Carménère vs. Merlot

Jonas Muthoni

Carménère often gets confused with Merlot because of the similarity of the grape varieties they both are made from. Both are red wines and share similar body structures hence the confusion but are there any differences between them? If yes, then what are they?

We have researched and tried both wines to compare them and bring the similarities and differences they share. All the grounds from the origin, the grape variety they are made from, and the best food pairing is covered in this article. We are sure that there will be no confusion left in your mind after reading this blog.

Carménère vs. Merlot

Let us discover both of them and look at the critical differences between Pinot Noir and Merlot.

1. Origin and Grapes

Carménère wines have unique aromas of raspberry sauce, cherry, green peppercorn, and granite minerality. This grape variety was initially from France but has since found favor in Chile’s Central Valley, grown with gusto. This grape has a fascinating heritage in Chile, with it being initially mistaken for Merlot. Once DNA tests confirmed Bordeaux’s long-lost carménère, the grape became known worldwide as Chile’s red grape. The vines prefer hot, dry days, perfect for growing in Chile. It is occasionally grown in other regions like Italy, China, Argentina, and New Zealand. You can find Carménère wine with fruity red berries aromas and tart flavors of raspberries with a subtly bitter taste similar to kale.

On the other hand, Merlot is one of the most popular red wines and is easy to grow. Its primary roots are also from a place in France called Bordeaux, and it stands in the second position of the largest cultivated wine grapes. The grapes have a dark blue color with thin skin, less tannin and acidity, and high sugar content. It has been cultivated since the 17th century. Merlot wine grapes are easy to grow; they do not need much effort for cultivation. They can be grown in both warm and cold climates, and the most suitable soil for their growth is limestone and clay soils. This is one of the reasons why this wine is so affordable compared to other wine varieties.

2. Tastes and Flavors

Carménère is quite similar in terms of body and texture to Merlot.

Carménère is a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with unique aromas of tobacco, leather, dark fruit, bell pepper, and chocolate. It has a mouthfeel of medium acidity and tannins with plum, raspberry, blackberry, peppercorn, green bell pepper, vanilla, and spice flavors. This wine can have a lingering, bitter finish, similar to cocoa powder. Its cheaper alternatives are often harvested too early and have bitter-solid characteristics. It is often blended with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to balance any bitterness.

See Also

Merlot is a soft, medium-bodied wine with a charming mild taste of blackberries, blueberries, plums, and pomegranate with some herbal flavors. It is low in tannins and acidity, smooth and soft. Its most loved blended variants are Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, producing something for your palate that is not meant to express in words but taste and live it!

Carménère vs. Merlot: Tablular Comparison

Category Carménère Merlot
Appearance It has an intense red color, and its name refers to the changing color of the leaves in autumn. It has a much darker color, and this deep ruby color comes from the blue-colored grapes in it.
Aroma It has the aromas of fresh and unique scents of raspberry sauce, cherry, green peppercorn, and granite minerality. It often smells like cherries and cocoa and has a background smell of herbs and spices.
Sweetness Usually, it is a dry, medium-bodied wine with medium acidity, silkiness, and sublime tannins. It is low in sugar, meaning it comes under the drier side and not the sweet side. Just because it has a dry side does not mean that it is not sweet. It does have notes of ripe fruits like plums and cherries.
Alcohol  It has an elevated alcohol level – up to 14-15% ABV. It has 13–14% ABV from cold places like France but can reach up to 14.5% when grown in warmer climates in Chile and Australia.
Aging Potential It has an aging potential of up to 15 or so years. It is best enjoyed between 7-17 years of production.
Cost The average price can vary from $12 – $40. Merlot is less expensive, but the blended ones may cost more. The price can vary from $8 – $50.
Food pairings It goes well with foods like meaty dishes such as lamb with mushrooms, pork, tacos, turkey, beef, pasta with meat sauce, and grilled chicken. It goes well with poultry, pork, red meat, pasta, salads, beef, and lamb.
How it can be used? It is used to drink when you want red wine, which is an excellent option to pair with your dinner. This wine is perfect in both its monovarietal version and as a blend. It can be used in cooking if you need a light flavor of the wine in your dish.


Carménère originally had its roots in France, but then producers of Chile started to grow and produce it. Sometimes it is mistaken for Merlot because of its similar body and flavor profile. The medium to full-bodied red wines can exhibit ripe fruit flavors like plum and berries and pair well with meat. Both wines have a softer tannin structure, making them suitable for blending with wines like cabernet sauvignon. Carménère tends to have a more herbaceous flavor than Merlot, with a bitter finish.

The two wines sometimes end up blended in red wine blends. Both of them are unique yet hold some similarities in some ways. Also, check the key differences between Malbec and Merlot.

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