlot and Cabernet?

While both are among the most popular Bordeaux wines, there are notable differences between the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon. First, their designated areas are different. Merlot grapes do better in the Pomerol, Fronsac and St. Emilion regions, while Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do better in the Medoc and Pessac-Leognan regions. Otherwise, Merlot grapes do well in warmer climates, they ripen fast, and they maintain a rich, fruity flavor. Carbernet Sauvignon grapes, on the other hand, prefer cooler climates, are picked later, and their skin is very high in tannins. Also, Merlot from cool climates is mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon, and vice versa.

Merlot grapes ripen fast and must be picked immediately. They are aged in oak barrels and sometimes blended with other types of grapes to give them a fruity flavor. Cabernet Sauvignon is better when aged because the young wine is very tannic. Therefore, the Merlot is easy to drink, goes with a wide variety of dishes, while the Cabernet Sauvignon is for the people who appreciate a fine wine that is aged and with a lot of character. It is dry, bold, and it must be paired with heavy meats.

Also, if you want to give a bottle of wine as a gift, a Cabernet Sauvignon is a more elegant option. The Merlot is easier to come by.

Comparison Chart

MerlotCabernet Sauvignon
Is a fruity, easy-to-drink wineIs a tannic, dry wine; more of an acquired taste
Specific to the Pomerol, Fronsac, and St. Emilion regionsSpecific to the Medoc and Pessac-Leognan regions
Does better in warmer climates; cool climate Merlot is mistaken for Cabernet SauvignonDoes better in cooler climates; warm climate Cabernet Sauvignon is mistaken for Merlot
Pairs well with all types of mealsPairs mainly with heavy meats, not with oily fish or light dishes as it overpowers the taste
Better to have in the houseBetter for a gift