Updated: May 15, 2020
Undoubtedly the two most popular wines we sell here at The Leafy Elephant, these two red wines appeal for very different reasons but how much do you know about them and can you tell them apart? Let’s find out…
Q: Which one is known for having a thick skin?
A: It is the Malbec grape that has the thick skin compared to the relatively thin skinned Merlot grape. The result is that Merlot matures a lot earlier than Malbec, Merlot is considered an early riper and Malbec a more mid-ripening grape. As a result, Malbec needs more sun and heat to ripen but Merlot can easily over ripen so it is not as easy to grow as many people think.
Q: Which one is grown predominantly in Argentina?
A: An easy one here, Malbec has become synonymous with Argentina with now over 75% of all Malbec grown in the region. It is also grown in South West France and in USA to an extent but with its often low yield and longer ripening, it is not common. That is unlike Merlot, which is grown all over the world. From Central Europe to Canada and Italy to Chile, this versatile grape is the most grown grape variety there is.
Q: What is the difference in grape colour?
A: Merlot is a dark blue grape variety with a thin skin whereas Malbec is a more inky dark purple grape variety.
Q: One takes on black cherry flavours and the other red cherries, but which one is which?
A: This is a trick question to an extent, sorry! The reason is because it depends which region the wine is grown in. Malbecs grown in cooler climates take on more black cherries and in warmer climates you will find more blackberries and blueberries. The other predominant flavours you will get from a Malbec are plum, raisins and raspberries. Merlot takes on red cherries but blackberries are still there. You will also get mulberry and some floral and herby notes like pine and rosemary.
Q: Which one has a higher acidity?
A: It is in fact the Merlot that has higher acidity and that is due to the earlier harvest time than Malbec, especially with a ‘Bordeaux style’ Merlot. This early harvest leads to a softer and more medium bodied wine compared to Malbec which is a more intense wine with more violet style aromas and plum taste. Merlot is your velvety, soft, easy drinker, Malbec your punch in the face with flavour red wine. Pick wisely!
Q: How do you tell them apart in the glass?
A: With difficulty and you need some good light. However, your Merlot is more transparent than your Malbec and look at the rims for the give-aways. Your Merlot has a orange, almost brick coloured rim and your Malbec is more magenta and purple hued.
Q: How are you serving each of them?
A: This is one to use to impress your friends at home. They both serve at the same temperature range which is just below room temperature at 60-65oF. The trick for this is just pop your bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving and it will be perfect!
In the bar we have an amazing Argentinian Malbec called Finca del Alto from the Mendoza region. That region is hot so the wine is more blackberries than black cherries and it is full bodied. Our Merlot is from California where they let the grape ripen for slightly longer than in France so you will get more fruity notes than floral notes, a higher alcohol content up at 14% but still that velvety soft finish.