Merlot vs Pinot Noir Wine

Knowing more about the two wines, Merlot vs Pinot Noir, will help you decide which red wine to serve. Both are popular and common wines, yet each has notable similarities and differences.

No matter which one you choose, others will appreciate having either of these wines at a gathering, thanks to their complex characteristics worth sipping. With that, let’s take a journey to discover how Pinot Noir and Merlot equal and vary.

Merlot Vs Pinot Noir

red wine glass

These red wines, Merlot vs Pinot Noir, are usually dry sweet wines. Some may say Merlot is the sweetest, even though Pinot has a little residual sugar.

Beginner wine drinkers might like a glass of Merlot instead of Pinot Noir because Merlot is mellow and has a more pleasant sweet taste. In fact, wine reviewers call the Pinot “liquid silk,” “demanding diva,” and “seductress” of all the top red wines.

While Merlot is medium-bodied and soft with low tannin and acidity, Pinot Noir holds a lighter body with low tannins but higher acidity with a more robust flavor.

Pinot Noir is also smoother and has notes of red berries, whereas Merlot is charming with notes of blackberries. You can pair both wines with roasted meats, though Merlot goes well with red meats, and Pino Noir pairs well with white meats.

How Are They Made?

Merlot

To cultivate Merlot grapes for the vineyards into the bottles takes sharp viticulture skills. Buds come earlier than other wine grapes, making them prone to frost.

The grapes are vulnerable to Botrytis bunch rot, decaying in the leaves. A host of molds and insects may infect the vine and ruin the crop. 

The grapevine prefers well-drained and cool soil with a specific pruning method to produce the desired result. In fact, the Merlot grapes ripen fast, so the growers keep a watchful eye on harvesting them at the right moment.

However, the grapes need a lot of attention and energy from the growers, but it’s worth it in the end. 

The winemaker decides if the Merlot will be a sweeter or drier wine before the fermentation begins. Then, some will ferment or age the wine in oak barrels.

In either case, oak delivers Merlot with a richer flavor, including smokier notes of cocoa, wood, and vanilla. 

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is also challenging to grow because the grapevines are susceptible to disease and rot. After all, the grape is thin-skinned and has a delicate structure.

The grape is a vigorous grower, though. This isn’t easy to control and requires a lot of nutrients and sunshine to mature correctly. Since Pinot Noir can have overpowering flavors, the growers must manage the cultivating process for desired results.

Winemakers may even say creating the perfect glass of Pinot Noir is a seduction of talents, from the choice of aging barrels to the exact length needed for the exquisite taste. The process takes a skilled winemaker at each phase of production. 

For example, a team of winemakers will diligently measure and document temperature, flavor profiles, and sugar levels until the wine has completely fermented. Next is the pressing, aging, and bottling of the wine, demanding great respect until you sip it from a glass. 

The fresh fruit balances with crispness, and the ideal acidity includes low tannins, making the wine special. The artisans’ balance flavors depend on where the wine grape grows.

Some terroir has fruity flavors while others suggest earthiness and notes of the forest floor, leather, mushroom, and smokiness. Then, in other areas, add spices like clove, vanilla, and cinnamon.  

What are They Made of?

harvesting grapes

Merlot

Merlot wine is a descendant of Cabernet Franc, related to Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The grapes are red-skinned, though some say blue-skinned or black-skinned. Still, the wine is popular thanks to being a single-varietal or a wine blend.

Native to the Bordeaux region in France, the ancient Romans took the Merlot grapevines to Pomerol, Saint Emilion, and Saint-Estephe, eventually spreading worldwide.

So, you can easily say it’s an Old World wine but now grows in New World regions such as California, Washington, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and beyond.

Pinot Noir

Burgundy, France, is the original home of Pinot Noir, a popular wine that is challenging to produce. Despite its challenges, the grapevines now grow in other regions of Europe and the New World.

It’s a black-skinned grape that grows well in a limited spectrum of cooler climates. Here is where the wine gets its trademark delicacy, finesse, and acidity. Though, these disappear in warmer temperatures and hotter weather.

How are They Similar?

Both Merlot and Pinot Noir originate from France and are now worldwide. Growers harvest these grapes when they have the perfect balance of acids and sugars. In fact, each wine has the same amount of sugar. A 5-ounce glass equals one gram of sugar.

Both wines have notes of fruit, but Merlot is more earthy. Merlot and Pinot Noir, to a large extent, are dry wines. Both go well with roasted meats, whereas Merlot pairs with red meats and Pinot Noir pairs with white meats.

Some Merlots and Pinot Noirs can age more than 20 or less than 15 years.

Price, Size, Color, Alcohol Percentage Comparison

red wine bottle

Pinot Noir Vs. Merlot

  • Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy, France, while Merlot comes from Bordeaux, France.
  • Both wines are relatively popular, with Merlot growing in more regions worldwide.
  • Merlot grapes thrive in clay, sand and silt, while Pinot Noir grows in clay-limestone soil known as Marl.
  • Pinot Noir can express the region where it grew in its taste profile, and Merlot can do the same.
  • Growers harvest Merlot grapes early to mid-September, after the Chardonnay. In some regions of the world, growers also harvest Pinot Noir early, though, in Napa Valley, it begins in late August and continues through November for most grapes.
  • Merlot is a dry, medium-bodied, red fruit with easy tannins and a pleasantly soft finish. Pinot Noir’s taste holds complex flavors as a light-medium-bodied wine with fruit notes including raspberry and cherry with mushroom and forest floor. If aged in oak, baking spices linger, including vanilla.
  • Pinot Noir has high acidity levels, whereas Merlot has low acidity levels.
  • It’s best to enjoy Merlot within three to five years, though some can age beyond 20. The Pinot Noir is five years, though some wineries beg to differ.
  • According to Wine Searcher, the bottle price of a Pinot Noir ranges from $3.00 to $53,000.00, while Merlot ranges from $12.00 to $6000.00.
  • The ABV range of Merlot is usually 13 to 14.5 percent, whereas Pinot Noir is around 12 to 15 percent.
  • Pinot Noir is a light to medium red wine with low tannins, and Merlot is a medium red wine with low tannins.
  • Pinot Noir can transform into delightful sparkling rose wines, while Merlot cannot.
  • On the vine, the Pinot looks like a pine cone, unlike the Merlot.

Both wines originate from France, so their similarities are easy to understand, with differing fruit notes and equal sugar levels. Worldwide, wine drinkers enjoy them, with Merlot playing more of a role in blending with other reds. 

Some Pinot Noirs and Merlots can age in the bottle for 20 years, though most reds taste best when consumed within five years. Their acidity levels differ, with Pinot Noir being higher than Merlot, the deal breaker. 

Merlot is more prevalent while Pinot Noir has its followers, though you might think otherwise if you compare their highest-priced bottles. 

Still, the Pinot red can give growers a hard time, with some of the best coming out of Oregon. Here, the climate and soil are perfect for the grapes, increasing production by 16 percent since 2005.

How to Drink Merlot and Pinot Noir?

Merlot is best when served between 60° to 65° Fahrenheit, while Pinot Noir tastes best when served between 55° to 60° Fahrenheit. Sparkling rose needs to chill for at least an hour before serving.

Some agree that you may enjoy Pinot Noir if you are a white wine drinker. For classic pairings, white meat, like roasted turkey or chicken, creates a delicious thanks to the light-bodied and fruity wine.

The red also goes well with meatier fish, like salmon or tuna steaks. You can even consider different kinds of pasta with tomato sauce. But avoid beefy dishes and leave those for Merlot.

Merlot pairs well with roasted meats like beef and lamb, or you can put some burgers on the grill, sip, and enjoy. The medium-bodied wine also goes well with Italian-style meals, such as meatballs, pizza, and lasagna.

Try a cheese tray with Heirloom tomatoes or a robust beef sauce over fettuccine.

Alternatives

Merlot

Cabernet Franc is an excellent alternative to Merlot since the grape descended from the Cab, a medium-bodied wine. The similarities continue with earthy flavors and stop with green or roasted red peppers. Still, you’ll likely enjoy the wine from Loire Valley, France.

Malbec is fruitier with hints of cocoa and chocolate that you can find in a glass of Merlot wine. The similarities endure since both wines are from Bordeaux. Just like Merlot, it depends on where Malbec grows that determines blackberries, plums, and mild tannins. 

Pinot Noir

pinot noir grapes

Gamay is no surprise as an alternative to Pinot Noir with its high acidity, and the grape comes from Beaujolais, south of Burgundy, the birthplace of Pinot. The red also has low tannins and rich fruits, matching beautifully with pursuing French flavors. 

Trousseau is an excellent choice, and the grape grows mainly in the Jura region of France. The wine has risen to fame in the US and Spain, calling it Bastardo.

The delightful red is a pale color and has earth-driven flavors that include white pepper, cranberries, and damp soil. Serve the wine chilled and sip during warm summer days or evenings. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which came first, Merlot or Pinot Noir?

According to Old Friend Wine, Pinot Noir is one of the oldest wines documented. In the 1st century, Roman soldiers came upon the wine form when they invaded Gaul.

In France during the 1700s, the cultivation of Merlot began. It was a more modern wine form than the Pinot during the invasion of Gaul.

Which is Stronger, Merlot or Pinot Noir?

Some Pinot reds can reach 15 percent alcohol, while Merlot ranges between 13 and 14.5 percent alcohol. However, some Pinot Noirs are as low as 12 percent.

Which is Most Popular, Merlot or Pinot Noir?

Both wines are popular varietals, but Merlot is the second most planted grapevine on the planet.