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Pinot Noir vs Merlot: A Thorough & Fair Comparison Of Two Fine Wines

pinot noir & merlot wine comparison - featured image

Last Updated: June 10, 2024

Merlot or Pinot Noir?

Sometimes, the indecisiveness can be nauseating, especially if you’ve scrutinized dozens of wine labels and yet can’t seem to find your way to a resolution any better than you could at the beginning.

It happens, and... 

I too remember the time when I was learning my way around red wine and it was not easy.

But I’ll make it easy for you and help you make the decision!

Both of these reds are equally impressive, but you will be better off with one in certain situations and the second one in others.

This comparison is not meant to compare the qualitative score of these two contenders, I only wish to share my expertise regarding when should you go for one or the other.

Let’s get started!

Main Differences Between Pinot Noir vs Merlot

Before we dive any deeper, here’s a summary of the difference between Merlot and Pinot Noir:

  • While both are red wines, they have distinct tastes, Merlot is fruity and soft, whereas Pinot Noir offers smoky flavors with an earthy effect.
  • Merlot best pairs with meat-based dishes, whereas Pinot Noir couples perfectly with spicy foods – this, of course, is an oversimplification of a general trend.
  • Merlot has a low acidity level, whereas Pinot Noir is a bit acidic, not too much but more than Merlot.
  • As for the body, Merlot is full-bodied, whereas Pinot Noir is light-bodied.


The first contender in this Merlot vs. Pinot Noir has its roots in the Gallic heartland (the other one also hails from France) and is a well-reputed red wine, often served with a hearty dinner at family gatherings, parties, and other get-togethers.

Some may consider it a bit excessive for regular use, as it is fairly priced when compared to a couple of other red wines, but it is not generally expensive.

It is brewed from a special variety of grapes grown in Bordeaux. You can’t grow these grapes anywhere you wish. No two vineyards are the same, they all present a different set of environmental features, for the vines, known as terroir.

The conditions for growing these grapes are so specific that even the most talented winemakers of California failed to produce the original wine locally.

Based on these conditions, the aroma and taste of the grapes will be unique, in the case of Merlot, the brew should be sweet although not excessively. After all, Merlot is not a dessert wine, it is meant to go hand in hand with your dinner.

If you’re not much into red wines, you won’t have much trouble washing down your pizza with this one as it is sweet and soft-bodied, perfect for newbies.

It is often mixed up with other red wine species like the cabernet to produce an elating blend of taste not found anywhere else. However, even on its own, Merlot is as excellent as red wines can be.

Pinot Noir

Moving on with the Pinot Noir vs. Merlot comparison, I present to you the other contender which happens to be one of the most versatile red wines in the business.

With so many varieties and regional versions of this wine present on any retailer’s shelf, it is no wonder that you can’t go wrong dining and wining with one of these.

It offers mostly fruity tastes that have captivated fans and critics alike, much like the Merlot, it is easier to drink than some other red wines.

If bonded correctly, Pinot Noir is bound to double up the fun of your dinner, and perhaps you can even impress your date with your knowledge of wine tastes and selection. Its fruity flavor is not exceedingly sweet, making it a dinner companion just like Merlot, and not a dessert wine.

Comparing Merlot & Pinot Noir

bottle of merlot

Merlot and Pinot Noir share several similarities as I mentioned when discussing them one by one, but they do differ, and in the following sections, I will pin them against one another to find out how they stand. The three parameters are taste, food pairings, and cost.

Let’s find out:

Taste Comparison

When comparing Merlot vs. Pinot Noir, taste-wise, it is important to understand that this will be a more or less general comparison because it is impossible to go through all of the excessively abundant regional varieties.

Pinot Noir

To start, Pinot Noir has a strong fruity flavor and differs even visually by having a lighter color than Merlot. The wine also boasts a medium acidic punch, which in some cases may be highly acidic, at least more so than Merlot.

Overall the flavor is dominated by cherries, plums, raspberries, and the slight effect of either moist earth or tea leaves.

Having a smoother feeling and lesser tannins, the wine creates a distinct taste and texture. But it does have a higher alcohol content than some other red wines (not Merlot), keep this in mind before you lose yourself to the partying spirit.


In contrast, Merlot offers a low acidic profile and an overall sweet taste. Blueberries, blackberries, plums, and herbs all combine to create a signature taste and feel. Visually, it has a darker shade than Pinot Noir, and its alcohol content is also higher.

You have to be careful with high alcohol intake, but a glass or two is fine.

It couples perfectly with cabernet to produce milder blends, and it doesn’t age when stored in bottles, so you can rest assured, that the taste you love will not change even after a considerable time.

Pairings With Food

There is no better or worse when it comes to this clash of the titans but you will have to pair certain dishes with one and others with the second. If you get it right, the experience will be worthwhile, but things can go south if you mess up.

Let’s see how they differ in food pairing:

Pinot Noir

It is perfect for a romantic dinner, especially if you’re going for a spicy platter. The rich fruity flavors won’t clash with those of compatible dishes. If you plan on having some grilled fish, especially salmon, or sushi, they will pair perfectly with chilled Pinot Noir.

You can also wash down chicken steaks or lamb with a glass of this red diva.


The second one fits perfectly with red meat like lamb and beef. Cheese also couple perfectly with Merlot, meaning that your pizza will go down just fine with a glass of it. You can also pair it with several Italian dishes.

Poultry, salads, pasta, and steaks will also form the perfect partners for Merlot.

Cost Comparison

While neither of these two is technically expensive, as they are not luxury wines, Pinot Noir is comparatively pricier. Of course, Merlot is not cheap either, but the blended varieties will cost more.

If you plan on having a high-end dinner for a special occasion, Pinot Noir may be more appropriate. However, this is based only on the price factor, you also have to consider the taste and feel.

Taste Test: You could have been jumping from one wine comparison article to another for the last hour or so and might feel tired with much information overload! We'll help you relax a bit and point you to a new topic that many wine fans -- especially those who are on the learning curve -- are unfamiliar with. Read here and learn more -- Unfortified vs Fortified Wine.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have some questions, nearing the end of this Merlot vs. Pinot Noir comparison, then hopefully this section will clear them up:

Is Pinot Noir better than Merlot?

No, both are equally impressive. These two wines have their fanbases and one side would be offended if I declare the other one the victor. That’s for a good reason, both of these are excellent wines, and they are not even the same thing. They cannot be compared qualitatively because they are both unique.

Which red wine is the smoothest of the lot?

By far, Pinot Noir is the smoothest red wine and is perfect for newbies as it feels light on the tongue and has a pleasantly sweet taste. It is also easily accessible, so that's also a major plus.

Are Pinot Noir and Merlot dessert wines?

No, they are not.

How can we differentiate between different types of red wines?

Red wines may either be full-bodied, medium, or light. In all cases, it depends on the feeling they produce and is directly correlated with the level of tannins. High-tannin wines are full-bodied, whereas the opposite is true for low-tannin wines. The more tannins, the tougher the wine feels on your tongue, generally, light-bodied wines are the easiest to drink.

Bottom Line

So, which one will it be for you: Merlot or Pinot Noir?

Since both are highly acclaimed red wines, the decision will largely depend on your personal preference. Based on what you’re having for dinner, and the occasion, you may find one more suitable than the other.

Then there’s the economic question.

Whatever choice you make, if you pair it well with your platter, you’re sure to have a worthwhile experience. Just remember, you can find all the flavors you love for pretty affordable rates too, so the price tag should not be a deterrent.

That’s all from my side, if you wish to share any insights of your own, feel free to do so in the comments section, and I’ll check them out. Peace!

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