Merlot and Cabernet are undoubtedly the two most popular red wines, but many people do not seem to know what makes them so different and unique. When it comes to food, especially meat, both of these wines are a great pairing, but each one has its own characteristics.
Merlot, known as “the little blackbird” is often more soft and supple of the two grapes. The wine is juicy with flavors of chocolate and cherry, and it pairs great when combined with steak frites. It is considered an easy-drinking wine because of these characteristics. Its soft fruit flavors make the wine taste great at a much younger age, and that is one of the main reasons winemakers love it. It contains less tannin and it has a smoother finish. During the production process, Merlot grapes must be picked immediately after ripening or they will over-ripen and lose their acidity. Because it has a lighter tannin and is sweater, it can be used in a variety of settings. It pairs well with many different Italian dishes, especially with those containing a tomato-based sauce. It also highlights the savory flavor found in roasted chicken, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.
On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon is the older and more aggressive sibling of Merlot. It has much more tannin, thus, it gives your mouth a drying sensation. It is often said to have a strong “backbone” which means it is hearty and powerful, capable to stand up to rich dishes such as porter house or braised short ribs. Cabernet needs more time to age in bottle before being open because when young, the wine’s tannins can be very aggressive. However, there is another way to soften the flavors if the tannins are too strong, and this can be done by decanting the wine for about thirty minutes, letting oxygen mellow everything out. Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a small and thick grape. This is the main reason why there is so much tannin in it, as the tannin comes from the skin. During production, Cabernet Sauvignon goes through an oak aging process. Instead of making the wine too soft, this aging process gets the wine to the perfect level of acidity and bitterness, as well as adding additional flavors of its own.
Generally Cabernet Sauvignon has a bolder taste, whereas Merlot is softer. Nevertheless, there are many bold Merlot wines as well, and this depends on where the grapes are grown. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot originated in the Bordeaux region of France in the 15th century. Nevertheless, the grapes that are used in the production of these two wines thrive in very different conditions.