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Pinot Noir vs Merlot: Differences Explained

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Wooden sign that says Pinot Noir with the Merlot written below using wine corks.

What are the differences between Merlot and Pinot Noir anyway? These two red wines are super popular. So, which wine is perfect for your next dinner party, or ordering at a restaurant, or just plain sipping at home (which is what most of us are doing these days).

Time to compare their taste profiles and their perfect food pairing partners. Then learn about a few brands you can check out.

Pinot Noir Taste Profile

This is a black, thin-skinned grape that originated in Burgundy, France. It likes cool climates like Burgundy, Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and New Zealand’s South Island.

Pinot Noir is a light red wine that exhibits red fruit notes of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry. You’ll also find notes of vanilla and clove from maturing in oak barrels.

This light-bodied, dry red wine has high acidity, medium tannin levels, and medium to high levels of alcohol.

Go deeper with this post: Pinot Noir Taste Profile

Merlot Taste Profile

Merlot is another black-skinned grape. Although this one originates out of Bordeaux, France. It is typically used in the famous Bordeaux blend wines. However, Merlot is also produced as a single varietal wine in Napa Valley, California, and Columbia Valley, Washington.

This smooth red wine typically has notes of black fruit like black cherry and plum along with those vanilla and toast notes from maturing in oak barrels.

Think – medium, medium, medium for Merlot! It is a medium-bodied, dry red wine with medium acidity, medium tannins, and medium to high levels of alcohol.

Go deeper with this post: Merlot Taste Profile

The Difference between Merlot and Pinot Noir

Here’s a chart to easily see the differences between Pinot Noir vs Merlot taste profiles. Note that the biggest differences are the body and acidity levels.

Chart comparing Pinot Noir and Merlot across body, sweetness acidity, tannin and alcohol.

Is Pinot Noir or Merlot Sweeter?

One thing to note is that both of these wines are dry. This means there is no residual sugar in the wine. However, warm climate wines, create ripe, fruity flavors. This gives our taste buds a sensation of sweetness, even if the wine is technically dry.

If that perceived “sweet” flavor is for you, then look for Merlot from warm climates like California and Bordeaux, France.

Pinot Noir Food Pairings

This light, red wine is perfect to drink on its own and it’s an incredibly versatile wine to pair with food. It pairs nicely with salmon, chicken, pork, roasted vegetables, and mushrooms. Use light, earthy flavors, and creamy sauces, when pairing with Pinot Noir.

Merlot Food Pairings

You’ll find many similarities with Merlot and Pinot Noir food pairings. First of all, Merlot is easy to drink on its own and is also a great food pairing wine. It pairs well with chicken, turkey, pork, and even salmon, but it will take you further into meats like lamb, duck, and beef.

With Merlot, you can go a bit heavier on the meal preparation. Think beef stew. Consider adding a red or black fruit sauce to roast duck or grilled pork chops. It will tie in the fruit flavors of the wine, making it a delicious pairing.

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Pinot Noir Recommendations

These Pinot Noir recommendations, come from the cool climate of Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Rated 91: James Suckling

Wine Critic Notes: Spicy oak influence sits across ripe red cherries with a swathe of freshly cut herbs. The palate has very attractive freshness and lithe, juicy appeal.

SIDURI Pinot Noir wine label.

Rated 90: Wine Enthusiast

Winemaker Notes: Textbook Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with juicy, fresh fruit and berry flavors. Clove, mocha, blood orange, and vanilla accents abound adding complexity. The wine is all about focus, electricity, and verve.

Averaen Pinot Noir wine label.

Rated 90: Wilfred Wong

Wine Critic Notes: This wine is a beauty on the palate. Its charming and bountiful aromas and flavors of gentle berries ride pleasingly on the palate.

Erath Pinot Noir wine label.

Merlot Recommendations

Try these Merlot recommendations for your next dinner pairing.

Rated 93: James Suckling

Wine Critic Notes: Lots of boysenberries and blackberries with hints of flowers. Red licorice. Flower petals, too. Full body and round, firm tannins. Beautiful finish. Finishes with black olives and berries.

Stags' Leap Merlot wine label.

Rated 91: James Suckling

This is a blend of 90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Wine Critic Notes: The palate has a fresh dark-plum core with fleshy and soft tannins that carry even and long.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot wine label.

Rated 93: Wilfred Wong

Wine Critic Notes: This wine accurately and lovingly puts Merlot on a pedestal. Its aromas and flavors of boysenberries and subtle oaky notes frame the wine perfectly.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot wine label.

Difference between Pinot Noir and Merlot: Summary

Pinot Noir has a lighter body with higher acidity and more of those red berry notes while Merlot has those blackberry notes. Pinot Noir will pair well with light food preparations and earthy flavors while Merlot pairs nicely with heavier food preparations and red fruit sauces.

Taste them side-by-side to really identify those differences. And most of all, enjoy! Cheers!



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