This is our comparison of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot wine. We’ve extensively researched both these two popular wines to help you pick the best for you.
Merlot is usually more affordable and versatile. Cabernet Sauvignon offers more complexity and ages extremely well.
You’ll find them both in purity or blended with other grapes. Bordeaux wines are the most famous blend.
Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are great wines, in fact, in some cases, they do resemble quite a bit, the best wine for you will depend on your individual needs and tastes.
Find below our wine guide on the most important differences between these two great wines.
If you are after a smooth and versatile wine, that can be easily paired with various dishes then Merlot Duckhorn Napa Valley offers best value.
If you are after something special go for Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon.
If you prefer a more complex wine, with more pronounced tertiary flavors that can also be enjoyed on its own, Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 offers best value.
If you are after something special go for Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2011.
Let’s begin with the review!
Wine Selection Overview
Find below our Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot wine selection for you where you’ll find our recommendation for you.
Cabernet Sauvignon Selection
DAOU - Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
It ranks #3 in the Best wines under $20. Seriously, what else do you need to know?😄
Black cherry, plum, cherry, cedar and eucalyptus, and displays undertones of briary blackberry and wet gravel. Full bodied, polished tannins and elegant finish.
Hall - Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
This rich and complex Cabernet shows aromas of black cherry, vanilla and mocha with hints of plum and cassis.
Similar flavors carry though on the concentrated palate that is framed by balanced acid and ample plush tannins that lead to a long lingering finish.
Hurry up and stack up a few of these in your cellar before it runs out of stock.
Shafer - Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon
Expect aromas and flavors of dark cherry, black coffee, sweet vanilla and wet forest floor with rose petal, cranberry, blueberry, oregano, and sage.
This wine is perfectly balanced, silky, with smooth tannins, complex and elegant. In the words of Robert Parker, “One of the world’s, as well as Napa’s, most profound Cabernet Sauvignons.”
Lohr Vineyards & Wines Los Osos Merlot 2017
Red fruit aromas of plum and pomegranate are integrated with a barrel signature of dark chocolate and baking spice.
Whole berry fermentation with a generous use of Malbec as a blender accentuates the brighter fruit tones of Merlot and leaves ripe, soft tannins on the palate.
Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
Aromatic, with vibrant red fruit layers of Rainier cherry and spiced plum, as well as notes of liquorice, tobacco leaf, cardamom and thyme.
This wine has smooth velvety texture and a sophisticated finish.
Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2011
On the nose a tight core of black fruits, blackcurrants and dark cherries.
Beautifully textured on the palate, sweet and quite fleshy, supple and flattering.
Lots of ripe tannins but they are very well hidden by this layer of fruit, with a lovely sense of grip coming in.
Great acidity at the core. Wonderful structure and balance here, and an elegant substance to the finish.
Let’s now take a closer look at Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot wines so that you’ll have enough details to make an informed decision.
To make your life easier, we have listed below the most common aromas and flavors that you should expect.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Where are they produced?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from regions and wine styles point of view.
Cabernet Sauvignon grows best in moderate to warm climates to help the long ripening of the grape. When unripe, Cabernet Sauvignon is unpleasantly high in tannins.
This is why in cooler areas, it is generally blended with other grapes. Blending and oak aging are the common techniques used to soften Cabernet Sauvignon high tannins.
Here are the typical taste profiles depending on the climate:
From cool climates, like Bordeaux in France, expect green bell pepper, mint, black currant, and cedar.
From moderate/warm climates, like California, expect black cherry, black currant, black olive.
From very hot climates, like Chile, expect flavors to become more cooked and “jammy”.
Find more about Cabernet Sauvignon here.
Merlot is planted all over the world given its versatility. Merlot gives it best in moderate to warm climates. Climates will have a direct effect on the Merlot taste profile.
Here is a quick overview:
In cool climates, like Bordeaux in France, expect ruby color, light-medium body, higher acidity, red fruit (raspberry, cherry) flavors .
Tertiary notes are usually spice, leather, coffee, and licorice.
In warm climates, like California, expect deep ruby color, medium-full body, pronounced black fruit (blackberry, blueberry, plum) flavors, velvety tannins.
Tertiary notes are usually vanilla, coconut, and smoke.
Find more about Merlot here.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Which grapes are used to produce them?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from a grape point of view.
Cabernet Sauvignon is made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Merlot is made with Merlot grapes.
Both are red-wine grape varieties of the species Vitis vinifera.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: What's their alcohol content?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from an alcohol content point of view.
Alcohol content or more precisely Alcohol By Volume, i.e. ABV, measures the alcoholic strength of a drink.
There is a direct relationship between the sugar left in the wine after the alcoholic fermentation has taken place, i.e. Residual Sugar or RS, and ABV.
During the alcoholic fermentation, the yeast transforms the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol. Grapes with high residual sugar will therefore produce dry wine with a high ABV.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s ABV is usually between 13% to 15%, whereas Merlot’s ABV ranges between 13% to 14.5% depending on the style.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: What's their taste profile?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from a taste profile point of view.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry wine with a deep ruby color. It is known for its full-body, high tannins, and intense black fruit notes.
Typical tertiary aromas are leather, nutmeg, baking spice, and graphite.
In case you wonder, tannins are responsible for that dryness sensation on your tongue and mouth after the first sip. They also play a key role in its longevity too.
Merlot is a dry wine with a medium to deep ruby color. Merlot is typically more velvety than Cabernet Sauvignon as it has fewer tannins.
The body varies from medium to full with medium tannins
Merlot, it’s a more versatile wine compared to Cabernet Sauvignon.
You can find both wines with red fruit, like raspberry, and herbaceous flavors, as well as wines with pronounced black fruit flavors, like black cherry and plum.
Chocolate, cocoa, mocha, graphite are typical Merlot tertiary flavors.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Are they sweet or dry?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot in terms of sweetness level or residual sugar.
The sweetness level of a wine is expressed in grams of sugar per liter, aka g/L, or as a percentage.
10 g/L equals 1% which, if you are interested, represents 6 calories per 5 oz serving.
You will usually find both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as dry wines.
A dry wine contains less than 15 g/L.
Learn more about wine sweetness level here.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Which are the best food pairings?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from a food pairings point of view.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold wine and therefore pairs well with bold and rich meat flavor dishes like rich grilled meats, Stroganoff, marinated ribeye steak.
Cheese wise, go for strong flavor cheeses like Blue Cheese and Comte for example.
Merlot pairs easily with many foods compared to Cabernet Sauvignon thanks to its versatility.
Ratatouille, beans dishes, pasta, and pizza with mushrooms are generally a very good fit.
You have an ample selection of meat dishes too from turkey, roast veal, braised pork, venison, duck, or a juicy burger.
Cheeses that pair very well with Merlot are Camembert, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano Reggiano for example.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: How do you serve and store them?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot in terms of serving and storing the wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon should be decanted between 1 to 2 hours and served at 59 – 64 °F (15 – 18 °C) in a Bordeaux glass. 
As seen before, Cabernet Sauvignon is suitable for aging. The recommended storing period is 5 years for normal bottles and 10+ years for the finest bottles.
Merlot should be decanted for 30 minutes and served at 59 – 64 °F (15 – 18 °C) in a Bordeaux glass.
As seen before Sauvignon Blanc is suitable for aging. The recommended storing period is between 3 to 5 years for normal bottles and 10+ years for the finest bottles.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: How much do they cost?
Here you’ll find a brief overview of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot from a price comparison point of view.
Cabernet Sauvignon is usually more expensive than Merlot. One of the main reasons is that it generally hits the market later than Merlot.
It requires a longer period to evolve properly and therefore it takes longer for the producer to monetize.
For Cabernet Sauvignon, the finest bottles are from Bordeaux in France and Napa in California.
For Merlot, the finest bottles are primarily from Bordeaux in France. In those cases, the prices quickly reach and pass the $1,000.
You don’t need to worry though as there are plenty of great bottles out there that can be bought at a fraction.
You just need to know where to look, and we are here to point you in the right direction.
Cabernet Sauvignon from California (Sonoma), Washington, Australia, and Chile represent a good entry-level that you can usually find below $30.
If you are after great bottles but would like to remain within $100, then look for bottles from California, Australia, France, and Italy.
Cabernet Sauvignon Premium bottles will be $100+.
Merlot follows pretty much the same pattern. You’ll find the finest bottles from Bordeaux in France.
Good entry-level bottles up to $30, are generally from Chile, California (Sonoma), France and Italy.
Great quality bottles can be found for up to $100 usually from California, France and Italy. Merlot Premium bottles over $100+ are usually from Italy and France.
If have been through the guide, by now you are a Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot expert!
Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are great wines and in some cases, they do resemble a bit.
Our recommendation is therefore based on what you’d fancy the most at a particular given moment or event.
If you are after a smooth and versatile wine, that can be easily paired with various dishes then go for this Merlot Duckhorn Napa Valley.
If of course, you are after something absolutely exceptional, Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2011 is our recommendation for you, knowing that you’ll not be disappointed.
If you prefer a more complex wine, with more pronounced tertiary flavors that can also be enjoyed on its own, then go for this Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017.
Having said that, do you want to celebrate a special occasion or want to treat yourself to something truly special?
Then Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect choice.
As always make sure to serve them at the right temperature so that you can enjoy them at their best.
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