Pinot Noir vs Merlot

Published April 21st, 2022

For all wine lovers, Pinot Noir and Merlot are two of the most popular red grape varieties. Both produce excellent red wines, widely appreciated by critics and consumers. Although they originate from France, they are both considered international varieties as they are grown all over the world.

They are very rarely mixed together and are often seen as antagonists, due to their very different characteristics and probably also because of the popular Pinot Noir vs Merlot quarrel started by the award-winning film Sideways.

Where the grapes come from

There is no certainty about the origins of Pinot Noir but it has been grown in Burgundy since 1000 AD, and this region is its chosen homeland.

Its name, which means “black pine”, probably derives from the shape of its cluster, similar to a pine cone.

Of French origin, like Pinot Noir, Merlot was born in the Bordeaux area, where it is used in the classic Bordeaux blend, and the first documentation on this grape dates back to 1800.

Its name most probably derives from the blackbird, perhaps due to the similarity of the color of the grape with that of its feathers, or because Merlot grapes are generally the first to ripen, therefore the first on which the blackbird feeds.

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Grapes appearance and viticulture

Pinot grapes love cold climates with a strong climatic excursion that helps to develop acidity and finesse of aromas. It does not have problems with maturation. On the contrary, sometimes, an excessive accumulation of sugar in the berries can result in a high alcohol content which can ruin the natural elegance of the wine. Despite being grown all over the world, it is considered a difficult grape as the results can vary considerably depending on location.

Merlot grapes are among the most widely grown red varieties in the world, as they are fairly easy to cultivate and grow well in both warm and cool climates. They thrive in calcareous and clayey soils which can balance the risk of excessive plant nutrition.

Wine varieties and Tasting notes

Pinot Noir is an eclectic grape variety. It can be successfully vinified in white, red or rosé and can be used in blends or for varietal wines. Since it can be strongly influenced by the terroir, climate and production techniques, Pinot Noir can produce very different wines with the most disparate prices.

Its most famous wine is Champagne, obtained through white vinification. Here Pinot Noir can be used alone or blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Vinified in red, Pinot Noir creates wines characterized by fruity aromas of raspberry, blueberry and cherry. Earthy and spicy notes appear when the wine is aged in wood, while herbaceous aromas are often present in Pinot Noir from cool climates. The color of Pinot Noir is always light and the wines are soft, elegant, and velvety, with low acidity and tannins.

Thanks to its softness, Merlot is often found in blends with other more exuberant grape varieties, first of all Cabernet Sauvignon. The extraordinary complementarity between these two grape varieties gives life to the famous Bordeaux blend. But due to its versatility, Merlot is quite adaptable to different climates and can therefore create different wine styles.

Merlot wines from the New World tend to be sweeter and more tannic with a characteristic dark fruit intensity of blueberries, black currants, and plums. They are powerful and juicy.

Wines produced in Europe or the Middle East tend to be more Bordeaux-style. They are less tannic and with a stronger acidity. The sweet notes are less evident and the fruit is red (cherries, rhubarb ...). They are intense and extremely elegant.

Food pairing

Pinot Noir is extremely food-friendly. It is the perfect red for fish, especially meatier ones like tuna or salmon. Poultry, especially when roasted, as well as duck, guinea fowl, or partridge are excellent with it. And it also makes a delicious pairing with mushrooms, truffles, and even Chinese cuisine.

Food pairings with Merlot wines, instead, will depend on the style of the wine. New World wines, with their intense fruitiness and firmer tannins, will need juicy red meat, such as grilled steak, or tenderloin. The Bordeaux-style Merlots will go perfectly with lasagna, pasta with meat sauce, or some delicate meat stews.

Our conclusions on the quarrel Merlot vs Pinot Noir

We have seen how both Pinot Noir and Merlot are popular red grapes and can produce high-quality wines. The best examples can age and evolve in the bottle for more than 20 years. Both wines are quite food-friendly but while Pinot Noir, with its lighter body, is more suited to white meats and fish, Merlot works better with red meats.

Merlot tends to be slightly more popular due to its more accessible character which also makes it a good choice for wine beginners.

Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is generally highly regarded by wine experts due to its complex nature, and can be a good choice for white wine drinkers who want to try their hand at reds.

Our suggestions: Greywacke Pinot Noir and Cotarella Montiano