The Battle of the Bold Reds
In our humble opinion, there’s almost nothing better than savoring the dark, delectable flavors and aromas of a bold glass of red wine. Of course, we love our whites, rosés, and bubblies, but there’s something about an unapologetic red that just speaks to the soul. Can you tell that we think about red wine on a pretty regular basis? #sorrynotsorry
When it comes to choosing a tasty glass of red wine, there are a lot of worthy options out there! However, there are two varietals that reign supreme in the world of bold reds – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While similar, these two wines offer their own unique set of delicious nuances. So, what are the differences between them? Which one is more suited for your palette? Let’s get into it! It’s time to talk about all things Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
History of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
The origin of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can both be traced back to Southwest France where they share the same parent grape – Cabernet Franc. Merlot originates specifically from the Cabernet region of France. These two grapes are quite the popular duo, as they are the first and second most grown grape varietals in the world with Cabernet Sauvignon edging out Merlot for the number one spot. Often, you will find these two blended together in Bordeaux blends, as the tasting notes for each of these grapes tend to balance and complement each other very well.
Speaking of tasting notes, let’s get into the unique flavor profiles for each of these varietals and find out what exactly it is that keeps wine lovers worldwide coming back for more!
While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can both be classified as bold reds, there are distinctions in their tasting profiles that differentiate the two. Let’s take a closer look at those little differences that give each one its own unique tasting experience!
Overall, Cabernet Sauvignon is the bolder of the two reds. Typically, you can expect to experience rich, complex notes of black currant, tobacco, spice, vanilla, and pepper in a good Cab. Cabernet is also more acidic, higher in tannins, and higher in alcohol content than Merlot, giving it a fuller body and heavier mouthfeel. If you’re looking for a bottle of bold red with aging ability, Cab is the way to go! While both Cabernet and Merlot are considered dry wines, most wine drinkers will perceive Cabernet as being “less sweet”, as its tasting notes are not quite as fruit-forward as Merlot.
Although Merlot is not quite as bold as Cabernet Sauvignon, it still offers a plethora of delicious flavor complexities! Merlot is typically lighter-bodied than Cabernet, having less acidity, a lower ABV, and lower tannins. When drinking a glass of Merlot, you can expect to encounter notes of black cherry, plum, herbs, and cocoa. Although Merlot is considered a dry wine, it can be perceived as being sweeter because of its fruit-forward flavors. However, it has no more residual sugar than a Cab. Pretty sneaky, wouldn’t you say? Merlot is best enjoyed young, so don’t be afraid to pop open that bottle soon after you get it!
When choosing a bottle of Cab or Merlot, keep in mind that where the wine is produced impacts the flavor. Cab and Merlot from the Old World (traditional wine-producing regions like France, Italy, and Spain) take on a lighter, more savory flavor. These regions are typically colder, meaning that the grapes are not fully ripe when they are harvested, so they have lower sugar content. This results in a wine with a lighter body, more structure, and lower alcohol content.
On the other hand, the New World (North and South America, Australia, New Zealand) versions of these wines are where you’ll find those bold, complex flavors. The quintessential California Cab is an excellent example of this. The New World is also where you’ll find a greater distinction between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While the Old World varieties of these wines can taste almost identical at times, there’s no mistaking the delicious differences between the two when served with glasses from New World producers.
Both Cab and Merlot make excellent food companions when paired with the right cuisine. Cabernet is right at home with a fatty, juicy steak, decadent chocolate cake, burger, bratwurst, or hearty portobello mushrooms. The key with Cab is to pair it with flavorful foods that won’t be overpowered by the rich, bold notes of the wine.
Because Merlot is lighter-bodied and not quite as bold, it’s a bit more of a food-friendly wine. It pairs beautifully with tomato-based pasta dishes, pizza, and a variety of meat entrees including steak, pork, and chicken. Old World Merlot also makes a delicious complement to salmon, bacon, and mushrooms.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, deciding on which red to enjoy will depend on your own flavor preferences or maybe the meal that you’re about to enjoy. There’s no right or wrong answer when deciding which bottle is best! If you’re looking for something bold and age-worthy that can hold its own when paired with a ribeye steak, Cab is probably your best bet. On the other hand, if you enjoy lighter wines that have a bit more flexibility when being paired with a meal, then Merlot is easily your go-to. Still can’t decide which one to pick? Well, luckily for you, you don’t have to! Bordeaux blends typically use both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes to create a tasty wine that marries the best characteristics of each. It’s a win-win!
So, which bold red will you choose for your next wine night? Clearly, you can’t go wrong with a Cabernet or a Merlot. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could even get a bottle of each! There’s no such thing as too much wine, right? However you indulge in that need for classic, red wine, you know that you’ve got some excellent options to choose from.