When choosing a red wine to share with your friends, you may consider a Merlot vs Shiraz/Syrah. Each wine is a splendid choice, but it depends on personal preferences, which is why you need to know the similarities and differences between Shiraz and Merlot.
Both are top-notch wines as varietals or in a blend with other reds. As dark grape varietals, recognizing each wine’s origin, characteristics, food pairings, and alternatives, you can determine the most suitable wine to drink for a particular gathering.
Merlot or Shiraz
These red wines complement lunch, dinner, and dessert or during a romantic evening. Shiraz (or Syrah) gained notice because of its unique notes and flavors. Merlot is a beloved wine worldwide for its dry, medium body. Merlot in French means “little blackbird,” and Shiraz in Arabic means “secret song,” though it doesn’t have to do with the wine.
The fundamental differences between Merlot vs Shiraz are the quality of flavors. Shiraz is an intense, rich flavor, from spicy to fruit, while Merlot has a velvety and plummy taste. Tannins are higher in Shiraz, and the wine is dark, almost opaque, and red, whereas Merlot is a lighter red wine.
Because Merlot is a lighter red with fewer tannins and is easier on the palate, it’s an ideal red wine for beginners. Shiraz has an intensity that new wine drinkers may find challenging to enjoy.
Merlot Vs Shiraz – How are They Made?
Culturing Merlot grapes from the vineyards into bottles may challenge the growers and winemakers. Buds sprout before other wine grapes, making them susceptible to frost.
The grapes are prone to Botrytis bunch rot, decaying in the leaves. And a host of molds and insects may taint the grapes and vines, thus devastating the crop in a short time.
The grapevine prefers well-drained and cool soil with a unique pruning method to train the vines to the desired result. In addition, the Merlot grapes ripen fast, so the growers remain vigilant, watching for the perfect time to harvest the grapes.
The grapes need a lot of attention and energy from the growers, but it’s worth it in the end, as you’ll notice when you sip the wine.
The flavors Merlot imparts are unclear and irrelevant. However, black cherry and plum are among the most known fruit-based descriptions. Winemakers often focus on the specific texture of the wine rather than the particular taste.
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.
The Australians gave the dark-skinned grape its name, even though its actual name is Syrah. As a result, the name Shiraz has become marketable because the name goes on Syrah labels, which means a fuller, riper style of Syrah.
The Shiraz grown in Australia produced rich and bold flavors based on super ripe vines. Even though the critics didn’t like the style, the wine flourished during this time. Going into the 21st century, the making of Shiraz shifted, with the wines becoming spicier with the sophistication of Northern Rhone.
The prevalent style of Shiraz wine production leans toward bright fruit flavors, black cherries, black currants, and blueberries. Minor notes of chocolate help create the full-bodied texture of the wines, usually accented by spicy and pepper inflections.
Merlot Vs Shiraz – What are They Made of?
Merlot wine is a descendant of Cabernet Franc, associating with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The grapes are red-skinned, though some say blue-black-skinned. Still, the wine is well-liked thanks to being a single-varietal or a red 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.
Shiraz and Syrah are usually dry styles made with slight residual sugar. If you taste ripe fruit flavors like blackberry or blueberry, with the warm weather quality of Shiraz, it’s not the sugar.
Dry wine means once the winemakers have pressed the grapes, the sugar converts to alcohol via yeast. Still, some residual sugar may remain because the fermentation process didn’t finish, thus having a trace of sweetness.
If the winemakers age the Syrah in oak barrels, you may taste baking spices and vanilla. Some say the wine becomes lean, savory, and elegant than the robust, fruit-driven Shiraz.
If you like bold, full-bodied wines, then Shiraz is the choice. Some have meat notes, such as bacon, beef jerky, and black pepper spice with higher ABV.
Certain degrees of oak aging and oak will change the tannins, creating a more robust structure.
How are They Similar?
The Merlot grape is fleshy and soft. Early ripening makes it ideal for blending with the late-ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Shiraz grape is a variety used primarily for blending with other types once it’s very ripe. In the early 2000s, Merlot became the most widespread grape worldwide, and Shiraz ranked seventh.
Merlot is milder, medium-bodied, flavorful wine, showcasing the fruit as a better wine for beginners. Shiraz is a fuller-bodied, robust, bold wine with earthy truffle, leather, and pepper characteristics.
Merlot is delicate, fruit and feminine flavor with a soft feel on the palate. You’ll taste hints of plum, berry, and currant. Shiraz is more masculine, dense, intense, and hearty with more tannins.
Price, Size, Color, Alcohol Percentage Comparison
- Merlot has a medium-bodied produced from red wine grapes, whereas Shiraz can have a fuller body made from red wine grapes.
- Shiraz is more intense, hearty, and dense, and Merlot is fruity, velvety, and feminine, with currants, plum, and berries.
- Merlot has sweetness, and Shiraz is less sweet with robust flavors.
- Shiraz’s alcohol content is 10 to 14 percent compared to Merlot’s 13.5 to 14.5 percent.
- Merlot has low tannins and is less dry than Shiraz, which has higher tannins than Merlot.
- Shiraz is a dark red wine, while Merlot is a light red wine.
Merlot is more feminine than Shiraz because of the delicate fruit and soft palate. Shiraz is robust and intense, practically bowling Merlot over with its tannins and dryness.
Thus, wine drinkers call Shiraz masculine, hearty, and less sweet than Merlot. Even though Merlot is a softer wine, its ABV is higher than Shiraz.
The most expensive Shiraz is $1,198 in Australia, while the least expensive one is $4.00 and comes from South Africa, though there are a few $4.00 to $6.00 bottles from Australia.
Petrus from Pomerol is a Merlot priced at $6,612, while the least expensive bottle is $2.00 from Hungary, though you can find some in the US for $4.00 to $6.00.
How to Drink Merlot and Shiraz
Some will tell you that Merlot goes well with any type of food, from appetizers and main course to desserts. Yet, the red wine does not go well with strong flavors that overwhelm the fruity palate, like blue cheeses.
Chili peppers and spicy food intensify the alcohol level, making the Merlot taste more bitter and tannic. Consider pairing a bottle with dishes that have salmon, venison, mushrooms, radicchio, chard, scallops, prawns, prosciutto, and bacon.
Cabernet Franc is an excellent alternative since Merlot descended from the Cab, also a medium-bodied wine. The likenesses 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 likenesses prevail since both wines are from Bordeaux. Just like Merlot, it depends on where Malbec grows that determines blackberries, plums, and mild tannins.
Look under the Portugal section, and you’ll find a bottle of Alicante Bouschet. It’s a rare grape that’s red. Like Shiraz, the wine has an intense color and is full-bodied. The regions Alicante Bouschet grows, Alentejo, and Lisboa in Portugal resemble the region where Shiraz grows.
Pinotage is from South Africa. It’s a progeny of Cinsault and Pinot Noir but is nothing like these wines. Like Shiraz, Pinotage is bold but has fruity flavors of plum sauce and black cherries. You’ll even taste licorice and a sweet, smokey tobacco finish. Grown only in South Africa, it even offers an outstanding value for the quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which came first, Merlot or Shiraz?
In the 1830s, the first cuttings of Shiraz arrived in Australia from France by Scottish viticulturist James Busby, the “Father of Australian Viticulture.” In France, during the 1700s, an official Bordeaux made notes about the beginning of the cultivation of Merlot.
Which is Stronger, Merlot Vs. Shiraz?
Though some consider Shiraz a medium-bodied wine, it is bolder and fuller-bodied but has less ABV, 10 to 14 percent, whereas Merlot is lighter than Shiraz but a medium-bodied wine with 13.5 to 14.5 percent ABV.
Which is the Most Popular?
Merlot is the second most planted grapevine worldwide, while Shiraz is very popular in Australia. Still, Merlot is a more versatile wine and a beginner’s favorite red.