Pinot Noir vs Merlot: What Are 8 Important Differences To Know?

Pinot Noir vs Merlot
This is our comparison of Pinot Noir vs Merlot wine. Do you know the 8 important differences? Enjoy!

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

Pinot Noir, when young, is a fruity and refreshing wine. The finest bottles evolve in flavors and complexity thanks to the long maturation.

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 Pinot Noir is Belle Glos Dairyman Vineyard Pinot Noir and for Best Overall is Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils Échezeaux Grand Cru 2017.

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 Pinot Noir vs Merlot wine selection for you where you’ll find our recommendation for you.

Pinot Noir Selection

Meiomi Pinot
Noir
4.1/5

Deep garnet color. Luxurious and dynamic aromas of ripe strawberry, bright cherry and faint notes of spicy oak and vanilla.

The complexity of the palate smoothly layers rich red currant notes and baking spice flavors with light smoke, earth and leather.

A balanced, velvety texture and supple tannins carry the wine through to a lingering, succulent finish.

Belle Glos Dairyman Vineyard Pinot Noir
4.4/5

Bright crimson red in color. Aromas of black cherry and ripe plums combine with subtle notes of dried herbs and smoke.

The palate entry shows flavors of cranberry, fresh raspberry, and ripe cherry, complemented by hints of vanilla and baking spice.

A balance of savory, cedar and cocoa powder, and sweet, fig jam and ripe blackberry, round out the mouth-feel.

Échezeaux Grand Cru 2017
4.8/5

Tenderness and magnitude. They are often open, expressive , precocious.

They show great flexibility , supported by continued seeming velvet mouth.

Raspberry flavors, rosehip characterize in his youth.

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 Pinot Noir vs Merlot so that you’ll have enough details to make an informed decision.

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: Where are they produced?

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

Pinot Noir gives its best in a cool to moderate climate. The grape has thin skin and it’s quite delicate.

When grown in a warm climate it can lose its freshness and taste too cooked from excessive ripening of the grapes. Despite that, it’s cultivated around the world.

Here is a quick overview:

In cool climates, like Burgundy in France, expect red fruit and subtle oak aromas, mushroom and forest floor.

In warm climates, like California, expect ripe red fruit and intense vanilla flavors. The finest examples develop mushroom and forest floor flavors. Find more about Pinot Noir 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.

Common tertiary notes are vanilla, coconut, and smoke. Find more about Merlot here.

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: Which grapes are used to produce them?

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

Merlot is produced from Merlot grapes.

Pinot Noir is produced from Pinot Noir grapes.

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

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: What's their alcohol content?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Pinot Noir 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.

Merlot’s ABV is usually between 13% to 14.5%, whereas Pinot Noir’s ABV ranges between 11.5% to 15% depending on the style. 

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: What's their taste profile?

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

Pinot Noir is a dry to off-dry wine, with a pale to medium garnet color.

Pinot Noir has typical earthy and red fruit aromas like red berry, raspberry, cherry, and strawberry. Expect tertiary flavors of leather, spice, truffle, and tobacco. 

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. 

Both Pinot Noir and Merlot are typically velvety, as tannins are generally medium-low. Pinot Noir is usually medium-high in acidity which makes it a good refreshing red wine option during summertime.

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: Are they sweet or dry?

Here you’ll find a brief overview of Pinot Noir 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 Pinot Noir in dry or off-dry sweetness levels.

Merlot is primarily a dry wine.

  • A dry wine contains less than 15 g/L.
  • An off dry wine contains between 15-30 g/L.

Learn more about wine sweetness level here.

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: Which are the recommended food pairings?

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

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

Pinot Noir is, though, one of those few red wines that can pair well as well with grilled fish like grilled salmon and swordfish.

Thanks to their versatility, both Pinot Noir and Merlot pair 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.

Pinot Noir on the other hand is a very good choice for Taleggio, medium-firm cheese like Comte, or semi-hard cheese like Cheddar, or hard cheese like Pecorino.

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: How should you serve and store them?

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

Pinot Noir 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 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. 

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

Pinot Noir vs Merlot: How much do they cost?

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

Pinot Noir is hardly inexpensive, the finest bottles are from the Côte-d’Or in France, where prices can easily reach over $3,000.

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.

Pinot Noir from California, Oregon, France, and Australia represent a good entry-level that you can usually find below $40.

If you are after great bottles but would like to remain within $100, then look for bottles from California, Oregon, Italy, and France.

Outstanding bottles over $100+ are 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 Pinot Noir vs Merlot expert!

Both Pinot 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. 

Pinot Noir is generally a common choice for the holiday season, given its food pairing options like duck, turkey, and roasted chicken.

Belle Glos Dairyman Pinot Noir is 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 Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils Échezeaux Grand Cru 2017 Pinot Noir 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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