Malbec vs Merlot: What Are The 8 Important Differences To Know?

Malbec vs Merlot
This is our comparison of Malbec vs Merlot wine. Do you know what are the 8 important differences? Let's find out!

This is our comparison of Malbec vs Merlot wine. We’ve extensively researched these two popular wines to help you pick the best for you.

Malbec is the most important black grape planted in Argentina and offers very good value for money.

It’s known for its deep color, full body, high tannins, intense back fruit flavors, and vanilla and spice notes from oak ageing. 

Merlot is a very versatile grape. It’s used to produce light and fruity wines for immediate consumption, as well as more sophisticated wines that improve with bottle maturation and oak. 

Merlot is often blended with other grapes since it softens higher-tannins grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.

Find below our wine guide on the most important differences between these two great wines.

Our recommendation for Best Value Malbec is Salentein Reserve Malbec (Barrel Selection) and for Best Overall is Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec Lujan de Cuyo 2019.

Our recommendation for Best Value Merlot is Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2018 and for Best Overall is Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2011.

You’ll find below our recommendation for you.

Let’s begin with the review!

Wine Selection Overview

Find below our Malbec vs Merlot wine selection for you where you’ll find our recommendation for you.

Malbec Selection

La Posta Pizzella Malbec (Pizzella Family Vineyard) 2019
4.1/5

Beautiful red/purple color with aromas of black cherries, dark fruits, dark chocolate and bakers spice.

On the palate, the wine shows dense dark berry and plum flavors along with hints of sandalwood and spice, and even a hint of violets in the finish.

Full-bodied and well-structured.

Salentein Reserve
Malbec (Barrel
Selection)
4/5

Intense, purplish red color. It is fresh and complex to the nose.

It brings spicy aromas of nutmeg mingled with delicate floral notes.

It is very intense, juicy and fresh in the mouth with a good structure and a long finish.

Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec Lujan de Cuyo 2019
4.5/5

This wine is a Vivino Editor’s Pick, and this is what he has to say:

“Multiple 100-Point Winemaking Phenom Paul Hobbs’ Fan-Favorite Argentine Red Returns! With a Mind-boggling Number of Perfect 5.0/5.0 Reviews, This Malbec Can’t Be Ignored!”

Aromas of pepper, cloves, cinnamon and other spices, along with black fruits and roses.

Merlot Selection

Lohr Vineyards & Wines Los Osos Merlot 2017
4/5

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 2018
4.3/5

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
4.5/5

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.

Comparison

Let’s now take a closer look at the difference between Malbec vs Merlot so that you’ll have enough details to make an informed decision.

Malbec vs Merlot: Where are they produced?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot from regions and wine styles points of view.

Malbec is a grape variety that needs high-altitude, sun and heat to mature and bring deep color, tannins and the typical plum note.

Soil wise it gives it best in limestone soil, like those of Cahors.

Here is a quick overview of the various styles:

  • Argentina Malbec has a deep color, intense fruity flavors with a velvety texture. Expect higher acidity than the French version, and cocoa powder notes.

  • Cahors AOC (French Malbec) is a blend of at least 70% Malbec plus Merlot and Tannat. Has a moderate acidity and tannic structure.

  • USA Malbec is primarily produced in California, Oregon and Washington. Expects dark fruit and herbal notes.

  • Australia Malbec usually growth at lower altitude compared to Argentinian Malbec. Expect softer tannins, violet and aromatic notes.

Find more about Malbec 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 with tertiary notes of 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 with tertiary notes of vanilla, coconut, and smoke.

Find more about Merlot here.

Malbec vs Merlot: Which grapes are used to produce them?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot from a grape point of view.

Malbec is produced from Malbec grapes.

Merlot is produced from Merlot grapes.

Both are red-wine grape varieties of the species Vitis vinifera.

Malbec vs Merlot: What's their alcohol content?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec 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.

Malbec’s ABV is usually between 13.5% to 15%, whereas Merlot’s ABV ranges between 13% to 14.5% depending on the style. 

Malbec vs Merlot: What's their taste profile?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot from a taste profile point of view.

Malbec is a dry wine with a deep purple red color.

Malbec has typical black fruits, cherry and violet aromas. Expect tertiary flavors of cocoa, black pepper, vanilla, and chocolate. 

You’ll generally find that Malbec has full body, high tannins and medium acidity.

Merlot is a dry wine with a medium to deep ruby color.

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. 

Merlot is typically more velvety than Malbec, as its tannins are generally medium-low. 

Malbec vs Merlot: Are they sweet or dry?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec 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 Malbec and Merlot as a dry wines.

A dry wine contains less than 15 g/L.

Learn more about wine sweetness level here.

Malbec vs Merlot: Which are the right food pairings?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot from a food pairings point of view.

Both Malbec and Merlot are versatile wines and pair very well with many dishes. 

Malbec likes bold flavors and pairs well with roasted mushroom, vegetables and potatoes, black beans and onion.

Meat wise I’d recommend you try it with asado, buffalo, beef brisket, ostrich, pork shoulder and duck to name some.

Given its boldness, you need to pick cheese with strong flavors like Gorgonzola and Cheddar for example.

Merlot pairs well with ratatouille, bean dishes, pasta, pizza with mushrooms, and agnolotti for examples. 

Meat wise you have an ample selection of dishes too from roast veal, braised pork, venison, duck, or a juicy burger. 

Cheese-wise Merlot pairs well with Camembert, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano Reggiano for example.

Malbec vs Merlot: How should you serve and store them?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot in terms of serving and storing the wine.

Malbec should be decanted for 30 minutes and served at 55 – 64 °F (13 – 18 °C) in a Burgundy glass.[1]

The recommended storing period is 5 to 10+ years.

Merlot should be decanted for 30 minutes and served at 59 – 64 °F (15 – 18 °C) in a Bordeaux glass. 

The recommended storing period is between 3 to 5 years for normal bottles and 10+ years for the finest bottles.

Malbec vs Merlot: How much do they cost?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Malbec vs Merlot from a price comparison point of view.

Malbec is an affordable wine with a great price per quality ratio.

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.

Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, represents a good entry-level that you can usually find below $20.

If you are after great bottles it will likely by a reserve and your price range will be up to $50, where oak ageing has added extra complexity to it.

Exceptional bottles will go up to $100-ish and the luxury bottles will be $100+, usually from France.

Merlot from Chile, California (Sonoma), France, and Italy are generally good entry-level bottles up to $30.

Great quality bottles can be found for up to $100 usually from California, France, and Italy. Outstanding bottles over $100+ are usually from Italy and France.

Our Verdict

If you have been through the guide, by now you are a Malbec vs Merlot expert!

Both Malbec and Merlot are great wines and by now you should have a good idea of what to expect from them.   

Our recommendation is therefore based on what you’d fancy the most at a particular given moment or event. 

Malbec is generally a common choice for BBQ and bold flavor dishes like roasted veggie, ostrich, and buffalo to name some.

Our best value bottle selection for you is Salentein Reserve Malbec (Barrel Selection), it’s a great bottle at an incredible price. 

Having said that do you want to celebrate a special occasion or want to treat yourself with something truly special?

Then Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec Lujan de Cuyo 2019 is the perfect choice.

You cannot resist the softness of a Merlot, can you? Well then Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot is exactly what’s needed for you.

It’s a fantastic bottle of Merlot at an extremely reasonable price. 

If 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.

As always make sure to serve them at the right temperature to enjoy them at their best.

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