Malbec vs. Merlot: What's the Difference? - Royal Glass (2023)

Malbec and Merlot are two of the most popular wines on the market, and they do have some remarkably similar traits- making the question ‘what is the difference between malbec and merlot’ a question that may seem to have a relatively technical answer. However, there are many different nuances and complexities that set both of these wines apart, and once you understand the differences between the two, you’ll never turn back.


Malbec is a rich, full-bodied red most famously grown in the Bordeaux region of France. It is currently one of only six types of wine that are permitted in the world-famous red variety of the Bordeaux Blend.

While the grape has its origins in France, it is not necessarily clear from exactly where as rumours and fairytales swamp the history of the plant. The most likely story seems to be that the grape originated from the North side of Burgundy under a different name- although a charming story of the grape being spread through France by a Hungarian Peasant with the name Malbec is a fan favorite.

Over time, the popularity of Malbec has blossomed, and it is now grown all over the world. Perhaps most notably is the very quickly increasing popularity in New World wine regions, particularly in Argentina. This is probably due to the properties of Malbec, and the way that the grape ripens.

(Video) Merlot vs Cabernet - What's the Difference?

Owing to the relatively thin skin of the grape, it needs a great deal more sunshine and warmth to fully ripen than other grapes, such as Merlot. This makes it much more ideal for warmer climates, like Argentina, than it does for the comparatively chill lands of Europe.

Malbec wine is deep in color and in flavor, with a full body and a medium to high tannin level. It is relatively dry, and has medium to low acidity levels. It also has a lovely fruity nature to it, boasting plums and blackberries from a warmer climate, and raspberries and cherries in a cooler climate.

As you are pairing a Malbec, it’s good to remember that while it has tannins and a full body, it also has a relatively short finish, so it actually makes an excellent pairing with lean red meat. Think non-fatty cuts of meat, like sirloin steak, and even more exotic meats like llama. It also goes very well with notoriously difficult to pair cheeses like blue cheese.


Merlot is one of the most commonly grown grapes on the planet, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot forfeited its crown to Cabernet Sauvignon in 2015, but the popularity of the grape continues on, as despite the popularity of Cabernet, Merlot remains the most popular grape in the Bordeaux region of France. Wherever you go, Merlot is still a household favorite and a family name in the world of wine.

Official cultivation of the grape began in the Bordeaux region in South West France. Even to this day, Merlot is popular for both varietal wines and blended wines, the most notable of which is the legendary Bordeaux blend.

(Video) Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Syrah - Red Wine Guide

As we pass over the French borders, the true levels of popularity for Merlot really begin to shine through. At a time it was the most popular wine in the whole of the United States of America, commonly attributed to the airing of an episode of 60 minutes which spoke about the ‘French Paradox’- the idea that red wine carries health benefits that cancel out the comparatively ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle of the French people.

When Merlot is produced, there are two distinctive ways of doing so. Broadly speaking, you will know which way your Merlot has been produced by looking at where it is from. A New World Wine will use the ‘International Method’ of production. New World wine are countries that have been producing wine for less than 400 years- places such as Argentina, Chile, and the United States.

The International Method of production chooses a later harvest. This later harvest means that the wine has been given time to develop more, and this later development will result in a wine with a darker palate of fruit. This fruit will include berries; with things such as plums, black cherries, blackberries, and so on. The wine will also have much more developed tannins and generally be sweeter as well.

In contrast to this, Old World wine countries, so countries that have been producing wine for over 400 years- places such as Europe, the Middle East, and parts of North Africa, will work with what is called the Bordeaux Style of production.

The Bordeaux production style has the grapes harvested much earlier in the year than the International style. This change has a dramatic effect on the wine. The drinker will notice markedly different aromas- what was dark berries turn to red berries. What was plum will turn to strawberries and raspberries. What was black cherry turns to red cherry, and so on.

(Video) The Best Red Wines For Beginners (Series): #6 Malbec

The wine will also have considerably less tannins in it than an International Style, and it will be noticeably more acidic with less natural sweetness to it. This will change the way that you pair the wine, as well as the preference to style that a drinker may have. A Bordeaux style wine will pair excellently with tomato based dishes and many types of cheeses, making it an excellent companion for Italian style dishes.

In comparison to this, an International Style of Merlot will have enough body and finish for you to pair it with beef dishes. Things like burgers and medium fatted steaks will go excellently. Roasted red meats will too make a fantastic pairing- the roasting of the meat will add a beautiful complexity to the wine, and the fruity nature of Merlot means that it will add something special to the meat as well.

What’s the Difference Between Malbec and Merlot?

One of the major differences between Malbec and Merlot is the popularity in regions. Malbec is decidedly more popular in New World vineyards, whereas Merlot has a strong grip over Old World wineries. Merlot is a lot more terroir dependent- you may have two wines of the same grape from different parts of the world and not even realise that it is the same grape. In contrast to this, Malbec, while it still sees differences between regions, is a little more dependable than Merlot.

The similarities between these grapes cannot be ignored either- both have flavors of berries, and the differences between temperatures affects the flavors in a similar fashion. They both go very well with beef and cheese, although Merlot has a slightly larger range than that of Malbec. Malbec is also lower in acidity than Merlot, and has softer tannins than Merlot, even as a young wine.

Final Notes

Malbec and Merlot are two wines that can be considered relatively similar to the untrained taste. In fact, even to the trained taste they can be considered similar: Malbec has even been described as a ‘rustic’ version of Merlot. The key differences between these two wines lay in the levels of acidity, and the softness of the tannins.

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(Video) What is MALBEC - What you need to know about this popular grape.


What is the diff between Malbec and Merlot? ›

Merlot is a bluish variety of grape used to create varietal wines while working as a blending grape. Malbec is a deeper inky coloured grape offering full-bodied tannins and is listed as one of the six grape varieties approved in the mix of Bordeaux wine.

Is Merlot A classy wine? ›

Merlot is actively unpretentious. It's a classy wine that excels in casual occasions. You can break it down in a blind tasting with friends or enjoy it as the backdrop to a football game or barbecue.

What's lighter Merlot or Malbec? ›

Merlot is red with a slight cherry color along the glass rim, and Malbec is dark purple with a beautiful magenta color along the glass edge. The red wines are bold and rich, with Malbec being somewhat heavier. Most wine drinkers call Malbec a full-bodied wine, whereas Merlot is a medium-bodied wine.

Is Malbec a rich red wine? ›

Wines produced using this growing method are rich, dark, and juicy. As a varietal, Malbec creates a rather inky red (or violet), intense wine, so it is also commonly used in blends, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend.

Is Malbec or Merlot nicer? ›

Let's start easy: both are considered dry red wines. Like Pinot Noir, Merlot wine has less than 0.5g of residual sugar, making it an extremely dry wine. On the other hand, Malbec wine is sweeter, with around 1.5g of residual sugar.

Which is healthier Malbec or Merlot? ›

As an especially thick-skinned variety, Malbec claims higher antioxidant levels than other red wines especially in terms of resveratrol. This variety has two to four times the amount of anti-inflammatory, health boosting antioxidants than other popular red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Which red wine is smoothest? ›

Smooth Red Wine
  • Kiepersol Smooth Texas Red Wine. 4.8 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Menage a Trois Sultry Smooth Red Blend. 2.6 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Fall Creek Eds Smooth Red. 4.5 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Castello Del Poggio Smooth Red. 4.2 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Yellow Tail Smooth Red Blend. ...
  • Marietta Old Vine Red. ...
  • Hermes Greek Red. ...
  • Oliver Soft Collection Sweet Red.

Is Merlot a cheap wine? ›

Merlot is usually cheaper, fruitier, and softer than Cabernet, and often perceived as less complex.

Is Merlot considered cheap wine? ›

No, Merlot is not a cheap wine. It is typically more affordable than Cabernet, but it is not considered to be a budget wine. Merlot is usally fruitier and softer than Cabernet, and often perceived as less complex.

Which is softer Malbec or Merlot? ›

Merlots tend to be softer than Malbecs, exhibiting notes of cherry, raspberry, plum, and velvet on the palate. On the other hand, Malbecs often have higher tannins and complexity like dark chocolate and smokey undertones.

Is Malbec dry or sweet? ›

Malbec. Made from purple grape variety, Malbec is full-bodied, dry red wine is rich with dark fruit flavors.

What is the weakest red wine? ›

Lambrusco. The common winemaking method for Lambrusco makes it the lightest red wine on our list. In fact, if you want to nit-pick, Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lightest of them all.

What glass do you use for Malbec? ›

“Standard” Red Wine Glass

A great glass for medium- to full-bodied red wines with spicy notes and/or high alcohol. Spice is softened because flavors hit your tongue more progressively from the smaller opening. Try wines like Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz), and Petite Sirah with this glass.

What is a classy red wine? ›

Cabernet Sauvignon

Bold, high in acidity, savory, elegant, and dry: This is a “serious” wine, for “serious” wine drinkers. It's also a safe bet if you are ordering off a menu or buying a bottle. It may be complex—but it's also something most casual wine drinkers are used to drinking.

Do you refrigerate Malbec after opening? ›

Keep the open wine bottle out of light and stored under room temperature. In most cases, a refrigerator goes a long way to keeping wine for longer, even red wines. When stored at colder temperatures, the chemical processes slow down, including the process of oxidation that takes place when oxygen hits the wine.

Why is Malbec so popular? ›

Malbec produces red wines with medium acidity and medium tannins. Through the full flavours, and medium acidity, Malbec is less overwhelming or niche on the palette, making this flavour more popular.

What is special about Malbec wine? ›

Malbec wine is known for its deep purple color and full body. Malbec grapes are small and dark in color with very thick skins, producing a wine that has rich fruity flavors and medium tannin levels. Malbec wines are often higher in alcohol than Merlot or Pinot Noir.

Is Merlot Dry or sweet? ›

Merlot tends to be a bit fruitier tasting than a Cab, but this doesn't mean it's a sweet wine. In fact, Merlot is considered a dry wine due to the tannin levels in the wine, but the flavor profile tends to lean towards fruits like berries, along with some earthy overtones like vanilla, clove and mocha.

What is the best red wine for your brain? ›

Pinot noir: This is the healthiest red wine due to its high concentration of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound that lowers bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. Some studies also suggest that it can improve brain health, kill cancer cells, and increase insulin sensitivity.

What is the healthiest red wine to drink? ›

Many wine experts consider pinot noir to be the healthiest red wine because it contains the highest concentration of resveratrol. Pinot noir also contains fewer calories than other red wine varieties and may be less likely to cause heartburn thanks to its relatively low tannin content.

What wine is best for stomach problems? ›

Why Red Wine Is Better Than White Wine for Gut Health. Researchers say people who drink a moderate amount of red wine have better gut health.

What is the number 1 red wine in the world? ›

1. Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most popular red wine.

What is the most easy drinking red wine? ›

Top Red Wines for Beginners
  • Merlot. ...
  • Shiraz. ...
  • Zinfandel. ...
  • Pinot Noir. ...
  • Gamay. ...
  • Garnacha. ...
  • Petite Sirah. ...
  • Malbec. Malbec is one of those wines that can quickly become someone's go-to order.
Aug 26, 2021

What is the most liked red wine? ›

Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine. It's the most popular variety of wine in the world.

Should Merlot be refrigerated? ›

Merlot should not be chilled. You should serve most Merlot at room temperature. Merlot that is served too cold has less pronounced fruit flavors.

Is Merlot a light or heavy wine? ›

Medium Reds

Medium-bodied red wines tend to have an alcohol content of between 12.5 and 13.5 percent and more tannins than a light-bodied red wine but less than a full-bodied red wine. Examples include Merlot, Shiraz, Tempranillo, and Nebbiolo.

Why is Merlot so popular? ›

Merlot became popular for good reason. It has a flavor profile close to that of Cabernet Sauvignon but is typically medium-bodied and has a somewhat lower natural acidity. Generally it's less astringent and therefore usually has a more lush mouth feel, making it gentle, fruity, easy to drink, and food-friendly.

Does Merlot have a lot of sugar? ›

Merlot: A fruity French wine that doesn't make your mouth pucker due to the tannins. With low levels of residual sugar, this earthy pick is around one gram per glass of wine.

When should I drink Merlot? ›

Main courses that pair well with Merlot's velvety finish and rich fruit notes include grilled or roasted meat, especially beef, pork, or lamb. Merlot is also great with chicken, roasted mushrooms, and smoky foods.

Is Merlot a beginner? ›

I like to suggest Merlot for beginners because it is a very subtle wine, in my opinion. It often has a smooth palate, with medium tannins and flavors of cherry, plum, vanilla, and chocolate. Overall, Merlot is an easy-sipper, especially when it hails from New World regions, like California or Washington.

Is Malbec a beginner wine? ›

While malbec as a grape is often touted for tannins (the components in wine that add structure but dry out your mouth), I don't encounter strong tannins in many malbecs. This makes malbec a good red wine for beginners.

Is Malbec a light or heavy wine? ›

And finally, Malbec is a wonderful example of a world famous full bodied red wine. It's produced in Chile and France, but Argentina leads the production of the grape. It's an easy drinking medium tannin wine presenting fruits like black cherry, pomegranate, plum and raisin.

Is Malbec a smooth wine? ›

Malbec is a blending grape in Red Bordeaux Blends. Less oak than you might think. Malbec is so fruity and smooth, it often doesn't need as much oak-aging.

What is Malbec most similar to? ›

Syrah is more similar to Old World Malbec with its notes of olive, black pepper spice, smoke, and even bacon fat in some instances. It is commonly seen as a single variety wine or can be blended with other grape varieties such as Grenache and Mourvedre in Côtes du Rhône blends.

Is Malbec a cheap wine? ›

Malbec is so popular because not only is it affordable but it's easy to drink, it's a perfect pair to many different types of food, and it's a crowd pleaser. If you're looking an affordable, delicious alternative to the usual Merlot of Cabernet Sauvignon you should give Malbec a try!

Do you drink Malbec warm or cold? ›

Pinot Noir is best served between 55-60°F, while Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are best served between 60-65°F. If you're storing your wine in a warm area, such as your kitchen, put a bottle of red in the fridge about 30 minutes before you're ready to serve it.

What is the unhealthiest wine? ›

3 Wines to Ditch If You're Trying to Keep in Tip-Top Shape
  • Riesling. Be wary of those sweet wines. ...
  • Amarone. A rich Italian dry red wine, Amarone is pretty strong, and it'll get you drunk fast. ...
  • Nonorganic Wine. ...
  • Moscato.
Aug 18, 2018

Which red wine is least likely to cause headache? ›

When looking for a wine that is less likely to give you a hangover, pay attention to these characteristics.
  • Dry Reds with Lower Alcohol– 12.5-13.5%
  • Moderate Tannins. Such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre.
  • Spend a little more. Bulk wines and flavored wines tend to have more wine additives.

Who should not drink red wine? ›

Heart conditions: In people with chest pain, heart failure, or an enlarged heart, drinking alcohol might make these conditions worse. High blood pressure: Drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day can increase blood pressure and make high blood pressure worse.

What glass does Merlot go in? ›

Bordeaux. The Bordeaux glass is designed for heavy, full-bodied wines and its bowl is smaller than a standard red wine glass. To maximize the flavor, the glass is taller, so the wine proceeds directly to the back of the mouth. You can use this glass for syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and other rich, strong wines.

What is the difference between red wine glasses? ›

Red wine glasses are typically taller and have a larger bowl than white wine glasses. As reds are generally bigger and bolder wines, they require a larger glass to allow all those aromas and flavors to emerge.

Are there specific glasses for red wine? ›

Red wine tends to require 'opening up' more; therefore, the larger-size bowl allows the wine to breathe a lot more as the aroma and flavours are released. Most glassware manufacturers offer grape and regional specific wine glasses designed especially for that particular style of wine.

Which red wine is best for wedding? ›

For red wine at weddings, pinot noir might be the all-around ideal choice. It has excellent versatility when matching seasons and menus, and it provides enough weight to keep guest palates satisfied.

What red wine does Gordon Ramsay use? ›

Gordon Ramsay Intenso Rosso wine is a pioneering, cross-regional Italian red wine blend crafted by superstar Chef Gordon Ramsay and global wine consultant and owner of Poggiotondo in Tuscany, Alberto Antonini.

What is the best way to drink Malbec? ›

Malbec wines are best served in a traditional red wine glass, slightly chilled, somewhere in the realm of 60-65 degrees.

Should you let Malbec breathe? ›

Whether it's a young Napa Cab, an Argentine Malbec or Aussie Shiraz, these wines typically need a dose of oxygen to smooth out any roughness and soften tannins. Of course, if you enjoy the punch that these wines can pack straight out of the bottle, there's no need to delay.

Can you drink red wine 7 days after opening? ›

In general, table wines last three to five days after they've been opened. Fortified wines, or dessert wines, like Port and Sherry, can last much longer; some say months or even years.

Is Malbec sweet or dry? ›

Is Malbec red wine sweet or dry? ›

Malbec. Made from purple grape variety, Malbec is full-bodied, dry red wine is rich with dark fruit flavors. It's a juicy one, with notes of tobacco and dark chocolate. If you're a pizza fan, perfect; enjoy a bottle of Malbec and a pizza for a deliciously good time.

What makes Malbec wine different? ›

Malbec wine is known for its deep purple color and full body. Malbec grapes are small and dark in color with very thick skins, producing a wine that has rich fruity flavors and medium tannin levels. Malbec wines are often higher in alcohol than Merlot or Pinot Noir.

Should Malbec be refrigerated? ›

Best Storage Temperature for Malbec

The best temperature for storing Malbec is 12-15°C (55°–59°F). You can store Malbec in a wine cellar, wine fridge, or cabinet.

What wine is closest to Malbec? ›

Top Wines Similar to Malbec
  • Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Merlot.
  • Pinot Noir.
  • Zinfandel.
  • Sangiovese.
  • Bonarda.
  • Syrah.
  • Dolcetto.
Jul 21, 2022

Is Malbec good for sipping? ›

With its fascinating, international history and potent plum-like notes, Malbec is considered one of the more unique wine options for modern-day cuisine. Bold, unctuous, and deeply crimson, this unusual wine is certainly worth a sip (or a few).

Can diabetics drink Merlot wine? ›

Good news, though. "Wine is safe for people with diabetes," says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO of NY Nutrition Group and author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan. "They can pretty much drink and eat any food a person without diabetes can eat."

What does a Malbec taste like? ›

The main fruit flavors of Argentinian Malbec are blackberry, plum, and black cherry. The nuanced flavors offer milk chocolate, cocoa powder, violet flowers, leather, and, depending on the amount of oak aging, a sweet tobacco finish.


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