Updated: Jun 8, 2020
The Merlot taste profile has a unique combination of color, flavors, aromas, and structure. These elements are referred to as wine characteristics. As mentioned in the Cab taste profile, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are very similar and can be tricky to identify between the two, but they each still have hallmark characteristics. Let’s explore the typical taste profile for Merlot.
Unique Merlot Characteristics
Each type of wine grape develops a unique combination of flavors and aromas. These flavors and aromas are influenced by things like their growing environment (climate and soil – aka terroir), the fermentation process (aka yeast converting sugar to alcohol), and maturation (such as aging in oak barrels).
Merlot is a grape that grows well in both warm and cool climates but prefers the cooler climates to prevent overripening.
The color for red wine ranges from Pale Red to Bright Ruby Red to Deep Purple. Red wine color comes from the grape skins. Grapes with thin skins and light skin color will translate to a pale red wine and will be translucent (you’ll be able to see through the wine). Grapes with thick skins and dark skin color will translate to a deep purple wine color that is opaque (in other words, you won’t be able to see much of anything through the wine).
Merlot Wine Color: Ruby and midway between translucent and opaque.
Flavors & Aromas
Look for Fruit, Floral, Herbal, Vegetal, and Spice notes to identify flavors and aromas in wine.
Fruit: Red wines come in a range with cool-climate wines revealing tart red fruit notes (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry), to warm-climate wines exhibiting black fruit notes (blackberry, black cherry, black currant).
Spice: Notes like vanilla and clove come from aging in oak. In red wines, you may also find notes of black pepper.
Vegetal: Some red wines exhibit notes of green bell pepper.
What does Merlot taste like? Cool climate Merlot will exhibit red fruit notes like strawberry, while warm climate Merlot will have black fruit notes of blackberry and black cherry. Both cool and warm climate Merlot will have typical spice notes of vanilla and clove from aging in oak barrels.
Wine structure is a combination of acidity (that sour, pucker sensation), sweetness levels (residual sugars), tannin (that bitter taste and drying sensation), alcohol levels (abv: alcohol by volume), and body (the heaviness of the wine — think skim milk vs whole milk).
Merlot Wine Structure: Medium acidity, dry, medium tannin, 13.5-14.5% abv, medium to full body.
The primary difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is that Merlot does not have the super high tannin that Cab develops. This makes these wines perfect for blending. Merlot tames the Cab’s tannins and the Cab gives Merlot a bit more structure. The infamous Bordeaux wine from France is a blend of Cab and Merlot.
Hallmarks of Merlot Taste Profile
The typical taste profile of Merlot is medium acidity, medium tannin and medium to full body with red and black fruit notes along with spice notes of vanilla from oak aging.
Look for Merlot from these top regions: Bordeaux, France – Blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – Labeled Bordeaux Napa Valley, California – labeled Merlot or Bordeaux Blend Washington – Columbia Valley labeled Merlot
Learn more about the history, top regions, wine recommendations, and pairings at this in depth page about Merlot.