Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot vs Pinot Noir

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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The debate of cabernet sauvignon vs merlot has been going on for many years, but these red wines offer distinct characteristics for different occasions.

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot vs Pinot Noir

While all three, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, are red wines, there are some key points that separate them, which you should be aware of.

What are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Pinot Noir?

These red wines are made from different grapes of the same name.

  • Merlot: Merlot grapes are dark blue and offer producers flexibility and a range of gentle, fruity flavors. Merlot is often used as a blending wine.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is another popular, easily cultivated grape that offers tannin-rich wines and alcohol content of 13.5% and above.
  • Pinot Noir: Named after the French words for “pine” and “black”, these grapes grow around the world in cooler climates and produce a medium-bodied wine that can be difficult to age properly.
Three glasses of wine with three bottles stacked behind them

How to select the best red wine? Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How to Make?

For these wines, the grapes are picked, crushed, and fermented at a controlled temperature. After fermentation, the liquid is extracted from the fermented grapes through a pressing process. The wine is then usually aged before bottling.

Taste

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich, strong, and full-bodied wine. It is dry with a high level of tannins and can offer elements of cherries, currants, oak, olives, green peppers, and tobacco.
  • Merlot: Merlot is a good all-around people-pleaser, with frequent flavors of plum, watermelon, cherry, vanilla, and chocolate.
  • Pinot Noir: Although this wine is often lighter in nature, it has an astringent characteristic, particularly at the front of the flavor notes.

Which is Stronger?

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be the strongest of the three, usually with 13.5% or above ABV.

Pros

Research demonstrates that a small glass of red wine a day may be good for your health. Red wine is known to contain antioxidant properties that may help protect against heart diseases, obesity, and diabetes, as per a study published in the journal Food and Chemical ToxicologyJust another reason to enjoy a glass of red with your meal; however, moderate consumption is key.

Pinot Noir is known to have one of the highest concentrations of resveratrol, which may make it a more effective deterrent against chronic disease; cabernet sauvignon is often ranked highly in terms of this compound’s concentration. While Merlot may not contain as much resveratrol, but it does have good amounts of procyanidins, a different type of beneficial antioxidant.

Cons

Relative to other alcoholic beverages, the wine has quite a high caloric content at around 100-130 calories per glass. Taken in excess, wine can cause liver damage, alcohol dependence, or depression.

How to Drink?

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Due to the high level of tannins and its sometimes peppery flavor, Cabernet Sauvignon is best drunk with food.
  • Merlot: Merlot is an easy and accessible wine and is good for most occasions.
  • Pinot Noir: A medium-bodied red wine should be stored at approximately 55 degrees Celsius and is a great wine to pair with a lighter meal.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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