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Blind Tasting Cabernet vs Merlot is Hard! (Video)

Written by Madeline Puckette

Learn the real differences between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this fun tasting challenge. Grab a glass and follow along!

You never know when it comes to Merlot!

Can you tell the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in a blind tasting? It turns out, it’s not that easy!

Tasting Clues on Cabernet vs Merlot

In this tasting, identifying the Merlot was difficult. Here are some blind tasting clues that I use:

  • Merlot tends to become more garnet or orange-hued on the rim of the color (even when young). This is one of the biggest clues you have when comparing Cabernet with Merlot.
  • Cabernet tends to have bolder, more structured tannins and a longer finish.
  • Both Cabernet and Merlot can exhibit pyrazines, so don’t let this clue fool you!

What We Tasted

Photo of Gibbs Three Clones Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley

Gibbs “Three Clones” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
  • pH: 3.73
  • Total Acidity: 6.4 g/L
  • RS: 0.5 g/L
  • Alcohol: 14.7%
  • Price: $32

Look: Super concentrated deep red with some turbidity. The rim is more pinkish than garnet.

Smell: Smells like black cherries, cocoa powder, graphite, licorice, baked plums, and subtle hints of violet.

Taste: Big, full-bodied red with burst of cherry and blackberry fruit which leads into refined, medium tannins towards the back-middle of the palate. There are some hints of bitterness (in the realm of dark chocolate). Overall, alcohol tastes really well integrated with the flavors, which means it’s well balanced.

Photo of Shafer 2014 Merlot from the Napa Valley - with Wine Folly

Shafer Napa Valley Merlot 2014
  • Actual blend: 78% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • pH: 3.55
  • Total Acidity: 6.3 g/L
  • RS: 0.4 g/L
  • Alcohol: 15.3%
  • Élevage: 20 months in 75% new 225 liter French oak barrels (Allier and Tronçais)
  • Price: $55

Look: Super concentrated deep red with a slightly more garnet tinge on the rim.

Smell: On the nose, more forest berries like blackberry and black currant that are wrapped up in an herbaceous hint of bell pepper (pyrazines). All these fruity and herbal notes are somewhat shadowed on the back of the aroma with a pretty strong presence of oak flavors (including baking spices and allspice), as well as a subtle creamy flavor which makes me think I’m smelling the yeast they’re using.

Taste: On the palate, this is a massive Merlot. Tannins are more present towards front of the tongue and moderately rough. The acidity tastes moderately low; these must have been pretty ripe grapes. On the finish, there are lots of oak flavors like sweet tobacco and brown sugar, as well as the burn of alcohol. To me, this wine tastes less balanced than the other one.

Written byMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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