Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot: Comparing Great Wine Varieties

Glass of red wine being poured at a sit down tastings

If all you know about Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot is they’re both red wines, don’t worry, this blog post will fill you in on the little nuances between the two! While these red wines are very similar to one another – and can even stump the experts in blind taste tests – there’s still plenty of reasons why you’d want to opt for one over the other. 

If you’re looking to impress your dinner guests with expert wine pairings, or you’re just looking to expand your knowledge of wine, keep reading! 

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot Taste Comparisons

Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark style of red wine known for being intense and full-bodied. It also has some very distinctive flavors – like black currant, leather, tobacco, and cedar. This grape delivers lots of flavor and versatility, and they thrive in a warmer climate with long ripening periods. If you’re coming to Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, or anywhere in the Santa Cruz Mountain Region, you’ll definitely want to sample the Cabernet! 

If you’re looking for a bottle to uncork at your next gathering, I have lots of recommendations for every price point. If you’re looking to splurge a little, look for a bottle from the Bordeaux Region, especially the Left Bank. 

Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is also known for its fruitiness. Dominant flavors in Merlot include raspberry, black cherry, and sugar plumb. You might also be able to pick up notes of dark chocolate and cedar!  

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also very similar when it comes to tannins, levels of acidity, and levels of alcohol. One important distinction? Merlot isn’t as full bodied as Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s known for being a medium-bodied red wine, or “food wine,” because of its excellent ability to pair well with a wide range of foods.

It’s known for being an easy grape, and it matures quickly, so when you pop into the wine shop, you’ll be able to find Merlots from all over the globe! And don’t believe the myth that all Merlots are expensive – I’ve got plenty of great recommendations that won’t break the bank

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot Food Pairings

The great thing about both of these red wines? They pair so well with so many different dishes! When in doubt, Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic crowd pleaser, but if you’re looking for something a little softer and maybe even unexpected, Merlot is an excellent option! 


Paige posing with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in a vineyard

Best Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairings

If you’re a big fan of red meats, you’ll want to keep some Cabernet Sauvignon on hand! This full-bodied wine still has some acidity, but it’s full of tannins and fruity notes, making it an ideal match for any red meat, portobello mushrooms, and even lamb! 

You’ll have a lot of room to play and experiment with different pairings, but because of the high tannins, you’ll want to try and steer clear of big pasta dishes. Unfortunately, the starches won’t help to mellow the harsh tannins.

Best Merlot Food Pairings

This medium-bodied red wine also pairs well with red meats like beef, lamb, and even venison. But it also pairs nicely with white meats like poultry and pork chops. 

You’ll have a few more options with a Merlot over a Cabernet Sauvignon when it comes to building a charcuterie board, too! While Cabernet Sauvignon is best served with strong, firm, and pungent cheeses like smoked gouda, parmesan, and gorgonzola, Merlot also pairs nicely with delicate and nutty cheeses. Think brie, havarti, mascarpone, mozzarella, and ricotta! 

And even though starches don’t help to mello the harsh tannins, Merlot is an excellent compliment to tomato-based Italian dishes. 

Paige with an assortment of Best Merlot Wines - she's drinking wine and 8 bottles sit in front of her


In conclusion, these popular red wines are both incredibly delicious and versatile when it comes to food pairings. And while there’s lots of similarities between the two, there are some key differences! 

If you’re looking for a full-bodied glass of red wine, choose Cabernet Sauvignon! It’s the most popular varietals in the world, and a big crowd pleaser among wine drinkers. But if you’re looking for something a little more fruity and softer, opt for a bottle of Merlot. It’s still got plenty of tannins and acidity, but it offers a slightly different profile. And if you’re new to the world of wine and can’t taste those differences yet, don’t be too hard on yourself – even the experts have gotten stumped telling a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon in blind taste tests! 

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot FAQ

Which is better, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?

That really all depends on your palate and taste preferences! Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are both delicious, and they’ll each help elevate plenty of dishes. If you’re on the fence over which bottle of red to uncork, check out this guide for advice and pointers! 

Is Cabernet Sauvignon dry?

Despite being made from sweet grapes, because of the tannins, Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry wine. 

Is Merlot sweet?

Although it’s known for having stronger fruit flavors than Cabernet Sauvignon, that doesn’t mean it’s sweet. In fact, because of the tannins, Merlot is actually a dry wine! 

Is Merlot red wine?

Yes, Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine! 

Is Merlot similar to Cabernet Sauvignon?

Yes! Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are very similar to one another! They’re both fruity wines that have strikingly similar levels of tannins, acidity, and alcohol. One of the biggests differences between them, however, is the body. Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied wine with bold flavors. 

Which is bolder, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?

By and large, Cabernet Sauvignon is bolder than Merlot. It’s a full-bodied wine known for its rich, powerful flavors. While the flavor profiles are similar, Merlot, in general, is the softer of the two wines. 

Other Blog Posts You’ll Love

Best Merlot Wines For Any Budget

Best Cabernet Sauvignon Wines For Any Budget

Malbec vs Merlot: Comparing Great Wine Varieties

11 Wine Candles the Smell Just Like Your Favorite Glass