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Difference Between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Red wine is one elegant and unique drink appreciated globally. If there is one thing we should be grateful for from the French, is the production of some of the best wine available in the world, (Carbernet Sauvignon and Merlot). These two drinks are commonly paired with different cuisines and sometimes used to prepare different dishes.

They both originate from Bordeaux France and can be traced back to the 17th century. Within the 20th century the most popular wine in the world was Cabernet Sauvignon until Merlot overshadowed it in the late 1990s. Since then, both wines have been popular choices in America and other parts of the globe.

Production of merlot and Cabernet is based on what side of River Gironde you are on. When grapes started growing in Bordeaux, people living on the left side of the bank felt their grapes were much better suited to make Cabernet wine. Those on the right side, felt their grapes would do well in producing Merlot wine. The production of the different types of wines on either side of the river lead to the creation of the left and right bank Bordeaux. Both Merlot and Carbernet are high quality red wines which may seem similar, however only a wine tasting expert or anyone with knowledge of the characteristics below would know the difference.


What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

Often referred to as the king of red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular wines globally. The grape that makes the wine itself, was as a result of accidental breeding between a white Sauvignon Blanc grape plant and a red Cabernet Franc plant. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape plant is known for its durable and thick skin that resists several elements including extremely harsh weather. After the invention of the new grape breed, the variety became very popular across France, especially when wine makers deemed it to be one of the most durable grape plants.

The breed gained popularity not only because of its durability but the healthy level of tannins it possessed. This meant the wine could last for years if not decades as it matured in bottles. The wine also distilled well in the oak which brings out new flavors to wines. The end result was a fully bodied, richly flavored, medium acidic level dark colored drink with a great alcohol content of over 13.5%. After the invention of this world famed drink, winemakers started testing new flavors by blending Cabernet Sauvignon with other grapes such as Merlot, which led to the most popular wine blend today, (Bordeaux wine).


What is Merlot?

Right after Cabernet Sauvignon, in the list of wine popularity is Merlot. Merlot means, ‘The Little blackbird’ in French. The wine is characterized as being ripe, soft and elegant. This wine is regarded approachable and is often recommended to individuals who are relatively new to taking wine. The first time the grape was used to make wine is back in the 1700s when a winemaker in France named it as an ingredient in the Bordeaux wine blend he had made.  After this, the grape became very popular for its ability to add softness to wine when combines with the country’s favorite (Cabernet Sauvignon).

From then on Merlot became a household name, once the Bordeaux blend gained popularity. It was around 1950 when the grape strain was introduced in California, and the winemakers there blended the wine as is (100% Merlot). The result was a soft wine that was thoroughly enjoyed by Americans despite its low tannin levels. Merlot wine contains at least 13% alcohol content, but the levels can rise especially if grown within warmer climates. Today the wine is sold globally and is praised for its smooth taste and ability to accompany any type of meal.


Differences Between Carbernet Sauvignon and Merlot

    1. Origin of Carbernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Carbernet Sauvignon originated from the left side of river Gironde. Merlot originated from the right side of the same river.

    1. Areas Grown

The two types of grapes thrive in different conditions. Cabernet Sauvignon does well in gravely soil that is well drained. Merlot thrives in limestone and clay type of soils that are of much cooler temperature than that of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    1. Fruit Ripening of Carbernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes ripens faster than the Merlot grape.

    1. Types of Blends

Merlot is often blended into wines that are too dry to add softness and sweetness. Cabernet Sauvignon is used to add dryness to the wines which are too sweet.

    1. Taste

Merlot is sweet and soft in taste. Cabernet Sauvignon is dry.

    1. Price

Cabernet Sauvignon is more expensive than Merlot wine.

    1. Food Pairing

Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong aroma and flavor that could easily overpower the taste of food. As a result, it is best paired with richly flavored meals such as steak, lamb, beef, burgers and any type of red meats. Merlot has a softer taste and goes well with almost any meal including seafood, pork, chicken, steak, beef and duck.

    1. Aroma of Carbernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The aroma of merlot wine is mostly plum, mocha and chocolate. The aroma of Cabernet Sauvignon is sweet spices, blackcurrant and black berries.

Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot : Comparison Chart


Summary of Cabernet Sauvignon verses Merlot

  • Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon originated from Bourdeaux France.
  • Merlot comes from the right side of River Girode while Cabernet comes from the left side.
  • Different parts of the world started growing the two grape strains in the mid 1950s.
  • Today both wines are the most popular red wines in the world.
  • The may both have different tastes and characteristics, but the alcohol percentage on both wines is quite similar, (around 13 -14%).

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/33591185285

[1]Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ca/Zonin_OgniGiorno_Merlot_Veneto_%28IGT%29.jpg/510px-Zonin_OgniGiorno_Merlot_Veneto_%28IGT%29.jpg

[2]Ph.D, M. W. B. (1997). The University Wine Course: A comprehensive Text & Self Tutorial. Board and Bench Publishing.

[3]McCarthy, E., & Ewing-Mulligan, M. (2011). Wine For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons.

[4]Bary, J. P. (2013). The Persistent Observer’s Guide to Wine: How to Enjoy the Best and Skip the Rest. Neon Press.

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