Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

By | November 30, 2017

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are two of the most famous red wines in the entire America, but there are many people who have no idea about what makes them different and when to prefer one over the other. Well, we are here to help you out. Indeed, both of these two wines are great to be paired with meats, but they each have very different characteristics. Then again, it is quite common to combine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in order to get the best of both worlds. Continue reading below for the comparisons between Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot!

The Growing Regions
As a matter of fact, both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot came from the same place. They both originated in the Bordeaux region of France during the 15th century. However, the grapes of these two wines require very different conditions to thrive.

Cabernet Sauvignon thrives the most when planted in the gravel-based soil of the Medoc region. Gravel-based soil is well-drained and able to transfer the heat from the environment to the vines. It helps to make the fruits ripen more quickly. Nevertheless, Cabernet Sauvignon is a very tough and adaptable species. This species can actually grow in a wide range of conditions, both in warm and in cold climates. That is the reason why Cabernet Sauvignon is now very popular and can be found across the world.

On the other hand, Merlot grows best in clays and limestone-based soils. Such soils can be found along the Right Bank in France’s Gironde estuary region. However, such soils tend to have cooler temperature levels. As a result, the fruits usually take longer to ripen.

Both Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot now grow in various locations. Both can be found in Sonoma County, Napa Valley, the northeastern United States, and the southern Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown in Medoc and Pessac-Leognan, whereas Merlot is also grown in Pomerol, St. Emilion, and Fronsac.

The grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon have a thick skin, which is the source of the high amount of tannin. Cabernet Sauvignon goes through an oak aging process during the production. Although such aging process is not recommended for all wines, it is just perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. It gets the wine to the right levels of acidity and bitterness. It also adds some additional flavors that make the wine unique and even more delicious.

Quite similarly, Merlot is usually also aged in oak barrels or with oak chips. The production process requires the Merlot grapes to be picked immediately once they are ripened, as they tend to over-ripen quickly and lose their acidity. Merlot grapes are often blended with other grapes in order to lower the other grapes’s tannin levels, as Merlot has a much lighter and fruitier flavor.

Scent and Appearance
Now, we will see the scent and appearance differences of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot. Although they seem to be similar, they do have slightly different scents and colors.

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have a gripping scent when young. However, the gripping effect fades away with age. The rich notes of currants will fade, whereas the bell pepper notes will remain. If there are vanilla notes present, note that they come not from the fruits but from the oak treatment. Compared to Merlot, the color of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be bolder and darker.

On the other hand, the typical scents of Merlot are plums, blackberry, and herbals. The aroma is usually light and fruity. Meanwhile, the color is usually dark red, but not as dark as Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine known for the full body and dryness from the high tannin level. The long, gripping finish makes it considered as a classy wine by some people. In general, the taste of Cabernet Sauvignon is bolder. But the climate also plays a big role in deciding how the wine tastes. If the wine’s grapes were grown in a cool climate, it will have a higher presence of tannin, hence resulting in a drier, more earthy flavor. If the wine’s grapes were grown in a warmer climate, it will have less tannin and the taste will be slightly fruitier.

On the other hand, Merlot is known to have a round texture. However, a middle palate gap is quite common as well. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is generally smoother. It is lighter and fruitier, due to the lower tannin level. Merlot is often used to introduce wines in general to new red-wine drinkers because of the “gentle” yet elegant character.

Unsurprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often combined together in one blend. The fruitiness of Merlot is utilized to control the bitterness of Cabernet Sauvignon’s tannin. In the broader applications, Cabernet Sauvignon is usually used to add some dryness to wines that are too sweet, whereas Merlot is usually used to sweeten bitter wines.

Food Pairings
Finally, Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot wines are suitable for different food pairings. They have stark differences that make them more suitable for different foods and meals.

Cabernet Sauvignon is never recommended for a delicate meal. The rich, powerful flavor will overpower the whole table. It is best to pair with heavier meals, for example steak, wild pheasant, duck, buffalo, and foods with high protein. Avoid pairing it with fish; the oil will not be able to tame the tannin properly. If you really want to pair it with a seafood dish, consider less oily fish like tuna, shark, and swordfish.

On the other hand, Merlot is much more flexible and versatile. Well, it is basically suitable for all foods and dishes, thanks to the lightness and sweetness. It pairs very well with Italian dishes, especially the ones with tomato-based sauces. It is also able to highlight the savory flavor of mushrooms, roasted chicken, and Parmesan cheese.

Cabernet SauvignonMerlot
- Best planted in the gravel-based soil, which can ripen the fruits more quickly- Best in clays and limestone-based soils, takes more time to ripen
- A gripping scent, a darker color- Light and fruity scent, a dark red color
- Bold and dry flavor- The taste is smoother, fruitier, relatively lighter
- Best paired with heavier meals and meats- Suitable for all foods, the best ones are Italian dishes, mushrooms, roasted chicken, and Parmesan cheese

Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot both came from France and are very popular, they have distinctive differences. Cabernet Sauvignon has a more gripping scent and a darker color. The flavor is usually bold and dry due to the high tannin level. The best food pairings are heavier meals and meats, such as steak, wild pheasant, duck, and buffalo. Less oily fishes can do pretty well. On the other hand, Merlot is smoother and lighter. The flavor is much lighter and fruitier. It is suitable for all foods, but the best ones are Italian dishes, mushrooms, roasted chicken, and Parmesan cheese.

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