Malbec vs Merlot: Which Of These Powerful Reds Is The Perfect Match For You? - (2022)

Last Updated: October 10, 2022

To make your dinner more than just supper and a bit finer, it is important to tune your wine selection.

And it’s not a one-fit-for-all situation.

Two common contenders for red wine are Malbec and Merlot, which are very similar yet distinct.

The aim of this Merlot vs Malbec comparison article is not to declare a winner, since both of them are the best they can be, but rather to establish which one would be better suited for a particular situation.

Before we dive any deeper, let me state that you don’t have to be a wine aficionado to have a better sense of taste, it is an instinct. If it feels right, then it usually is. But it still pays to know what the social convention is, especially if you’re hosting a dinner.

Let’s get started!

Page Contents

  • Main Differences Between Merlot vs Malbec
  • Merlot
    • Grapes For Merlot
    • How Does It Taste Like?
  • Malbec
    • Where Is It Made?
    • How Does It Taste Like?
  • Comparing Malbec vs Merlot
    • Degree Of Dryness
    • Body Of Wine
    • Tannins
    • Cost Difference
    • Flavor Comparison
  • Comparing The Food Partners For Malbec And Merlot
    • Malbec
    • Merlot
    • Verdict
  • Frequently Asked Questions
    • Which Is Better -- Malbec Or Merlot?
    • How Popular Are Malbec And Merlot?
    • What Do Malbec And Merlot Have In Common?
  • Conclusion

Main Differences Between Merlot vs Malbec

The main difference between Malbec and Merlot that will help you make an informed decision when confounded by the choice:

  • Merlot only has a minor percentage of sugar, around 0.5%, making it a ‘bone-dry wine’ in technical terms, whereas Malbec is comparatively less dry (although both are dry wines).
  • Flavor-wise, Merlot offers a touch of plum and cherry with a hint of bay leaf in the mixture, whereas, Malbec finishes off a smoky (tobacco) effect, while the basic flavor comes from red plum and blackberry.
  • While neither of them is expensive, Merlot is comparatively costlier, averaging about 15 dollars more than Malbec, whereas Malbec is more economic.
  • Although neither of these has a lingering taste, Malbec offers a smoky finish, whereas Merlot does not.
  • Malbec is primarily produced in Argentina and France, whereas Merlot primarily originates from France, but is also produced in Spain and Italy.


To start, let’s explore the pricier of the two options: Merlot hails primarily from France and is a reputable red wine commonly served in dinners and parties.

Though not especially expensive, it may still be a bit too much for regular home use for some (considering the economic situation).

Grapes For Merlot

The grapes used in making this wine are grown specifically in vineyards from Bordeaux. Just to clarify, you can’t just grow perfect grapes wherever you want, there should be some specific conditions that shape their taste and aroma.

In the case of Merlot, the grapes don’t require so much sunlight and instead fare better in the Gallic country’s climate, preferring primarily dry weather for optimal growth.

These conditions are very hard to replicate (artificially), so much so that winemakers in California tried but failed to make the Merlot locally.

It is for this reason that Merlot hails from only a fraction of the world’s wine-producing areas. People living in dry and cool areas may have a greater chance of success trying to replicate the wine, and in some cases, they have, most notably in Spain and Italy.

How Does It Taste Like?

Being sweeter than some other options available in the red wine section (though not the sweetest), Merlot is much easier to consume, and hence a perfect option for beginners as well. Merlot will offer the perfect blend of taste and punch to stimulate your nerves and taste buds.

The wine has a soft touch to it despite being inherently rich, and this is because of the fruit-skins of specially grown Merlot grapes (grown without exposure to sunlight).

You can double up the fun by mixing it up with other species, for instance, the cabernet, and create something unique and powerful.


This entry is produced in both France and Argentina and hails from the same area as the Merlot, Bordeaux – which suggests why the two are so similar, although distinct. However, this variant is more suited for formal occasions and differs from Merlot in terms of taste and finish.

Where Is It Made?

Although primarily a French wine, the Malbec became associated with Argentina later on in history as the country became a competing producer. This was because Argentina happens to have a similar climate to that of France, making it perfect for making this wine.

Today, the Malbec is more closely associated with Argentina than its native land: France.

And although it started as an ingredient for blends, now, Malbec is valued on its own as a separate wine and has developed quite a following.

How Does It Taste Like?

Velvety’ is the word that most tasters use to define Malbec. If you’re unsure what it means, let me clarify: Malbec has adequate tannins and boasts an elegant, rather luxurious end-taste. The finish is smoky due to its tobacco contents, and it lingers for a brief period after you’ve had a sip.

When compared taste-wise, its competitor, the Merlot is sweeter. Malbec is dry, although not as much as the Merlot, and it boasts a mildly acidic touch to it, but the fraction of sweetness it does possess, is because of its fruity contents (the cherries and red plums).

Comparing Malbec vs Merlot

Malbec vs Merlot: Which Of These Powerful Reds Is The Perfect Match For You? - (1)

The Malbec and Merlot differ in several respects and under the following headers, I intend to lay down the facts for you and help you make an informed decision:

Degree Of Dryness

While both of these are considered dry wines, the Merlot is termed as ‘bone-dry,’ making it the drier of the two. Dry refers to the residual sugar content which is low for both of them making them perfect to go along with food but not as a sweet delight afterward.

Both wines boast a sweet touch to them, with the Merlot being sweeter, although other flavors also kick in soon enough, most prominently those of the cherries and plums.

Body Of Wine

A wine’s body is reflected by the feeling of heaviness created in the mouth. If the body is full, it will seem very rich while the inverse will be true otherwise.

Malbec, being a full-bodied wine, delivers a much richer and stronger punch, whereas Merlot does not show this strength because it is a medium-full wine, making it less “richer” – it instead offers a delicate balance between softness and richness.


I briefly mentioned tannins when discussing Merlot, and I will discuss them in detail here. Fruit skins (and sometimes the bark) have certain intrinsic chemical compounds of organic nature, these contain several phenol rings and are hence called polyphenols.

These polyphenols are called tannins in common language, and they affect the tartness of the wine. There is no ideal level of tannins because different people have different preferences for how their wine should taste.

The more the tannins, the more the tartness. For Merlot, the percentage is quite high while Malbec offers an intermediate level of tannins in its mix.

Cost Difference

Okay, let me make this clear: a difference is a difference, big or small, I’ll cover them all.

Moving on to the cost, while both are modestly priced but a difference is still there. It is by no more than around 15 dollars (on average), but Merlot comes at a higher price than Malbec.

The former averages around 40 dollars (although advanced and vintage variants will cost more) while the latter has an average price of 25 dollars.

This is not to say that you can’t find cheaper versions of Merlot or pricier variants of Malbec, but my point is that generally, Merlot is costlier.

To some, this cost difference may reflect the quality standard variance between Malbec and Merlot, but it shouldn’t, because they are two different wines.

Flavor Comparison

It is hard to define the flavors of either Merlot or Malbec, not for the want of proper adjectives, but because of the sheer variety that winemakers have introduced in the market. A wine’s taste is also directly affected by how and where its ingredients were grown.

But generally speaking, both have a hint of sweetness with touches of cocoa, cherries (and berries), plums, and vanilla in the mixture.

Taste Test: Merlot appears to be one of the top go-to wines for food pairings. We have another wine comparison challenge for you to dampen your lips -- .

Malbec vs Merlot: Which Of These Powerful Reds Is The Perfect Match For You? - (2)

Comparing The Food Partners For Malbec And Merlot

Since each wine has a distinct flavor, body, and finish, your choice will mostly depend on the type of dinner you’re planning on having:


Mostly lean meat-based foods like chicken steak tend to go very nicely with Malbec. The same can be said about foods containing cheeses, and this is because of the moderate level of tannins and a brief finish that this wine presents.

All sorts of meaty diets like lamb chops or roasted chicken will perfectly partner with this wine. Moreover, grilled steaks and other smoked foods will perfectly accentuate the smoky finish of Malbec.

In general, Malbec is usually a preferred choice for formal events.


Owing to its versatility and the various configurations it is available in, Merlot can pair up with any number of food types.

Heck, you can even have one with your regular slice of pizza!

You can serve it at a family dinner especially if you fancy Italian dishes (it goes perfectly with them). However, heavier variants will pair up perfectly with protein-rich dishes like meatloaf, salmon, meatballs, and so on.

The point is that since Merlot is available in so many variants, you can easily pick one that suits your dinner plan the best.


A smoky finish and an elegant touch make Malbec a worthy choice for formal gatherings, especially if the menu is based on lean meat-based dishes. However, the Merlot is more versatile and you can pick a variant perfect for virtually all dinner scenarios, even for the weekend pizzas, especially if it is from an Italian restaurant!

Taste Test: Wine tasting isn't over yet...for now! We have another wine comparison for you to have a look at. Proceed to our article here and tell us what you think -- Shiraz vs Cabernet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Got some unanswered questions swimming around in your head? No problem, let’s take a look at ‘em here:

Which Is Better -- Malbec Or Merlot?

Strictly from an objective point of view, it is very hard to say. If someone gives their verdict in favor of one or the other, then some degree of personal preference might be involved because reaching a resolute decision, in this case, is as difficult as it gets.

Both wines are honed by enthusiasts and serve different purposes, so it’s not like they’re competing for the top spot. While Malbec is usually preferred for formal events, Merlot is more versatile and can go perfectly in several scenarios such as a regular dinner at home.

How Popular Are Malbec And Merlot?

When it comes to red wines, you are bound to come across the names ‘Merlot’ and ‘Malbec,’ this alone is enough to suggest that they are very popular.

This is for a good reason, too -- they pair perfectly with several dishes and can lighten up anyone’s dinner table with their distinct taste and, in the case of Malbec, a smoky finish too.

What Do Malbec And Merlot Have In Common?

Merlot and Malbec are more similar than they are different. Though Malbec is more or less associated with Argentina in current times, it originates from the birthplace of Merlot: France. They are both red wines, dry (although Merlot is drier), and are either full-bodied or medium-full.

They are not the same, but very similar.


The differences between Malbec and Merlot can help segregate the two for different purposes, but cannot be used to determine which one is superior or inferior. Merlot is generally pricier, but both are excellent choices and will not fail to appease your tastebuds.

Merlot is more delicate and has a luxurious finish to it, moreover, its versatility makes it perfect for multiple dishes. It will also be a perfect starter for you if you’re not all that into dry wine.

At the same time, Malbec is also just as good, in a different way, most prominently the smoky finish it delivers.

That’s all from my side, let’s hear what you have to say!


Which is stronger Merlot or Malbec? ›

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.

How does Merlot compare to Malbec? ›

What's the colour difference between Merlot and Malbec. 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.

Which wine is sweeter Malbec or Merlot? ›

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.

Is Malbec a strong wine? ›

Malbec wines are often higher in alcohol than Merlot or Pinot Noir. Some bottles contain up to 15% ABV, so watch out for this boozy bottle if you're trying to cut down on your alcohol intake.

What wines are anti inflammatory? ›

Malbec. 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.

What does Malbec pair well with? ›

You'll find Malbec a great match for steak, pork, and lamb, as well as fattier fish like salmon and poultry with dark meat. Game meat—like bison, ostrich, and venison—are also a safe bet. In addition to meat pairings, consider foods with richer sauces or more vibrant flavors.

What red wine is closest to Malbec? ›

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.

Why is Malbec so good? ›

Although this specific terroir is great for a few, full-bodied reds, none grow as well as the tenacious Malbec. Characterized by dark fruit, warm spice, pepper, and tobacco flavors, combined with round textures and a velvety finish, drinking a glass of Malbec is truly an experience.

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 stronger than cabernet sauvignon? ›

They have a similar amount of alcohol, but Malbec is sweeter. Their flavors differ significantly. Cabernet Sauvignon usually has a consistent flavor. However, the flavor of Malbec is different based on the country its grapes are grown in.

Is Malbec better than Pinot Noir? ›

Malbec is the meatier of the two varieties, offering structure and tannin to the blend. Conversely, Pinot Noir is more aromatic, giving perfume to the wines. When properly balanced, Malbec and Pinot Noir blends can exhibit plums and violets on the nose, with classic red-berry and dark-raspberry flavors.

Is Malbec stronger than shiraz? ›

Malbec also tends to come in a little higher on the alcohol level than Shiraz – but this varies. Some new world Shiraz such as Australian Shiraz can contain up to 16% alcohol, which is very strong for a red wine. Flavor-wise, Shiraz is a bit more complex than Malbec, with its smokey, pepper-like finish on the palate.

When should you drink a Malbec? ›

5) Food & aromas to pair Malbec with

Malbec wines tend to pair well with strong flavors. Pair Malbec with red meat, steaks, or burgers. With roasted or grilled chicken or poultry. Avoid pairing Malbec with delicate flavors.

Is Malbec a good wine for beginners? ›

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.

What is the smoothest drinking red wine? ›

With that basic understanding of not too tannic and not too acidic, sommeliers know just the right wines for anyone asking for something smooth. Dustin Wilson, master sommelier and owner of Verve Wine, considers Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grenache, Trousseau, and Poulsard classic examples of smooth wine.

What red wine gets you the most drunk? ›

Extra High Alcohol Wines

As for reds, these include California Sirah and Zinfandel, Italian Amarone, and fortified Portuguese port. Port Wine can end up with percentages as high as 20%, making them the seemingly most potent wine out there.

Which wine is good for arthritis? ›

Red wine. Red wine contains a compound called resveratrol, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show that red wine consumption is associated with a reduced risk of knee-related osteoarthritis. It can also cut risk factors contributing to rheumatoid arthritis.

Is red wine OK to drink if you have high cholesterol? ›

We do know that red wine contains polyphenol compounds that may lower the bad form of cholesterol, LDL. Moderate consumption of red wine is linked to healthy cholesterol levels.

What is Merlot best paired with? ›

In general Merlot pairs well with chicken and other light meats as well as lightly-spiced dark meats. With medium tannin and not too much acidity you'll find Merlot pairs well with many foods. Juicy, cooler-climate Merlot wines pair well with roasted vegetables.

Is Malbec good for inflammation? ›

Malbec wine is also high in polyphenols, an antioxidant that can prevent cell damage and lower inflammation.

Is Malbec good with red meat? ›

Due to its fruity flavor and bold scent, Malbec is a great choice to accompany a more lean cut of steak, such as a top sirloin or a flank steak. While you can eat Malbec with a fattier cut like filet mignon, its richness may overwhelm the flavor of the meat.

What red wine is closest to a Merlot? ›

List of Wines Similar to Merlot
  • Montepulciano. This wine shares many similarities with our beloved Merlot. ...
  • Red Zinfandel. ...
  • Barbera. ...
  • Sangiovese. ...
  • Cabernet Franc. ...
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. ...
  • Syrah or Shiraz. ...
  • Malbec.
20 Apr 2021

Is French or Argentinian Malbec better? ›

Malbec taste by region

A Malbec from Argentina tends to be plummy and fruit-forward, with a velvety soft texture. In France, Malbec tends to have more structure, firmer tannins, and an inky dark, brooding quality. Buy the book, get a course.

Is Malbec bitter or sweet? ›

Produced in Cahors, the wine is leathery, with flavors of tart, black plum, and savory bitterness.

Is Malbec full of sugar? ›

Malbec: An Argentinian wine that has plum and cherry flavors. It is medium to full-bodied wine is higher alcohol content and, because of that, is low in sugar. Very close to being almost entirely fermented, Malbecs are a dry wine that offers fewer than 1.5 grams of sugar per glass of red wine.

Why is Merlot the best wine? ›

Merlot is one of the world's most popular red wines, and America's second favorite after Cabernet Sauvignon. Known for its soft, sensual texture and approachable style, it's made from red-skinned grapes that can adapt to a variety of climates to produce food-friendly wines in many price points.

Should Malbec be refrigerated? ›

In general, the ideal temperature for full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec is between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. It's the same for fortified wines such as Port, Marsala, and Madeira. Lighter-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Grenache are better served a little cooler than that at 55 degrees.

What red wine will not give me a headache? ›

You can try wines that are naturally lower in tannins, such as white wines in general, as well as red wines from grapes that are typically thinner-skinned and lower in tannins, like Pinot Noir.

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!

Is Merlot a heavy wine? ›

Merlot counts as a full-bodied wine because of its high alcohol content, typically above 13.5%. Despite its full body, a merlot is still easy to drink because of its lower tannin levels.

Is Merlot stronger than Pinot Noir? ›

The flavor of Pinot Noir is stronger than Merlot but less powerful than a Cabernet. Pinot Noir is like liquid silk. It has a lush, velvety texture and alluring berry notes with a hint of mushrooms and tea leaves. You'll notice a medium to high acidity, smooth tannins, and a long, lingering finish.

Is Merlot stronger than Cabernet Sauvignon? ›

Merlot usually has a fruity taste with notes of cherries and blackberries. Cabernet Sauvignon-wines tend to be more tannic and more powerful than Merlot wines, and these two types of wine can have vastly different flavors due to their different composition.

Why is Pinot Noir the best? ›

Pinot noir has the highest concentration of the highly touted antioxidant resveratrol,” Benjamin Appleby, top sommelier at Abe & Louie's in Boston, told The Daily Meal. “It is pretty easy to make the case for pinot noir being the healthiest choice among red wines.”

What is a Malbec similar to? ›

Malbec wine is a deep purple-red that is nearly opaque, similar to Syrah and Mourvedre.

Do you refrigerate Malbec after opening? ›

Store wine in a cold, dark place.

Wine oxidizes more slowly at colder temperatures. Place your open, re-corked bottles in the refrigerator (or a dedicated wine fridge if you have one). If you don't like the taste of cold red wine, remove the wine bottle from the fridge about one hour before serving.

Is it better to drink red wine in the morning or at night? ›

While many drink wine in the evenings to let go after a busy day, drinking it in the morning can help you start things off with less stress. Another thing you can try if you meditate is adding a glass of wine to your morning meditation routine to further enhance its calming effects.

Is Malbec good for your heart? ›

Malbec, a smooth red wine with notes of blackberry and chocolate, has high levels of antioxidants and has been linked to both heart health and immune health.

What is the easiest red wine to drink? ›

Top Red Wines for Beginners
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet is many people's entry point to red wine simply because it's the most widely planted red grape. ...
  • Merlot. If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you should try Merlot next. ...
  • Shiraz. ...
  • Zinfandel. ...
  • Pinot Noir. ...
  • Gamay. ...
  • Garnacha. ...
  • Petite Sirah.
26 Aug 2021

Whats the most popular red wine? ›

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most popular red wine. It only takes opening one delicious bottle to understand why. Its full body, prominent tannins, moderate acidity and dryness perfectly complement fruity overtones of blackberry, black cherry and plum.

Is red Malbec sweet? ›

Though not considered a sweet wine by any stretch of the imagination, Malbec is high on the red wine sweetness chart. This full-bodied red is often produced in warm climates, using highly ripe grapes. Malbec boasts fruity flavors, such as plum, blackberry, and vanilla.

Is Merlot a strong wine? ›

Merlot counts as a full-bodied wine because of its high alcohol content, typically above 13.5%. Despite its full body, a merlot is still easy to drink because of its lower tannin levels.

Is Malbec a heavy bodied wine? ›

Malbec is a full-bodied red wine that grows mostly in Argentina. Known for its plump, dark fruit flavors and smoky finish, Malbec wine offers a great alternative to higher priced Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Which is stronger Malbec or Cabernet? ›

They have a similar amount of alcohol, but Malbec is sweeter. Their flavors differ significantly. Cabernet Sauvignon usually has a consistent flavor. However, the flavor of Malbec is different based on the country its grapes are grown in.

What does Malbec pair with? ›

You'll find Malbec a great match for steak, pork, and lamb, as well as fattier fish like salmon and poultry with dark meat. Game meat—like bison, ostrich, and venison—are also a safe bet. In addition to meat pairings, consider foods with richer sauces or more vibrant flavors.

Why is Malbec so popular? ›

One reason why Malbec is so popular, is because it is produced in 7 different countries: Malbec is most commonly grown in Argentina, due to the declining growth in France, with 76,000 hectares of vineyards. France has the second largest coverage of Malbec vines, with 15,000 hectares.

Which red wine is the smoothest? ›

  • Bordeaux Blends.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Malbec.
  • Merlot.
  • Pinot Noir.
  • Red Blends.
  • Sangiovese.
  • Syrah/Shiraz.

What wine is the strongest to drink? ›

Port Wine can end up with percentages as high as 20%, making them the seemingly most potent wine out there. It is said that some wines can go up to 21%, depending upon the individual bottle of wine.

What does Merlot pair with? ›

In general Merlot pairs well with chicken and other light meats as well as lightly-spiced dark meats. With medium tannin and not too much acidity you'll find Merlot pairs well with many foods. Juicy, cooler-climate Merlot wines pair well with roasted vegetables.

Can diabetics drink Malbec wine? ›

Most people with diabetes can drink alcohol, including wine, as long as they do not have another medical condition that makes drinking unsafe. Wine may even offer some protective health benefits in small quantities.

When should you drink Malbec? ›

These wines are usually ready to be consumed about 12-15 months or so after harvest. While the flavors and aromas will continue to change, the overall mouth feel of the wine will be about the same.

Which red wine is the boldest? ›

Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps the most well-known heaviest-bodied red wine from France. It is loaded with a fruity taste combined with cedar and pepper flavoring. Syrah has flavors ranging from thick red velvet cake to dark pitted olives.

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