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Marketview Liquor Blog

What Is the Difference Between Merlot and Pinot Noir?

Merlot and Pinot Noir are two popular wine varietals, and anyone from sommeliers to casual drinkers equally enjoys the fruity, bright and intense structures.

Consider this your guide to Merlot vs. Pinot Noir for beginners. While we can’t promise that you’ll be able to discern one wine from another with the expertise of a connoisseur, you will be able to recognize what makes each of these wines unique in their own right.

By familiarizing yourself with the taste difference between Merlot and Pinot Noir, as well as the acidity, body, color and aroma, you’ll be able to confidently order your preferred choice at any gathering and make informed and personalized recommendations to your friends.

Characteristics of Merlot

The Merlot grape has a red skin and can grow in a variety of climates. The tannin structure and acidity will reflect the conditions in which the grapes were grown and when they were harvested. This allows wine drinkers to enjoy a wonderful variety of Merlots with complex flavors and depth.

The Merlot grape has a red skin and can grow in a variety of climates.

Tannins: Medium to High

Tannins provide structure, contributing to how a wine tastes and feels in your mouth as you are sipping it. When it comes to the tannin difference Merlot and Pinot Noir wines offer, you’ll notice slight changes depending on the type of Merlot you are enjoying. There are two methods used to create the beloved wine.

The international method requires the grapes to be harvested later in the season, allowing for a sweeter Merlot with significantly developed tannins. This variation of Merlot creates the signature full-bodied pour.

However, the Bordeaux Style calls for the grapes to be picked early in the season. This changes the color of the wine and produces a low tannin count. As you indulge in the soothing aromatic bottle, you’ll notice that a lower tannin count makes this variation of Merlot feel silky and possess fruit-dominant flavors. In general, Merlots will have a mid to high tannin structure.

Color: Semi-Transparent, Deep Ruby

Red wines, although categorized similarly, can range in the color scale. From hues of pale red to a deep purple, you’ll find wine that represents every color. Merlot is crafted using a black, thin-skinned grape, creating the iconic ruby red that sits right in the middle of translucent and opaque. Merlot is a significantly deeper red than its Pinot Noir counterpart, adding another notable difference pinot noir and merlot wines have from one another.

If you are served a glass of wine but are unsure whether you’re holding a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, you can tell by the rim. The difference in Merlot and Pinot Noir wine color in the glass is that Merlot will show reddish-orange tones along the rim. Merlot wine will change as it ages, losing some pigmentation and vibrancy.

The difference in Merlot and Pinot Noir wine color in the glass is that Merlot will show reddish-orange tones along the rim.

Body: Medium-Full

The term “body” refers to the weight the wine holds in your mouth. For example, a full-bodied red will be noticeably richer and weighty. When a sommelier compares the body of Merlot wine vs. Pinot Noir, their assessment once again depends on when the grapes are harvested.

Most Merlot structures, however, will fall between medium to full body. If you’re choosing a wine based on Merlot vs. Pinot Noir alcohol content, this is one element that will come into play. As a full-bodied wine, the alcohol content for a typical Merlot will measure around 13%. Merlot is often recommended for white wine drinkers because it carries a similar airy body that carries a refreshing fragrance. Even with a full body, the lower tannin levels make Merlot easier to drink for red wine beginners.

Bouquet: Fruit and Herbs

Every wine features a symphony of aromas and flavor combinations that make drinking it an enjoyable experience. Every sip tantalizes the taste buds and plays at the nose with smells that stimulate your senses. Aromas are influenced by the environment in which the grapes are grown.

Merlot will serve you a diverse bouquet of dark and red berries, plums, cherry, clove, vanilla, herbs, cocoa, tobacco and earthy scents. On your next sip, close your eyes and try to distinguish each element and how they come together to create a cohesive aroma.

Acidity: Low to Medium

Wines with high acidity will be noticeably tart with a citrus element that plays on the tongue. Those with low acidity will be softer and creamier. Merlots that are cultivated in a warm climate will be fruit-forward, with low acidity and slightly sweet. Merlot is a well-balanced wine, and the acidity for most bottles will stay within the medium range.

Merlot is a well-balanced wine, and the acidity for most bottles will stay within the medium range.

Flavor: Mild to Intense

Merlot has a unique composition of flavors. When comparing Merlot vs. Pinot Noir tastes, you’ll get a range of fruits, wood and herbs. The main difference between Merlot and Pinot Noir flavors is the intensity. Merlot can vary from mild to intense, with a medley of cherry, raspberry, strawberries, plum, blueberries and blackberries.

You may also detect notes of chocolate, herbs, black pepper and earthiness. The best Merlot will have layers of these characteristics that seamlessly blend together and complement one another.

Strength: Moderate to Intense

Merlot is considered to be a relatively intense wine. With moderate tannins, acidity, body and aroma, it is smooth yet lush with flavor. However, the greatest indicator of Merlot’s strength is the climate of its origin. When a Merlot is produced in warm environments like CaliforniaChile, or South Africa, the end product will showcase greater intensity, sharp scent and darker fruit flavors.

Merlot was originally crafted in France, where the climate is significantly cooler. For varieties that are grown in cooler environments, such as ItalyFrance and New Zealand, the Merlot will be juicer with a burst of refreshing fruity berries. So while you may be wondering what the difference is between Merlot and Pinot Noir, you should also take into account the significant differences between bottles of Merlot.

Finish: Silky

With a lower tannin structure, Merlot offers a silky smooth finish regardless of the climate it comes from. Merlot has a signature smoothness that leaves a velvety finish on your tongue. Even so, it leaves behind a delightful mellow ending after each sip.

For individual bottles, you should taste lingering minor notes of earthiness, herbs and spices. Other wines will feel heavier when sitting in your mouth, whereas Merlot will maintain its light weight while sipping and in its aftertaste.

Characteristics of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a French name that truly describes the essence of this fine and elegant wine.

Pinot Noir is a French name that truly describes the essence of this fine and elegant wine.

“Pinot” refers to the Fresh term for “pine cone,” which is a reflection of the succulent cluster that grapes grow in, resembling a shape similar to a pine cone. “Noir” is the French word for “black,” which describes the remarkably dark color of the Pinot Noir grape. Upon first glance, you can get a sense of what to expect from a Pinot Noir in terms of flavor, color and tannin.

Now that you can identify the pallets and aromas served within a glass of Merlot, you can get a sense of other Merlot and Pinot Noir differences. From learning which one is fruitier to comparing the tannins and acidity, you’ll see there are many disparities that separate these two wines.

Tannins: Low

Pinot noir is one of the most popular wines in the world, partially due to its low tannin structure. Again, this particular wine is often recommended to white wine drinkers or those who don’t usually drink wine. The low tannin levels make this wine easier to drink while pairing well with many dishes.

The difference between Pinot Noir vs. Merlot tannins is absolutely tangible when comparing the two. Merlot rests notably on the tongue, whereas Pinot Noir will be lighter with a gentle coating. Grapes that are picked at the beginning of the harvesting season will have a lighter color, more active acidity and crunchier tannins. Grapes picked later on will result in a richer color, high alcohol content and silkier tannins.

Color: Transparent, Pale Ruby

Color is a small indicator of flavor, aroma and sweetness. At first glance, the untrained eye will hardly see a difference between a Pinot Noir vs. Merlot in terms of color. However, Pinot Noir is a lighter hue than Merlot, which is a deep velvety ruby. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is paler and more transparent.

As beginners to red wine ease from white to rosé to reds, Pinot Noir is often introduced as the first recommendation. The fewer tannins and bright flavor make the transition into drinking red wine enjoyable.

Body: Light to Medium

Pinot Noir is a refreshing wine to drink because it holds just enough weight on your tongue. With every sip, you’re left with a light and fruity aftertaste. While many wine enthusiasts prefer to leave their reds for the winter, Pinot Noir is so bright and airy that it easily becomes a summer staple. The lower tannins and lighter color indicates a higher acidity with a sharp, bubbly and citrusy effect on the tongue.

Pinot Noir is a refreshing wine to drink because it holds just enough weight on your tongue.

Bouquet: Berries and Spice

Every kind of grape has its own unique taste and scent, giving the world hundreds of options to choose from. Between private family-owned wineries, vintage labels and mass-produced wines, you can try several similar batches, and they will taste noticeably different.

In the case of Pinot Noir vs. Merlot wine, both boast aromas of flavorful berries. However, the dominant aroma will vary in every pour. On a specific scale, your nose will pick up scents of red and black cherries, raspberries, blackberries, currants and even tomatoes.

Along with the traditional fruit base, you’ll notice floral scents of violet and rose petals, and a light oak of vanilla, sweet wood and coconut. Some herbs and spices that are paired with a Pinot Noir grape include rhubarb, oregano, green tomato, beetroot, black olive and green tea. The Pinot Noir vs. Merlot taste difference and tannins are two of the biggest factors that will help you decide on what to buy.

Acidity: High

One major difference between Merlot and Pinot Noir wines is in the acidity. Along with sweetness, tannin and body, acidity contributes to a wine’s overall structure. The acidity gives wine its tartness. Merlot is rich, heavy and is on the lower side of the acidity scale. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is very high in acidity.

With a lighter body and higher acidity, Pinot Noir shines with light and fresh red berry flavors. The amount of acidity combined with the other structural elements make this wine perfect for light meals and earthy flavors.

Flavor: Complex and Dry

Luxurious crafts of Pinot Noir will provide an eclectic variety of flavor and intensity. With a fresh, ripened grape, the strength of the spices brings a welcomed balance that grounds the bold flavors. Among the most common flavors of Pinot Noir, besides fruit, you will find mushroom, tomato, cinnamon and earthy notes. 

There are also even more subtle notes that a trained pallet can detect. The soft hints of the wine’s terroir will float through, leaving tones of earth, truffle and meatiness. This is another characteristic that levels the diverse and sweet flavors that typically dominate the bottle.

Strength: Moderate

In general, Pinot Noir is a light and refreshing wine. Comparing the complexity and structure of Pinot Noir vs. Merlot dryness and strength, the former is significantly brighter and less intense. The flavors, aromas, acidity and tannins all contribute to the strength of a wine.

The flavors, aromas, acidity and tannins all contribute to the strength of a wine.

In terms of alcohol content, the difference between a Merlot and Pinot Noir is not far off. A typical Pinot Noir rests between 13-14% alcohol content.

Finish: Long and Aromatic

Even the best wines can be ruined by a distasteful finish. Enjoying a delicious wine only to dislike the aftertaste is disappointing to say the least. Fortunately, Pinot Noir is an elegant wine that has a balanced yet distinguishable flavor during and after every sip.

Unlike heavier red wines, Pinot Noir is light-bodied and allows the layers of aromas to shine so that every element can shine through. While enjoying a glass, you’ll notice a long and smooth finish that remains light and easy on the tongue. Wines with higher tannins and bolder flavors will coat your mouth. Pinot Noir is much sharper and brighter.

Merlot Compared to Pinot Noir: How to Pick Between and Differentiate the Two

As you browsed through this article, you probably noticed some distinct similarities and differences. However, the true contrasts and similarities are best understood when these two wines are placed side by side. From Pinot Noir taste vs. Merlot flavors to what foods they best pair with, here is a complete breakdown and ranking to help you choose which bottle best suits your personal palate.

Merlot vs. Pinot Noir Health

You’ll often hear that drinking a glass of red wine can contribute to better overall health. However, the articles that circulate this information every few years don’t always explain which types of red wines offer these benefits. Fortunately, both Pinot Noir and Merlot have antioxidants that help to balance your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Both Pinot Noir and Merlot have antioxidants that help to balance your blood pressure and cholesterol.

In terms of Pinot Noir vs. Merlot healthier compounds, Pinot Noir stands out just a little bit more. It contains more resveratrol, which is the element that works to lower blood pressure, improve brain health and optimizes your body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Merlot vs. Pinot Noir Nutrition

Many people track their calories and carbohydrates, and their choice of alcohol is no exception. Since most wines have a significantly higher sugar content than other types of alcohol. Each barrel of wine will vary slightly in their nutrition, so a precise account of the nutritional facts won’t be exact. Regardless, here is the breakdown of Pinot Noir vs. Merlot nutrition.

One ounce of Pinot Noir contains: 

  • 24 calories
  • 0.7 carbs
  • No fat
  • No vitamins

In comparison, 1 ounce of Merlot contains: 

  • 24.4 calories
  • 0.7 carbs
  • No vitamins 

Pinot Noir vs. Merlot Alcohol Content

For many wine enthusiasts, the alcohol content is a big factor in deciding which brand and type of wine they drink. The difference between a Pinot Noir and Merlot in terms of alcohol content is minimal. Both tend to range from 5.5% to 15%, but on average, they will fall between 13% and 14.5%.

Pinot Noir vs. Merlot Sweetness

Not everyone enjoys a dry wine, though many reds are on the drier side. So, when you are comparing Pinot Noir vs. Merlot, which one is sweeter? Unfortunately for those who prefer a sweet wine, neither of these wines are what you are looking for. Although both are great recommendations for introducing someone to red wine, they are significantly dry.

If you do favor a dry wine, though, then both will please your palate. When comparing Pinot Noir vs. Merlot dryness, the former is slightly more earthy and dry, and the latter is just a little bit sweeter.

What Is the Difference Between the Shelf-Life of Pinot Noir and Merlot?

Merlot only has an age-ability of three to five years, while Pinot Noir is two to 18 years.

Anyone who drinks wine knows that there is an expiration date on every bottle. And while a standard bottle size serves a generous portion to one person, there is a timer that immediately begins upon popping the cork. Some wines are only good on the same night that they are opened, while others can last for a few days before developing a vinegary taste.

The Pinot Noir and Merlot difference in age-ability is vast. Merlot only has an age-ability of three to five years, while Pinot Noir is two to 18 years. The difference in Merlot and Pinot Noir storage is similar. Red wines in general should be stored in a cool, dark place. Although Merlot will last up to four days once opened, due to its higher tannins. Pinot Noir will usually last around two days.

Experience the Flavor and Intensity of the Best Merlot and Pinot Noir at Marketview Liquor

From deep, robust reds to sparkling rosé, Marketview Liquor has a delightful and diverse range of exquisite wines that will fit every palate and preference. Now that you know what the difference is between a Pinot Noir and Merlot, you can put your skills to the test. 

Our extensive catalogs of Merlots and Pinot Noirs allow you to choose your wine based on your personal taste.

Filter through our selection by choosing your price range, year, alcohol content or region right from the comfort of your couch. Indulge your senses by browsing our Merlot wine or Pinot Noir selection, and order your first bottle online today!

Experience the Flavor and Intensity of the Best Merlot and Pinot Noir at Marketview Liquor. Shop now!