Is Merlot Drier Than Cabernet?

Many customers enter the store looking for a bottle of fine red wine but are unfamiliar with the varietals and how they taste. And you may have questions such as, “Is Merlot drier than Cabernet?” Is Merlot Drier Than Cabernet? This is also our article’s title and it will most likely provide you with further information on these two wines.

The Primary Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet:


Cabernet Sauvignon

Origin Bordeaux, France France
Style  Medium-bodied red wine full Full-bodied red wine
Tasting notes Plum, blackberries, cherries, and red fruit flavors

Chocolaty, meaty, and tobacco scents (when matured)

Tobacco, vanilla, and leather scents (in oak barrels)

Blackberries and black fruits flavors

ABV 13-14% (can reach 14.5% in warmer climates) 13.5% (mostly)

14.5-15% (in California, Australia, Chile)

Food pairings Grilled veggies, lean beef, roast duck, turkey Red meat, lamb, pepper-crusted ahi tuna


1. Is Merlot drier than Cabernet?

Our answer to this question is quite clear. Compared to most Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons are often drier. We will give some explanations for this result.

Is Merlot drier than Cabernet?

In wine, dryness can be caused by two things: sugar and tannins. The phrase is frequently used to describe the absence of sweetness. The standard Merlot and the usual Cabernet both have very minimal residual sugar. About 1.5% to 2.5% of Merlot wine is made up of sugar while Cabernet Sauvignon has an average sugar content of 1.12 grams per 6-ounce drink.

In this case, instead of sugar, the tannins are a more important factor that decides the dryness of the two wines.

Tannins, a polyphenolic molecule that binds to proteins, are found in all wines. By imparting a bitter, astringent flavor, tannins help prevent animals from eating plants’ leaves.

Tannins are advantageous because they offer wine with certain qualities. The astringent puckering sensation in red wine is caused by tannins reacting and binding with proteins in your saliva, which results in a full-bodied or dry taste in wine, therefore a dry wine is one with many tannins.

Compared to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a larger, bolder wine with a higher likelihood of producing that puckery sensation due to its tannins. There is the fact that the most tannin-rich main variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, which may contain up to 1,500 mg/l of tannins.

Since Merlot contains fewer tannins, the Cabernet Sauvignon could be the drier of the two wines. There are times when a Merlot might be drier than a Cabernet, and it all depends on the winemaker. The harvest season also influences a wine’s dryness.

Indeed, Merlot is well-known for its soft tannins and easy-drinking character. And, while certain Merlots have more acidity than ordinary Cabernets, acidity helps your tongue swim, not dry it out.

While there are some Merlots that are “dryer” than Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be drier than most Merlots.

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2. The Primary Difference Between Merlot and Cabernet

2.1. Origin

  • Merlot

Merlot is a dark wine grape variety native to the Bordeaux area of France, going back to the 1st century AD. The name is thought to be derived from the French word “merle,” which translates to “blackbird,” since both the raven and the Merlot have a matching black and blue color.

Historically, the unpredictable weather in France led the crop to vary from year to year. As a result, winemakers began blending grapes to guarantee the balance of flavors in their wine each year. While Merlot is mostly used for blending, there are a few wineries in Bordeaux that simply manufacture Merlot-based wines.

  • Cabernet:

One of the most well-known red wine grape varietals in the world is Cabernet Sauvignon. It is planted in almost every major wine-producing region, in a wide range of climates. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to have originated in the seventeenth-century France. The meeting of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc seems to have happened by chance. It became popular in the 18th century and was most often grown in Bordeaux. While Cabernet Sauvignon is native to Bordeaux, it is rarely produced as a single-varietal wine there.

Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to Australia in 1824 and has flourished throughout the nation, particularly in South Australia’s Coonawarra and Western Australia’s Margaret River. 

2.2. Style

  • Cabernet

Cabernet Sauvignon provides full-bodied red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is a robust wine with excellent aging potential. An excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, or “Cab sav,” might mature for many years, partly because of its thick outer layer and robust tannins.

  • Merlot

Merlot has a pleasant, well-rounded flavor profile. It’s a fruity grape varietal with low acidity and moderate alcohol levels that’s often medium-bodied. The style will differ significantly according to the conditions in which it is cultivated.

2.3. Tasting notes

  • Merlot 

Plum, blackberries, cherries, and red fruits are characteristic flavors associated with Merlot. Alternatively, you may imagine yourself biting into a scrumptious fruitcake with chocolaty undertones. In cooler places, Merlot tastes like fresh red plum and cherry, but in warmer regions, it tastes like baked blackberry and fruitcake. Merlot develops chocolaty, meaty, and tobacco smells as the wine matures.

  • Cabernet:

If the Cabernet Sauvignon was matured or aged in oak barrels, it will contain tobacco, vanilla, and leather flavors. If the Cabernet comes from a colder area, anticipate stronger levels of acidity as well as notes of blackberries, cedar, and green bell peppers. 

Warmer regions will entice you with aromas of black fruit and blackberries. You can expect your wine to be sweeter and fruitier (or more “jammy”) in a warmer environment.

2.4. ABV

  • Cabernet:

Cabernet Sauvignon is noted for its rich color, heavy body, and alcohol percentage that exceeds 13.5%, with the majority of Cabernet Sauvignons, particularly those from California, Australia, and Chile, being closer to 14.5% and occasionally exceeding 15%.

  • Merlot:

Merlot’s alcohol content is affected by where it is cultivated, since climate affects maturity, which determines alcohol levels. Merlot from temperate climates, like France, typically has 13-14% ABV, though can reach 14.5% when cultivated in warmer climates, such as California, Chile, and Australia.

2.5. Food pairings

  • Cabernet:

Nearly all types of red meat, including filet mignon, prime rib, and New York strip, combine best with Cabernet Sauvignon. Try lamb or pepper-crusted ahi tuna as well. The wine pairs well with food and works well in sauces and reductions.

  • Merlot:

Merlot wines from colder climates work well with grilled veggies. You may even pair vegetables that are difficult to match, such as tomatoes. Some of the greatest proteins to pair with Merlot are of medium weight. Consider lean beef slices, roast duck, and turkey.

3. The Difference Between Dryness and Sweetness in Wine

A wine must contain a minimum of one percent residual sugar to be called dry. A wine is considered to be ‘bone dry’ if it contains no more than 0.5 percent residual sugar. This amount of sugar is difficult to detect with your taste senses. Sweet wine, however, has a greater residual sugar content of more than 20%.

Sweet wine’s explanation:

  • The sugar content of the wine is probably the greatest method to measure its sweetness level—and the sweetest wines can have more than 200gr of residual sugar/liter. 
  • The harvest and produce method can also affect the characteristics of sweet wines. Any wine classified as “late-harvest” indicates sweetness. These are sometimes referred to as dessert wines since they contain the most residual sugar and have a markedly sweet taste.

Dry wine’s explanation:

  • ‘Dry’ refers to a non-sweet wine, whereas ‘off-dry’ refers to a wine that contains sugar. Since “dry wine” implies “no noticeable sugar on the palate,” this is the problem with sugar and the flavor of sugar —there needs to be a lot of sugar in the wine for your taste buds and brain to fully realize that it’s there. 
  • Wine gets “off-dry” when the sugar levels rise; prosecco and riesling, for example, can have up to 12 grams of residual sugar per liter.

4. Tips for Pairing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Different Foods

Tips for Pairing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Different Foods

  • Merlot:

Because many Merlots are medium-bodied, they mix nicely with heavily sauced foods like beef (or even seafood) in a red wine sauce or casseroles, where a more aggressively tannic wine might be overpowering. (It’s also a fantastic wine for cooking since it makes a rich basis for red wine sauces.)

Caramelized roast vegetables, particularly those with a hint of sweetness, such as roast squash, red peppers, beets, and fried or grilled mushrooms, are all Merlot-friendly side dishes.

Fruity merlots are also attracted to red fruit-based accompaniments like cranberry sauce and salads with red berry fruits.

Because of its innate sweetness, it also pairs nicely with cuisines that have a hint of strong flavor, not with such Indian spicing as spicy smoked pepper: dishes like grilled fish or jambalaya. It also complements the anise flavor of five spices and fennel.

  • Cabernet:

Food with an organic butter taste or fatty unctuousness is a typical recommendation for matching Cabernet Sauvignon. While red meats are frequently an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon food partner, meals like substantial lasagna, creamy and cheesy polenta, or wild mushroom risotto are all fantastic with this powerful wine. 

Fire-roasted or grilled veggies gain weight throughout the cooking process and so make an excellent combination. Cooking caramelization and subtle smokey taste notes match the black fruit traits and tannins in a robust Cabernet. With their meaty taste and texture, portobello mushrooms may be seasoned and grilled, stuffed, or baked for a flexible veggie accompaniment to a strong Cabernet Sauvignon.

5. Pieces of advice from Sommeliers on Enjoying Different Types of Wines

#1: Don’t attempt to impose a “perfect pairing.”

What’s on the dish next to your glass matters, according to wine experts, if you want to elevate your fine dining experience. If you’re picky about your wines, you may want to stay away from attempting to find the right combination.

Instead, get a bottle of wine that you prefer. Making superfluous requests just adds to the restaurant’s workload. For example, if you enjoy a substantial red wine but are having a light scallop meal, selecting a matched wine might be difficult.

#2: Make sure you know what “serving temperature” actually means.

The majority of casual wine consumers are aware that white and sparkling wines should be served colder than red wines, which are commonly served at room temperature. However, things appear to have changed. The term “room temperature” really refers to basement temperature. 

There are certain distinctions to be made even within categories. Don’t be afraid to chill one of these wine bottles in a bucket of ice for a few minutes. Those stronger and richer wines, on the other hand, may benefit from a little warmth.

If you’re not sure how to preserve wines at home, place them all at a colder temperature, approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That way, when you need to enjoy them, they can gently warm up or cool down rapidly.

#3: Use the proper glasses.

In a pinch, we’ve all done our best with the glasses we had on hand. However, just as you wouldn’t put a filet mignon on a plate made of paper, stemware is important if you want to squeeze the most out of your wine bottle.

You don’t need a distinct glass for each kind, but you do want a high-quality glass that isn’t overly thick and has enough area for the wine to move, enabling it to reveal its aromas and tastes. To get an understanding of why this is so crucial, pour the same wine into several glass types and notice the variations in how it smells and tastes in each one.

6. Tips to enjoy a glass of Merlot and Cabernet

6.1. Merlot:

  • Temperature:

Merlot, a medium-to-full-bodied, dry wine, is ideally served slightly colder than room temperature, around 60-65°F (15-18°C). This level of heat allows you to enjoy the wine’s full taste profile without the flavors being jumbled.

If you keep your bottle of Merlot near 60°F (15°C), remove the cork before serving and leave the bottle open for approximately 30 minutes to enable the drink to warm up a little. If you keep your Merlot at its normal temperature, you will probably want to chill it before serving. To achieve this, place the bottle in an ice bath for about 10 minutes, just enough time to mildly chill the wine.

  • Glass shape:

If you want to be fancy, replace the mason jar with a Bordeaux glass. This big, circular bowl shape collects scents and enhances the taste of the drink as you sip. If you like a stemless wineglass, this bowl design is also available. While some believe that using a stemless wine glass raises the temp of the wine, this is less of a problem with red wines compared to white wines. Several stemless glasses, like the Riedel O Bordeaux-style glasses, perform well with red wines like Merlot.

  • How to pour the wine properly: 

Before serving, a matured Merlot will probably need to be poured to enable the flavors and fragrances to develop and the tannins to soften. If you have a fine decanter, use it! To give the bottle a little breathing room, you can open it and leave it open for 20 to 60 minutes. It also works if you splash it in your glass beforehand and let it sit there for a bit.

6.2. Cabernet:

  • Glass type: 

Cabernet Sauvignon is ideally served in a taller, larger-bowled red wine glass. The larger bowl permits oxygen to reach more of the wine’s surface area, while the higher bowl allows the wine to take longer to hit your lips. You’re enabling the scent of the wine to reach your nose before the drink even reaches your mouth by delaying the wine’s arrival at your tongue with each sip.

Because your sense of smell has a strong influence on your taste buds, using a glass that encourages the use of your two senses can help you obtain a greater scent of the wine’s whole flavor profile.

The last thing you need to do when drinking cabernet sauvignon is to grab the glass by its stem.

  • Temperature: 

The recommended serving temp for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine is approximately 60°F, however serving it at 57-58°F may yield the finest flavor. 

If you’ve been keeping your wine in a wine fridge, you may need to warm it up slightly before serving, and if you’ve been preserving it at room temperature, a little rest in your kitchen’s refrigerator for around 30 minutes will bring the wine down to the appropriate temperature.

If you’re used to serving Cabernet Sauvignon at ambient temperature, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to get the entire experience and flavor profiles, cool it for a few minutes before serving.

  • Decantation:

You must aerate the wine. This may be accomplished with a wine decanter or just by opening the bottle and allowing it to settle for a few minutes.

The decanter is the greatest way for aerating the wine since it exposes the most surface area to the air, but keeping the bottle uncovered for a bit or pouring the wine into cups and letting it rest will also work.

7. FAQs

Q: Is Cabernet drier than Merlot?

While there are some Merlots that are “dryer” than Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be more drying than most Merlots.

Q: Can Merlot be too dry?

In general, Merlot wine is a dry, medium-bodied beverage with a medium-high alcohol content and medium-acidity level. In comparison to a more strong red, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has comparatively mild tannins, making for a more pleasant drinking experience.

Q: Which is better, Merlot or Cabernet?

Merlot is a “softer”, lower-acid wine with fewer tannins and a little fruitier taste character. Choose Cabernet Sauvignon if you want a stronger, richer, and more powerful flavor.

Q: Is Merlot or Cabernet sweeter?

Technically, neither, but in terms of flavor, Merlot is more fruity and hence sweeter.

Q: Why is Merlot less expensive than Cabernet?

Cabernet grapes are tiny and have thick skin, producing a strongly tannic wine. Because the yields of this little grape varietal are often modest, Cabernet Sauvignon is more costly than Merlot.

Q: Cabernet or Merlot, which is the darker wine?

In general, Merlot is lighter in color than Cabernet. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes were crossed to create the cultivar. The high degree of tannins is what keeps producers experimenting with and maturing Cabernet Sauvignon for longer and longer periods. As the wine matures, the tastes evolve and develop.

Q: Merlot vs Cabernet, which is heavier?

The amounts of tannin and acidity distinguish Merlot from Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is often in the middle position of the tannin and acidity scales, whereas Cabernet is fairly high in both.

Q: Should Merlot be served chilled?

Red wines, such as Merlot, should be served slightly lower than room temperature, around 60° to 65° F. If it’s a rosé created from Merlot grapes, it’ll usually be served cold, like a white wine.

Q: Which is stronger, the Merlot or Cabernet?

Cabernet Sauvignon is often bolder than Merlot. It is a full-bodied wine that is renowned for its intense, flavorful aromas. While the taste characteristics of the two wines are similar, Merlot is often the softer of the two.

8. Conclusion

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are unquestionably among the best red wines. You may serve them with a range of main meals at a nice gathering at your home. If your question was concerning the dryness of these two types of wine, I believe our post Is Merlot drier than Cabernet provides the answer and will help you make a wiser selection.

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