Shiraz vs Merlot: A Comprehensive Guide For An Effortless Wine Selection

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Last Updated: January 20, 2021

In our aim to provide your wine exploration for every holiday season a kickstart, we now go through different wine-tasting techniques and learn more about the subtle difference between Merlot vs. Shiraz.

So…

Let’s get you all the help you need in identifying the wines’ origin, characteristics, food matches, alternatives, and the comparison between these two wines. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be able to taste and evaluate different kinds of wines like a pro. 

Our in-depth understanding of what makes each wine unique. This knowledge will also help us choose the most suitable one for us, and together let’s all welcome the season and celebrate it with a toast.

Main Differences Between Shiraz And Merlot

The main differences between Shiraz and Merlot are:

  • Shiraz has an intense flavor, ranging from fruity to spicy, whereas Merlot has this soft, plummy taste.
  • Shiraz has low-alcohol content, ranging from 10% to 14% only, whereas Merlot has high-alcohol content of 13.5% to 14.5%
  • Shiraz has high-tannin content, whereas Merlot contains fewer tannins.
  • Shiraz has a dark red, almost opaque color, whereas Merlot has a light red color.

Understanding The Hows And Wines

Familiarity with specific wine aspects will allow better choices from a wide variety of them a lot easier and heighten your enjoyment. Although, in essence, wine is only liquid that came from fermented fruit, its production came in two different stages:

  • Viticulture: The process of growing the grapes
  • Vinification: The process of making the wine

Both processes result in variables that affect many different aspects of wine, including its color, taste, etc. Each grape variety reacts to several factors depending on how the grapes grow, contributing to a wine’s specific characteristics. The climate type and soil condition combination yielding all these wine-producing grapes are also equally crucial.

Talking about a wine’s taste means so much more than just its flavor. It also involves the aroma, body, and texture, making the overall wine tasting experience subjective because wines have varying appeal for different consumers.

  • Some wines will be delectable for casual drinkers, and the more sophisticated ones will like other wines better.
  • Some will like it young and fresh while some others prefer a vintage wine.

Grape is the thin line between land and wine, and what makes it easier to classify and make sense of the hundreds of different types of wine that exist. The following sections of this article will walk you through the grape variations, Shiraz and Merlot, and how each will make an extraordinary appeal to your palates.

All That You Need To Know About Shiraz

shiraz - dark red color

The Origin

The first crucial thing we need to know is that Shiraz and Syrah are precisely the same! Although depending on the origin, the wines they produce can have different styles. Lighter wines come from the old-world Syrah, while decadent, full-bodied wines come from the new world.

Rhône Valley, France, is the home to the great grape variety Syrah, which now grows in different countries, including Australia, California, Washington, Italy, and Spain. The grape variety coming from France is what most people refer to as the old-world Syrah. On the other hand, the one coming from Australia is what people know as Shiraz.

Its origin started around the 18th century, where it once was and still is the principal red grape variety. Some claim that Syrah also came from “Syracruse” – a powerful city in Sicily during the ancient Greek times in 400 BC.

It was a discovery through 1999’s DNA typing where people found out that Syrah was initially the offspring of the Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche grape varieties. Some consider it an extraordinary pairing since these two ancient varieties were never prevalent on their own, and there was no genetic connection between them.

Grape Production And Characteristic

Full-bodied, bold, with black fruit and pepper spice, and a hint of smokey aroma are the characteristics that define Shiraz aside from being famous for its dark color. It is flavorful in the opening palate, but it ends with a softer finish.

Regardless of the common perceptions on this grape variety’s varying taste profile, the truth is, it is dependent on the region and climates where they grow. 

Those that grow in warm climates yield lush, juicier, and fruit-forward characteristics with soft tannins. The grapes coming from cooler climates have more acidity, bolder tannins, and spices with earthy elements. 

Vintage wines have vanilla and baking spice flavors. They are naturally leaner and tastier than the non-vintage wines. Since these grapes have thicker skins, it is a common practice for winemakers to soak them in the cold from days to weeks at the longest. This process is also known as maceration, which enhances the wine’s color and softens the tannins.

Nutritional Facts: Alcohol & CalorieContent

It is no secret how wine drinkers will use any excuse just to have that glass of wine. But here are some nutritional facts you need to be aware of for those fond of or planning to binge on a few glasses of Shiraz: 

Shiraz has 14.5% alcohol content, 84 calories per serving, and 3.79 grams of carbs.

Generally, fortified wines or those that taste naturally sweet have higher residual sugar and, therefore, have higher carbohydrates.

Best Food Matches

In wine-food pairing, you should keep in mind that it’s all about domination and intensity. Foods generally have more components than wine depending on the ingredients and cooking method, so the rule of thumb is to consider the most dominant food element when matching it with wine.

A mature beef brings out the fruitiness in a vintage Syrah, and the gentle spices in Moroccan dishes also work well with it. Shiraz is an excellent bottle to have with earthier red meat dishes, and it will complement the following meals:

  • Baked beans
  • Red beans with rice
  • Barbecued brisket
  • Beef bourguignon
  • Prime rib
  • Roast
  • Short ribs
  • Burgers
  • Chops
  • Curry

When drinking Shiraz, it is best to avoid seafood like sole, shrimp, or lobster, delicate, and too sour dishes.

Shiraz Alternatives

If you like Shiraz/Syrah, you will also enjoy the following wines:

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape
  • Nero d’Avola
  • Priorat
  • Toro
  • Zinfandel

All That You Need To Know About Merlot

merlot - light red wine color

The Origin

Aside from its name’s French origin that means “little blackbird,” Merlot is also a large and thin-skinned red grape from France’s Bordeaux region. This grape is comparatively effortless to produce, which makes it famous among wine yielders. However, it only grows well in a few California places because its vines require certain vineyard conditions.

Some of these conditions include a cool climate, well-drained soils conducive to slow, even growth and ripening. All these contribute to having an excellent grape production.

Wine producers do not encourage growing Merlot grapes in less optimal conditions because it will only yield wines that lack flavor concentration. It might still be appealing for those who look for something easy to drink, but then it falls short of Merlot’s true potential.

Merlot’s Global Production And Its Distinct Characteristic Based On Region

The number of regions in which it grows is one of the many reasons why Merlot is a prominent grape worldwide. Here are the regions that successfully grow Merlot grapes and the distinct characteristics the wine has for each of them:

  • Bordeaux is home to Merlot grapes. The region has limestone-rich soil that can yield grapes with more robust flavors. Outside this region, they grow Merlot throughout France’s southwest and often blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Tuscany is famous for Merlot grapes that are slightly larger and with lesser harsh tannins. They often feature Merlot as a varietal wine or blended with other varieties.
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia considers Merlot as the most-planted red grape in the region. Their produce has nuances of anise, spice, stone, and more.
  • California has warm-climate regions like  Napa Valley that can produce round and smooth grapes. A lush, fruity profile with hints of sugary spice, vanilla, and fresh oak are distinctive Californian varieties.
  • Washington wine producers combine the best of the New World and the Old. It results in Merlot’s luscious cherry flavors with a tinge of fresh acidity and a tannic bite.
  • Chile has top-quality Merlot grapes that are equivalent to the fruity, bold California varieties.
  • In Australia, the intense fruity notes and woody flavors are the Merlot variant’s standard identifiers. Currently, most of the country’s grape growers are still learning the best regions for growing Merlot grapes.

Taste Profile

Merlot’s red wine has that distinct flavor related to Cabernets’ but softer and ages more quickly. It is full-bodied and has a milder acidity than some grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon. Most wine consumers find it an all-time crowd-pleaser because, in the battle between Merlot vs. cab, Merlot has lesser tannic, making it easier to consume.

When you grow it in an ideal condition, it has the potential of being a very intense wine. 

Furthermore, Merlot can also adapt and take on the character of its location and winemaking process. Its taste varies from that of blackberries and herbs to cocoa, black cherries, and plums. It also has a tinge of vanilla and cedar when aged in oak.

Nutritional Facts: Alcohol Content, Calories, And Carbs

The region where it came from determines a Merlot’s alcohol content. The climate influences its ripeness, and in turn, the ripeness affects its alcohol levels. Those that came from cooler regions have 13.5% ABV (alcohol by volume,) while those from warm climates have 14.5% ABV.

Merlot has lesser or no sugar at all as a typically dry wine, but it does not mean that it is without calories. There are approximately 625 calories in every 750ml bottle of Merlot. If it comes with residual sugar, Merlot will most likely have carbohydrates or carbs but very minimal.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Choosing Between Syrah Vs. Merlot

Which Is Better, Shiraz Or Merlot?

It will be a smart idea for wine tasting newbies to have varying options and be more adventurous with their choices. Both are great wines, Shiraz, and Merlot, but the better one will always depend on personal preferences.

Merlot is a more suitable drink for newbies, and it is affordable. Syrah may not be an excellent choice for those who don’t know a lot about red wines. It has a dark fruity taste, and the French ones are costly. The good thing about Syrah, though, is it works so well for balancing out the flavors in grilled meats and cheeses.

Is Shiraz Wine Sweet Or Dry?

With Shiraz having lower alcohol and higher tannin content, you can expect it to leave a dry mouthfeel. It is also not as sweet as a Merlot wine.

What does Shiraz taste like?

Depending on where it grows, Syrah can have various aromas and flavors that are spicy, smoky, fruity, floral, and meaty. It needs no other grape to complement its flavors and is often a wine blend with Grenache and different varieties.

Key Takeaways

Always keep in mind that the best wine is the one that can perfectly balance all its flavors. 

Red wines are famous for all their health benefits but choosing one among the different types can also be daunting. 

Understanding the main differences between Merlot and Shiraz will not only save you a lot of time, but it will also give you the edge in picking the most suitable wine for you.

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