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A Peek at the Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two big shots when it comes to red wines. Both originated in France and have now spread worldwide. So, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon? Which to go for, you ask? Tastessence takes you through the background of each. Take a look!
Tanaya Navalkar
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Did You Know?
In the 20th century, Cabernet Sauvignon was the most planted red wine grape in the world until it was overshadowed by Merlot in the 1990s.
Red wine is a unique and an elegant drink. If there is one thing you would like to thank the French people for, then it would be for producing some of the best red wines in the world, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They are often paired with different types of cuisine, and in fact, even used in cooking a variety of dishes.

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon both originated in Bordeaux, France in the 17th century. Since then, both have emerged as popular choices of red wines in America and other parts of the world. Both were born from Cabernet Franc as the father variety. Both are sometimes blended together to get a smoother Cabernet, while maintaining its own qualities. There are different reasons to love both wines, but only a wine lover or wine maker can tell you their preference over each other. They are alike in many ways, but also extremely different.
Merlot Vs. Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes in Farm
Merlot grapes are one of the widely planted grapes in Bordeaux, France. The name, Merlot, is said to have been derived from a French word meaning 'young blackbird.' Merlot grows as loose bunches of large grapes that are dark blue in color, but lighter than Cabernet. They have thinner skin, less tannin, more sugar content, and lesser acidity.
Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes referred to as the 'King of red wine grapes'. It was a by-chance product of the crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It is now one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. The grapes are smaller, dark blue, and thick-skinned as compared to Merlot. They have higher tannin and acidity.
View of limestone cliffs Meschers
Merlot grapes grow better in clay and limestone-mixed soils that are usually found along the Right Bank in the Gironde estuary region of Bordeaux.
Vineyard Sunrise
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes thrive in gravel-based soils along the Left Bank in the Gironde estuary in the Medoc region of Bordeaux.
Man Enjoying Wine
Merlot wine is a soft, smoother, and subtle wine with a hint of blackberries, plums, and cherries. It has a softer and fruitier taste in comparison to Cabernet. It is often considered as a great choice for the beginners or those who are developing a taste for wines because of less tannin.
Cabernet Sauvignon wine is the elder and aggressive sibling of the Merlot. It is one of the most popular and sought-after red wines. It has a bolder taste than Merlot. Thicker grape skin and aging process in oak barrels imbue the wine with higher tannin and acid levels that leave a drier taste in the mouth. The other varieties of this wine have flavors of chocolate, peppers, cedar, and other spices.
Production of Wine
Merlot is aged in oak barrels. The grapes are to be picked immediately as soon as the grapes ripen. Overripening will lead them to lose their acidity. Merlot grapes are often blended with others to get lesser tannin. Merlot takes lesser time to mature as compared to Cabernet.
Cabernet Sauvignon goes through oak aging process that makes the wine perfectly bitter, tannic, and acidic along with some additional and sophisticated flavors that is pleasing to the taste buds. Cabernet grapes take longer to mature.
Merlot is often blended with Cabernet to produce a smoother-tasting wine. In fact, it has been strictly grown as a blending grape in many regions.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with softer wines like Shiraz or Cabernet Franc to produce a softer wine, but with the same richness. It is sometimes also blended with Cabernet to produce a smoother and unique wine that's different in taste from the original Cabernet.
Food Pairings
Food with Grapes
Merlot can be best had with red meat, poultry, pork, pastas, salads, etc. The best combinations include Merlot with beef and lamb. The light-bodied Merlot is best paired with seafood like prawn, salmon, and scallops.

Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with red meats, strong-flavored cheese, and dark chocolate. However, avoid pairing it with seafood and poultry because the oil in them does not neutralize the tannin adequately. Its rich flavor may tend to overpower the flavors of other dishes.
Merlot is less expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon. However, some of the Merlot can be expensive than Cabernet.

Cabernet Sauvignon is more expensive than Merlot because of its large demand, popularity, and high stature among the wine lovers. It also makes a great gift for any occasion.
So, now that you know the difference between the two, what's your pick? Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon? Feel free to drop in a line to let us know.