Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Differences and Similarities Explained

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Bottles of Bordeaux wine.

What are the differences and similarities between Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot? These two types of wine are so similar that many times experts get tripped up when blind tasting the two side-by-side. But even though they have many similarities, it’s their differences that make them perfect blending partners.

Typical Characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon Characteristics

Cabernet Sauvignon is also referred to as Cabernet or Cab. This red grape varietal creates a deep red wine color. It’s known for its very strong tannins (that drying sensation and bitter taste). It’s a dry wine with high acidity (fresh, tart taste), and full-body (heavy feeling that coats the mouth).

Cabernet is known for black fruit flavors such as blackberry, black cherry, and black currant, as well as, green pepper flavors. All of this means it has a deep, rich, full-flavor along with dryness and bite.

Merlot Characteristics

Merlot is a red grape varietal that creates a slightly lighter red wine color than Cab. Its tannins are much softer than that of Cab while having a strong fruit flavor.

Merlot has medium tannins, medium acidity, dry, and medium- to full-body. Depending on the climate where Merlot grapes are grown, you’ll get slightly different fruit notes. Cool climate Merlot exhibits red fruit notes such as strawberry and raspberry, while warm climate has black fruit notes of blackberry and black cherry.

For Merlot, this means the wine has that deep, rich, full-flavor, but with a softer silkiness to it.

Which is sweeter Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon

These are both dry red wines. This means there is no residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation. However, our taste buds can translate fruitiness in wine as sweet and they translate tannins as dry. Since Merlot has more fruitiness and less tannin, it can be perceived with a hint of sweetness (but not to be confused with sugary sweetness). Cabernet Sauvignon has strong tannin and less fruitiness which translates on our taste buds to bone dry.