Written by
Alan Boatright

Malbec vs Merlot: Which One to Choose?

Red wine is usually considered the wine of the riches. However, the two most popular red wines, Malbec and Merlot, are consumed all over the world after Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir.

But what is the major difference between the two famous and delicious wines?

Though both the red wines, Merlot and Malbec are originated in the same manner in France and spread throughout the world after the crop failure. At that time, both Malbec and Merlot came to be known as red wine instead of a blend.

Comparing Malbec vs Merlot

Despite their popularity and similar taste, the wines have a significant difference. Let us find out which wine is the best for you as per the occasion and your taste preference.

Some Facts of Merlot and Malbec Wines

Some Facts of Merlot and Malbec Wines

Let's get your facts clear about the Malbec and Merlot wines.

Grapes Crushed

In Australia 2017, about 125,512 tonnes of grapes were crushed to make Merlot wines. This results in twelve per cent red grapes and seven per cent total crush in Australia.

As far as Malbec is concerned, about 6,554 tonnes of grapes were crushed in Australia. The quantity is lower than Merlot, but Australian Malbec wines quality has improved significantly through sustainable viticultural practices.

Climate Conditions

The variation in flavor of Merlot and Malbec wine depends on the climatic conditions.

Merlot grapes are produced in cooler climates such as Chile, France, or Italy. They contain tannins in a higher amount which offers excessive earthy flavor notes. For a gentle finish, the Australian and California's warmer climates are suitable because of lower tannins.

Malbec grapes prefer sunny climates that of Argentina for fruity and ripe flavors, boasting plum and blackberry notes. The French wine comes with a high level of tannins, darker with improved notes of coffee and tobacco.

Where are Malbec and Merlot Produced?

Where are Malbec and Merlot Produced

Before going into the difference, let's discuss how each wine Merlot and Malbec are produced and spread outside their producing regions.

Merlot

Looking back to 19th century France, Merlot was introduced in the growing region of Bordeaux. Merlot is also known by the name "Little blackbird" because of the dark outer skin of the grape. Merlot grape is one of the well-known second grape, which is rather used to make red wine blends instead of being used alone.

Due to the significant crop blight in 1950-1975, Merlot was not grown in France due to a ban by the government. However, Merlot has already spread its roots globally and became the major grape variety worldwide.

  • France: In the Bordeaux region of France, Merlot is still produced and grown to be consumed alone and as Bordeaux blends. France will always remain the dominant producer that accounts for 2/3rd of the production of Merlot across the world.
  • Portugal/Spain: Nations, including Asia, South Africa, Canada, the United States, and Europe, produce Merlot. You can find Merlot in Washington State and California in the United States.
  • Italy: Italy's Fruili region and Tuscany produce Merlot in significant portion, making it the second leading nation in Merlot production.

Malbec

Malbec Wine is available in numerous grape varieties depending on the region they are produced. French or Argentinian is the most favored place for Malbec wine. Malbec, like Merlot, is initially grown in France; however, its history is slightly complex.

Malbec was also used to make most Bordeaux blends. After the crop failure in France, Malbec revival happened when it was traded through Argentina because of a more favorable climate.

Currently, Malbec is grown in France and Argentina along with other regions:

  • France: France offers about 10,000 growing acres of land devoted to growing Malbec. Now, Melbac is sold as wine blends as well as alone. Bordeaux and Cahors are the central regions where Malbec is grown.
  • Argentina: The country becomes prominent in growing Malbec, devoting about 100,000 acres of land to Malbec grape.
  • California: After Argentina and France, California grows Malbec in great proportion in the areas such as Livermore, Sonoma, Alexandria Valley, and Napa Valley.

Malbec vs Merlot: Major Differences

Malbec vs Merlot Major Differences

Though Merlot and Malbec wines have a lot in common, there are numerous reasons to explain their differences. Here are some of them.

Dryness

Merlot and Malbec wine are both dry wines, which means there is no or less sugar content. It does not make the wine a dinner wine or a dessert wine. But what is the amount of dryness in both wines?

Merlot is considered very dry, while Malbec is moderately dry. That means you can experience a sweet finish with Malbec wine.

Grape Color

The color difference is because of the grape variety used. Malbec grape is produced from a purple-colored grape variety, whereas Merlot grapes come with a blue-colored wine grape variety. Moreover, Merlot is used as both varietals as well as blending grape wines.

Flavor Notes

The taste difference in flavor notes is again dependent on their growing region as well as the method. Both the wines offer cocoa, plum, and vanilla notes.

Malbec contains smoky tobacco and blackberry hits, while Merlot contains savory bay leaf and cherry traces. Malbec wine is also known as more complex, smoky, and leathery wine. You can often find people comparing Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon, which has lower tannins, less complex, and more fruiter wine.

Merlot has more of a ruby red color as it is varietal wine. The velvety and soft plum flavors, along with medium tannins, provides a beautiful finish.

Finish

What is Wine Finishing? It is the lingering notes of flavor that you have after you had your drink. The notes will remain for a long time when the wine has a long finish.

Oak Aging leads to a stronger and longer finish. Both the wines have a short yet pleasant finish; however, the Malbec finish is slightly smokier.

Hue

The red wines differ in appearance. Merlot wine has a lighter hue but a large spectrum. Because Merlot varietal wine has red and purple undertones, which begin from light, medium, to dark red. Overall, the inky and deep hue provides a lighter impression.

In contrast, Malbec wine has intense color or inky violet or red, which seems like an elegant drink to have. The reason for the intense color is the darker and thick-skinned grapes.

Merlot and Malbec: Food Pairings

Food Pairings are essential to understand which type of food goes well with different wine varieties. The food pairing is determined by the finish, tannins level, and tasting notes.

Merlot

You can pair Merlot with many food varieties. The body and flavor notes vary according to the aging method and growing region.

The short finish and pleasant flavors go well with dinner entrees. Some of the Italian dishes like pasta dishes, roasted chicken, and Parmesan are the best combination. If you want subtle flavor notes, you can pair the wine with pizza and quesadillas.

Riper Merlots have bold flavors, which go perfectly with heavy dishes, including chorizo, short ribs, seared salmon, hamburgers, meatloaf, and meatballs.

Malbec

The short finish and flavor notes of Malbec pair well with cheeses and lean meats. The ideal pairing would be of this Malbec wine with skirt steak, flank steak, and sirloin. Another well-known pairing would be pork and chicken. Besides, you can also pair Malbec wine with dark chocolate.

Malbec wine is known for its smoky finish. The smoky flavors of pulled pork or grilled steak enhance the smoky finish of the wine. Furthermore, you can also pair Malbec wine with prime rib.

Malbec and Merlot: Which Red Wine is the right choice for you?

Any wine lover cannot get enough of both wines. Both are easily accessible and widely popular. Malbec is more prevalent in Argentina, while Merlot is now grown throughout the world.

If you go with the budget, Malbec and Merlot wines are incredibly affordable. In comparison, Malbec is available at an even more affordable price than Merlot.

There are unlimited Merlot varieties for sheer variety, while Malbec has famous Argentina and French wines.

Merlot Is the Right Wine for You

If you want to taste a subtle and pleasant wine with fruit flavors, Merlot is your best option. The Fruit notes make it widely accepted as you can pair it with most dishes from cheese sandwiches to pizzas.

Also, if you never had a taste of any wine types, Merlot is the best to start with. Though the wine has approachable flavor notes and lighter hues, it can also give you riper flavors with darker shades. That is how its fruity flavor blends well with the dryness.

Malbec Is the Right Wine for You

As mentioned before, Malbec gives you more appearance of an elegant red wine that contains deeper smoky notes with cocoa, plum, and vanilla. Malbec is the most complex wine compared to Merlot wine.

Malbecs are most used for formal occasions that go well with various meat cuisines. The best thing is Malbecs are grown in only a few regions, making it easier for you to choose.

Both the wines, Malbec Merlot, are superior in terms of texture, taste, and finish. It depends on what taste do you prefer. You can go for a wine tasting to know your preferred taste. Note down the flavors, whether the wine is full bodied or not, or what tannin level it contains.

Make sure to judge the wine taste only after it has settled down to understand its full complexity.

Recommendations for Malbec and Merlot

Recommendations for Malbec and Merlot

By now, you have understood how Malbec and Merlot wine differentiate from each other. Let's look at the best recommendations of each Merlot and Malbec wine.

Merlot Wines

  • Monticello Vineyards Merlot Estate Oak Knoll: The rich wine boasts rich notes of raspberry and cherry along with mocha, vanilla, and cocoa notes. This is a type of full bodied drink produced in Nappa Valley.
  • Duckhorn Nappa Valley Merlot 2016: Another Nappa Valley Merlot has been inspired by the traditional French Merlots. It has fresh, fruity blends and silky texture, making it one of the crowd-pleaser bottle.

Malbec Wines

  • O. Fournier Alfa Crux Malbec 2010: With a mix of darker fruits, French oak, and smooth tannins, the Malbec wine is available at a reasonable price. It is produced in the Uco Valley, which results in nuanced flavor and bold color to please wine lovers.
  • Bodega Septima Malbec 2016: A delicious wine from Argentina boasts rich and complex notes of violets, blueberry, cheery, which is further enhanced by oak and vanilla. The bottle is barrel is aged for about six months to offer a smooth and balanced finish.

Malbec Merlot Wines

Experience the taste of both Malbec and Merlot in a single bottle of wine:

  • Dry Creek Valley 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon: The wine is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. It features full bodied wine that contains notes of black olive, blueberry, black currant, black cherry, and a touch of espresso, cocoa, and nutmeg.
  • Clos La Coutale Cahors, 2016: The wine is a blend of 20% Merlot and 80% Malbec. It has deep ink color along with some earthy undertones and notes of classic berry.
  • Man O'Wat-Bordeaux Blend, 2010: This beautiful wine delight comes from a vineyard in New Zealand. The blend contains Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Both Merlot grape and Malbec grape are crushed to fermented in batches and cared for regularly. The wine boasts hints of clove, perfume, and crushed berries.

Final Thoughts - Malbec vs Merlot

Being a fan of red wines allow you to enjoy the smooth taste and texture of wine. But, when you have two popular options, which one would you choose? Would you go with a smoky Malbec flavor or the pleasant and subtle flavor of Merlot wine?

No matter which bottle of wine you choose, make sure to have the best food pairing along with that. They can be consumed alone but tastes best when paired with their perfect food type. So, choose your bottle of wine and enjoy a chilled evening alone or with your family and friends.

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