For thousands of years, red wine has delighted taste buds and carved out its place as one of the best accompaniments to a delicious meal. With hundreds of different varietals, enthusiasts have no shortage of options in the wide world of red.
Some of the most popular varietals when it comes to red wine are Merlot and Pinot Noir. However, many wine drinkers don’t know the difference between these two dominant varietals.
After all, what is the difference between a glass of Merlot and Pinot Noir?
Though these wines may seem similar at first, their flavor profiles are actually quite distinct from each other and they are often grown in different wine regions.
Read on to learn all about the history, the aromas, the similarities, and the differences between these two titans of red wine, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
The Main Differences Between Merlot and Pinot Noir
Besides the names, what are the main differences between these two popular varietals of red?
One of the primary ways in which they differ is in their flavor profiles. Merlot is famous for its vibrant fruitiness and soft body. This varietal is perfect as an introductory wine as it captures the alluring aromas of a tannic, floral red wine.
This well-rounded nature makes Merlot a very popular grape, especially within France where it’s the most widely grown varietal in this classic wine country. It also means that Merlot makes a delicious pairing with rich meats and creamy sauces, a congruent duo to make the most of complex flavor profiles.
On the other hand, Pinot Noir is often referred to as “liquid silk” due to its fine texture and distinct notes of earth and smoke. It’s a temperamental wine, with sour lows yet truly rewarding highs.
As Pinot Noir is lighter in the body than Merlot, this wine works best with more subtle fats and proteins like a semi-hard cheese or spicy Mexican dish.
Merlot Grapes vs. Pinot Noir Grapes
Pinot Noir grapes date back nearly two thousand years, with their origins tracing back to the rolling vineyards of Ancient France.
Because Pinot Noir is such a delicate yet rewarding wine, these grapes are primarily found in the cooler wine regions around the globe. These include the Burgundy region of France, as well as developing New World wine regions like New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, and California.
The more temperamental grapes require a longer, cooler growing season and are often found in limestone soil. The thin skins of Pinot Noir leave the grapes vulnerable to diseases.
This means that growing a mouthwatering batch of Pinot Noir is more difficult than other varietals, which leads to a more limited production as opposed to Merlot.
Now, let’s move on to Merlot. The grapes are practically newborn compared to Pinot Noir, with the first grapes appearing in the late 17th century as the descendants of Cabernet Franc. However, their popularity didn’t skyrocket until the 1990s when the grapes’ robust characteristics spread throughout the world.
This varietal is much easier to propagate compared to Pinot, and it’s primarily found in the Bordeaux wine region of France. The grapes have a higher sugar content along with light tannins, and they ripen to display signature dark blue hues.
Because the growing process is comparatively inexpensive and because Merlot grows well in both limestone and clay-based soil, it’s become one of the most popular red wine grapes around the world.
The Taste of Merlot vs. Pinot Noir Wine
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the tastes of these two top red varietals.
Merlot contains a more mild taste in the world of red, with strong aromas of plums, blueberries, and black fruits along with light tannins and a pleasing acidity. The hues are a deeper shade when compared to Pinot Noir, and the body is smooth and soft on the palate.
Merlot is often merged with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc to synthesize a softer, silkier wine with finer tannins. Most Merlots don’t age particularly well and their flavors remain quite consistent regardless of the vintage.
Shifting to look at Pinot Noir, this varietal glimmers with lighter ruby hues, and each sip bursts with vibrant fruit flavor. The higher acidity wine delivers notes of citrus fragrance along with cherries, raspberries, and slight hints of moist earth.
Pinot Noir promises a natural, velvety body along with a powerful influence of the vineyard’s climate and growing conditions.
Pairing Food With Merlot or Pinot Noir
Due to its more limited production, Pinot Noir is almost always going to cost more when compared to a similar Merlot. Of course, don’t let this ward you off this wonderful varietal.
The elegant flavors of a delicious Pinot Noir like our DeLoach Pinot Noir pair beautifully with lighter meat dishes like sushi, lamb, chicken, and flaky salmon.
When it comes to Merlot, your options are more expansive due to the well-roundedness of each sip. While a traditional red pairing might lead you towards meaty beef and lamb dishes, Merlot can also work wonders with creamy pasta dishes, more substantial salads, and braised pork.
Just be sure to steer clear of strong cheeses as the bold flavors might muddy the complex flavors locked within your Merlot.
Optimize Your Red With The Wine Connoisseur
Whether you prefer the jack-of-all-trades Merlot or a softer, mercurial Pinot Noir, you can’t go wrong with either of these varietals. Despite their differences, they both offer some of the most coveted attributes in the complex landscape of red wine.
If you’re still seeking to discover your favorite, set up a blind taste test party among your friends. Not only is it a great way to socialize, but it’s fun to see how wildly your wine preferences differ.
Just remember that the only way to really figure out your favorite is to serve each glass at the proper temperature and oxidation levels each time.
If you serve a Pinot too warm, the taste will be flabby and uninspired. If you sip on a too-cold Merlot, the flavor compounds will be muted and full.
To ensure a perfect sip every time, look towards the Wine Connoisseur. This innovative single-serve wine dispenser perfectly calibrates every glass to its optimal serving temperature and oxidation to unlock flavors and make your wine-drinking experience the best it can be.
With easy-to-use sachets and delicious varietals on offer, the Wine Connoisseur makes every night a wine breeze. Fair warning, though — Choosing between a perfect Pinot and a marvelous Merlot might become even harder with an optimized sip every time.