We like all kinds of red wine—especially paired with a big plate of pasta—but Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon actually vary somewhat drastically.

Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon come from different red grape varieties which give the wines their names.

  • Malbec grapes are one of Argentina’s primary grape varieties, although they originated in France. The early-ripening grapes are small and juicy with very dark skins.
  • Used for blending into other wines and making their own wine, Merlot grapes grow in France, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Like Malbec, Merlot grapes mature sooner than Cabernet, and they also have a higher sugar and alcohol content than the other two grapes.
  • Like the other grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is a small, dark grape, but it has thick skin. This gives it strong flavor and a darker color. It also ripens later than the other two grapes.

Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon have different levels of flavor and different amounts of acidic and tannic tastes.

  • Malbec has a sharper, more tangy flavor compared to the other two wines, so it tastes thinner. Argentine Malbec also has the smoky or spicy quality associated with wine that spends time in oak casks.
  • Merlot is a step up from Malbec in terms of smoothness and richness. It has a fuller and less fruity flavor than Malbec.
  • Although Cabernet has a more tannic flavor than either Malbec or Merlot, it also has depths of flavor that make it richer. Because it’s high in tannins, Cabernet ages for longer than the other wines, and its flavors mellow, growing more robust.

Choose which wine to serve with your meals based on your own preferences, the flavors of the wines, and traditional food and wine combinations:

  • With its lighter taste, Malbec works well with spicy foods like Mexican enchiladas or tacos, and teriyaki or tomato barbecue sauces. It also pairs with foods as varied as minestrone soup or pizza.
  • Merlot balances any red meat, including steaks, pork chops, or burgers with its acidity, but it also brings a strong flavor that stands up to rich fried foods or hearty bean-and-sausage casseroles.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is your wine of choice for a special steak dinner when you want to serve the best of everything.

Tips

Your last few sips of Cabernet Sauvignon taste great with chocolate cake for dessert!