Merlot vs Shiraz: What are the Main Differences?

Wines come in different colors, taste, aromas, and varieties. But the most popular choice among them all is red wine.

Red wines will always be found on the wine rack of every genuine oenophile, and this is all thanks to the great red and juicy grapes grown in different regions around the world.

These red grapes age exceptionally well, and a majority of these remarkable wine collectibles are red with the exception of Riesling and Sauternes.

Red wine is also distinctly heavier than its counterpart, the white wine. However, this does not imply that the former contains more alcohol than the latter. And, two red wines that we’d love to compare are Merlot vs Shiraz, so let’s get started.

Main Differences Between Merlot vs Shiraz

The main differences between Merlot and Shiraz are:

  • Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine more suited to newer palates, whereas Shiraz is a more robust wine suited to more sophisticated palates
  • Merlot is not sugar-sweet even though they have a sweet fruiter taste (fruit flavors), whereas Shiraz are more full-bodied and intense
  • Merlot alcohol content ranges from 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent, whereas Shiraz has more of a range, from 10 – 14 percent. 

A Little More About Choosing Reds

Red wine, when taken in moderation, is nourishing and generally good for your overall health. A natural component that is found in most red wines – known as resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grape skins – contributes significantly to the complete reduction in the risks for cancer, heart disease as well as other disorders. This is probably one of the reasons why wine lovers drink “to one’s health.”

The “red” which is the most predominant color in red wine comes from red or purple grapes. But do you know that red wine can also be produced from white grapes? That may be a bit surprising, but it is true.

Red wines contain a lot of tannins which is primarily responsible for the distinctive bitter flavor. The more tannins a particular red wine has, the more bitter it is. Tannins are natural preservatives and almost certainly plays a role in making red wines to age exceptionally well.

There are different brands of red wines out there. But in this article, we will be taking a look at Merlot and Shiraz, two of the most loved – and well-known – grape varieties in Australia in particular and the wine universe in general. Both Shiraz and Merlot are dark-skinned grapes that produce flavorsome and clearly distinct wines that express striking features and characters.

But what makes these wines different? What are their individual characteristics that make one different from the other? The notable differences between these two juicy and vibrant grape types are what you will learn in this write-up.

Let’s dive in right away!

Merlot

Merlot – meaning “little blackbird” in French which refers to the color of the grapes – is a dry, red wine that is primarily composed of dark-blue hued grapes which are commonly cultivated in Italy, France, Washington, New York, Chile, Spain, Romania, Portugal, Australia, Mexico, California, and a host of other countries around the world. This red wine came to light in France during the latter part of the 18th century. Merlot is one of the well-known wine grapes across the wine universe – and the entire world – and only comes second behind Cabernet Sauvignon, that is in terms of planting. It is a fleshy and delicate grape with thin skin that ripens early, and this unique characteristic makes it ideal for blending or coalescing.

In the beginning, Merlot grapes were explicitly used as blending grapes with the later-ripening, sterner Cabernet Sauvignon – which has high tannin content – because of their softness. Wine experts in California, however, started experimenting and producing wines composed purely of Merlot grapes. This was sometime in the 19th century.

Wines that are produced using these lush grapes are not only easy-drinking, light, and juicy wines but also full of fun and far different from Cabernet. This is as a result of its complete absence of tannic bitterness. Merlot grapes are relatively easy to grow in warm, cold, and medium climates – which is probably responsible for its wild popularity – making it significantly less finicky than Pinot Noir. Merlot also thrives exceptionally well in Bordeaux where it is, of course, the most wildly-planted non-citrus fruit.

Merlot wines are not sugar-sweet even though they are generally sweeter in style. The sweetness, however, originates from the fruit itself. They are also dark-red colored varietal wine with fruity, yet delicate elements floating within along with a medium-bodied palate. Heavy notes of cedar, currant, plum, chocolate, and berry flavors are often characteristics that this low-tannin fermented beverage leaves in your mouth.

Other vegetable notes associated with Merlot include cola nut, green olives, fennel, rhubarb, hummus, and tobacco. Some floral notes – e.g., mint, rosemary, oregano, sarsaparilla, thyme, pine, black and green tea as well as sage – are also usually associated with Merlot.

The velvety, soft, gentle, and smooth mouthfeel makes Merlot wines a drink for the inexperienced to take their first sip – and dip – into the wine universe. The acidity of this dry, red wine also stays in check at all times.

Although Cabernet’s relatively bold nature is preferred by a lot of wine enthusiasts, Merlot dry wines smoothly glide past the palate. Some grapes are also incredibly good for blending – e.g., Cabernet Franc, etc. – and are hardly ever used as 100% varietal wines. But this is not the case with Merlot as it is a grape that is not only used as a blended wine in the majority of Bordeaux wines but can also make great varietal wines. When Merlot is blended with French and Cabernet wines, the end products are mellow-bodied wine blends. However, California has several unblended Merlot wines, and these are getting popular almost on a daily basis.

Merlot blends and varietals can be paired excellently well with almost all kinds of food such as pizza, chocolate, tuna, chicken dishes, steak, and spaghetti with Bolognese sauce. Softer and fruitier Merlots – which exhibit high acidity from exceptionally colder climate regions such as Northeastern Italy and Washington State – match remarkably well with salmon, chard, radicchio as well as mushroom while the lightweight or light-bodied variety make brilliant pairings with prawns, bacon, prosciutto, and scallops.

Merlot doesn’t pair well with blue-veined cheese – and other strong cheeses as well – because they can subdue the fruit wine flavors of this alcoholic beverage. Moreover, the capsaicin present in most spicy foods can give prominence to the perception of alcohol in this dry, red wine thereby making it taste as if it has more tannins than usual and decidedly bitter.

A few of the wine regions in Australia where the Merlot grape flourishes well include Wrattonbully, Barossa Valley, and McLaren Vale. Merlot grapes also thrive well in New Zealand, especially in Marlborough, Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, and Martinborough.

Merlot is also similar to varietal in excellent wines such as Château Pétrus as well as every other significant growth of Pomerol. St-Émilion, a neighbor to Pomerol that is situated on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, uses Merlot – up to 90 percent – in its wines. Another château – i.e., Cheval Blanc and Premiers Crus Ausone – also use at least half Merlot in their wines as well.

Merlot red wines mostly contain anything from 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent alcohol, though this depends primarily on where the grapes are grown. And as mentioned earlier, its low tannin levels make it one of the red wines with a negligible bitter taste. Fewer tannins – which invariably makes Merlot unsuitable for prolonged aging – implies that it can be harvested and drunk earlier than other wines in the same class.

To enjoy the optimal flavor of Merlot, make sure it is served at 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some of the best selling Merlot wines in the market today include:

  • Tisdale Merlot
  • Copper Ridge Merlot
  • Salmon Creek Merlot
  • Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Merlot
  • Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Merlot
  • Crane Lake Merlot
  • Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot, etc.
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Shiraz

Shiraz is a dark, full-flavored, and ripe thick-skinned grape which is used to produce intense, full-bodied, and bold wines aged on oak. After harvesting, these grapes undergo a process known as “cold soaking” in which they are submerged in freezing water for several days or weeks, depending on the wine producers and their planned results.

The cold-soaking process amplifies the sweet, berry notes of wine grapes appropriately while significantly tempering the effects of its harsh tannins. The method also helps to minimize Shiraz’s stunning dark magenta color as well as its notable opaque pour.

Old-World Shiraz that is derived from Sicilian or Greek grape ancestors contains more earthy and highly robust flavors such as blackberries, tobacco, and black olives while the New-World Shiraz – most reputably the incredibly world-famous Shirazes from Australia – render notes of black fruit jams, cassis, acai, and mocha.

These wines contain medium plus to incredibly high levels of tannins along with medium plus acid. The grape has roots in France where it was christened with the name “Syrah.” However, when the grape was taken to Australia, its name was changed to “Shiraz.” These dark grape blends remarkably well with several other varieties of grapes when it is fully ripe.

The wines are heart, dark, dense, and more masculine than Merlot wines. They are also sophisticated in nature. The taste of Shiraz wine usually varies depending significantly on the grapes that were used in the production of the alcoholic beverage. They also exhibit herbaceous, earthy flavors of leather, coffee, boysenberry, eucalyptus, clove, licorice, blackberry, truffle as well as black pepper, all of which are pretty evident in its energetic and overpowering palate.

Shiraz – which is produced in California, Australia, Washington State as well as in the classic homes of some of the best wines in the world, Rhône Valley, France – is a versatile wine that can be opened anywhere and at any time, thus allowing wine enthusiasts to have a go at its tannic and robust flavors. Some factors – which include the region where it is produced as well as the age of the wine – contribute to the many characteristics that Shiraz wines are known for.

For instance, in Australia, wines that are produced with grapes which are cultivated in the northern areas have spicier flavors along with more vibrant colors than wines produced from grapes that were nurtured in the southern regions of the world’s smallest continent.

Shiraz wines are also categorized as a red wine since they present most characteristics of the same including pairing well savory dishes and meats. This is also attributed to the high fruit flavor profile of the wine which most Thai or Indian foods – known for being incredibly spicy – cannot overpower. In fact, Shiraz wine will help to accentuate the taste by allowing the spice to shine through in such dishes.

Shiraz makes excellent matches by pairing with the following foods:

  • Ratatouille
  • Pulled or slow-roasted pork
  • Spicy stir-fries
  • Grilled sausages and hamburgers
  • Spare ribs and barbecued chicken
  • Turkey or lamb shawarma, etc.

Shiraz does not require blending with any other grape in order to complement its flavors. Nevertheless, it is often blended with Cabernet in Australia while in the Southern Rhône, it is usually part of a blended wine with Grenache as well as other varieties.

Wine enthusiasts have also alleged that the Australian version of Shiraz is conspicuously sweeter while the French version is spicier. Shiraz has an alcohol content that ranges from 10 percent to 14 percent and its high tannin levels contribute considerably to its dry taste. It pairs remarkably well with meat but can be consumed with almost any food.

Some of the best Shiraz wines out there include:

  • Two Vines Shiraz
  • Snoqualmie Shiraz
  • Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz

A Bottle of Merlot vs Shiraz

So, what is the difference between Merlot and Shiraz? One of the most significant differences between these two red and dry wines is in the taste. Merlot has a fruity, feminine, and soft flavor which goes brilliantly well with nearly all foods.

On the flip side, Shiraz portrays a strong and powerfully masculine taste mixed with berry and spicy flavors. This wine is best paired with meat, even though it can also be consumed with any other food in the absence of a bottle of Merlot.

Additionally, Merlot has an alcohol content that ranges from 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent while Shiraz has an alcohol content that ranges from 10 percent to 14 percent. Furthermore, Merlot has a much lower tannin content compared to Shiraz, and this is primarily why the latter has a much more drying effect on the mouth compared to its counterpart.

In terms of appearance, however, Merlot is a light wine while Shiraz is exceptionally dark.

The Health Benefits of Red Wine

Red wine is the product of the fermentation of grape skins and seeds, thus making them extremely high in plant compounds that play significant roles in promoting your overall health. These grapes are rich in antioxidants which include resveratrol, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and epicatechin.

Flavonoids – especially the anthocyanin compound – which gives this variety of wine its vibrant, red color, also promote overall health.

The following are some of the health benefits of drinking red wine

It Helps in Boosting Up Good Cholesterol

Red wine has been proven to help in increasing the levels of good high-density lipoprotein cholesterol which is associated with low rates of cardiac or heart-related diseases.

According to a small study that was carried out recently, adults were made to drink a minimum of two glasses of red wine every day for four weeks. Another set of individuals who were also part of the study were given plain water or water laced with grape extract over the same period.

At the end of the test period, it was observed that there was an 11-percent to a 16-percent increase in the levels of high-density lipoproteins in their bodies compared to the other group of adults who drank water over that same period.

It Combats Depression

Research shows that drinking at least 2 to 7 glasses of red wine every week might minimize depression. The same study also indicates that if you exceed this limit, it can lead to severe or chronic depression.

For the sake of clarity, consuming from 5 to 15 grams of alcohol per day is thought to be okay. And a small glass of red wine contains approximately 9 grams of alcohol.

Red Wine Helps in Reducing Heart Disease Risk

It is widely believed that red wine fueled the creation of the French paradox and possibly explains the puzzle about the French and their high intake of foods which are typically high in cholesterol and fat yet record an extremely low incidence of coronary or any other heart-related diseases.

The notion that there is a negligible rate of heart disease occurrences in France despite their well-known tradition of consuming diets that are loaded with saturated fats due to French’s well-known penchant for red wine holds true, according to research. In fact, red wine has been linked to a 30 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.

It has been discovered that drinking red wine on a regular basis may have a super protective effect on the cardiovascular system, thanks to the presence of flavonoids and other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in red wine. All of these compounds – coupled with the way it affects the gut microbiome – work together to assist in the significant reduction of heart disease risk.

It Slows Down the Decline of the Human Brain

According to several in-depth studies, regular drinking of red wine can help in slowing down the developmental or age-related decline of the human brain. This is partly due to the activity of an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound known as resveratrol. This compound is always present in red wine.

It is alleged that resveratrol seems to contribute to the prevention of the formation of protein particles known as beta-amyloid. These particles play an essential role in the development of plaques in the human brain which are the characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Red wine contains more than 13 times more resveratrol than its white counterpart, and this is primarily because red wine ferments for a much more extended period along with the grape skins, seeds, and stems. One of the most significant causes of inflammation is post-meal spikes in the levels of sugar in the human body, and this usually leads – more often than not – to diabetes.

By taking a glass of red wine with your supper, you will be surprised to find out that your blood sugar level is somewhere around 30 percent lower than if you had eaten your evening meal without a drop of red wine.

Resveratrol also enhances overall health by providing the following benefits:

  • Ameliorate Diabetes: It boosts up the sensitivity of insulin and is seen to prevent severe diabetic complications in animal studies.
  • Relieves Joint Pain: This compound helps in preventing cartilage from getting impaired.
  • Resveratrol May Have Cancer-Inhibiting Properties: Although this is not a conjecture, in-depth studies are still ongoing on the possibility of this antioxidant compound preventing and treating cancer. The results that are presently available are somewhat mixed up.
  • Prolongs the Lifespan of a Variety of Organisms: Resveratrol has also been proven to extend the lifespan of numerous organisms by activating genes that protect against diseases that cause aging. According to French scientists who carried out the research, resveratrol can increase lifespan as much as 60 percent. This antioxidant has also been proven to provide high energy levels. These tests were carried out on living organisms – i.e., worms to be precise – but the French scientists believe that a similar effect can be engendered in humans as well. So, research is still ongoing to determine if this antioxidant will be able to activate a stress response in human cells which could boost longevity.

• Boosts up the Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Human Body: Red wine helps to boost up the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in both plasma as well as red blood cells. Omega-3 fatty acids help in protecting the heart against diseases, and these fatty acids are obtained from consuming fish.

Other health benefits of drinking red wine regularly include:

Prevention of Cavities

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published the result of a study that was carried out in 2014. The results indicated that drinking red wine – i.e., both the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic variety – can help to prevent cavity by destroying cavity-causing bacteria. This result is highly significant because water laced with alcohol could not achieve the same effect.

It Helps in Combatting Damage by Free Radicals

The accumulation of free radicals in the human body over the years play substantial roles in the rapid development of degenerative as well as chronic ailments including:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

The antioxidants that are rife in most red wines help in neutralizing or lessening the effect of oxidative stress by acting as free radical hunters. When they perform in this fashion, they repair any damage that has already been caused by oxidative action. They can also help in preventing further damage by curbing the oxidative reaction.

Antioxidants enhance the immune defenses of the human body which leads to a significant reduction of the risk of developing several chronic health conditions.

Resveratrol has the ability to counteract the actions of free radicals by blocking the multi-step process of the production of cancerous cells, otherwise referred to as carcinogenesis. This includes the numerous stages of the initiation of a tumor, promotion as well as progression.

Red Wine Promotes Liver Health

Modest consumption of wine was not only discovered to be safe for the liver, but it could even reduce the risk of an ailment called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. On the other hand, the intake of liquor or beer could drastically increase the risk of this liver disease by at least four times.

Red Wine Can Help in Curbing Your Allergies

Although this claim may sound somewhat strange or odd, it is, however, legit. A recent study which involved almost 80 individuals who took red wine over a specific number of days, revealed that one of the antioxidants in red wine – called flavonoids – can help in reducing both asthma and allergy symptoms. However, research is still ongoing to further substantiate this claim about the efficacy of red wine on allergies.

It Helps in Fighting Weight Gain and Obesity

Purdue University has made it known to the world via a study that was recently published that drinking red wine can help to combat obesity, thanks to the presence of a specific compound that is not only found in grapes but also other fruits like passionfruit, blueberries, etc. The name of this compound is “Piceatannol,” a chemical that bears close resemblance – in chemical structure – to resveratrol.

According to the researchers, the compound, piceatannol, effectively blocks the ability of an immature fat cell to develop and grow. It can also significantly modify the timing of gene functions, gene expressions as well as insulin functions during the metabolic process of the fat cell.

Reduces the Risk of Cataracts

Studies have also shown that the resveratrol, as well as other antioxidants in red wine, can help to prevent blindness. Another study which was conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine revealed that resveratrol in the red wine prevents the unrestrained growth of blood vessels in the human eye. It is also responsible for preventing diabetic retinopathy as well as age-linked macular degeneration.

Resveratrol might also minimize the risk of cataracts by boosting the levels of glutathione in your system.

According to other studies, grapes (and the wines that come from them), green or red or black, can act as a magic bullet in the fight against cataracts.

Red Wine Helps in Preventing Stroke and High Blood Pressure

A report from the Harvard Medical School highly recommends the moderate consumption of non-alcoholic red wine instead of the regular variety. This is because red wine helps in protecting against artery damage, thus lowering blood pressure.

Additionally, the consumption of non-alcoholic red wine elevates the levels of nitric oxide in your blood which is a good development as the compound relaxes the walls of your blood vessels thereby encouraging seamless blood flow. However, a proper diet, as well as regular exercise, are the best options at any time or day.

If you are wondering why the research stresses the importance of drinking “non-alcoholic” red wine, it is because Spanish researchers have stated that the alcohol that is present in regular red wines weakens the ability of the fermented to bring down blood pressure. But such an issue will not be encountered if you drink non-alcoholic red wine.

Lowering stress can also have a mirror effect on your blood pressure, and that is by reducing it as well. Stress is a known culprit when it comes to elevating blood pressure levels but taking a glass or two of non-alcoholic wine at night can help you relax and ease the stress considerably.

It Enhances Bone Strength

The Oxford Academic Journal has published a study which showed that the most active antioxidant in red wine, resveratrol, can significantly improve spinal bone density in individuals with metabolic syndrome. The research indicates that this antioxidant affects the bone positively by stimulating mineralization or formation.

Resveratrol also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties which can also prevent bone loss considerably. It can also stimulate bone-forming cells in the human body.

The Difference Between White Wine and Red Wine

But is there any difference between white and red wine? This is one of the questions that most beginners who are just starting out in the world of wines usually as forums. The primary difference between white and red wine has to do with the color of the grapes used in producing them. Additionally, it also has to do with whether or not the juice obtained from these grapes is fermented with or without grape skins.

Making white wine is relatively straight forward. The appropriate grapes are obtained and pressed. But the seeds, skins, and stems are removed entirely before the grape juice is left to ferment.

On the other hand, making red wine follows a slightly longer process. The red grapes, after getting crushed, are transferred to vats without delay. This is where they will be allowed to ferment together with the seeds, skin, and stems. The grape skins are responsible for the tincture or pigment of the wine in addition to several other distinguishing health compounds present in red wine.

Due to the steeping of grapes along with their skins, stems, and seeds, red wine is predominantly rich in beneficial plant compounds – obtained from the grape skins – such as resveratrol and tannins.

White wine also has a small measure of some of these healthy compounds, but they are not as abundant as those found in red wine.

Several different grape varietals are used in the production of wine, including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Gris. Red varietals are used for making red wines, but white wine can also be produced from either white or red grapes.  for example, the renowned traditional French champagne is produced from the equally popular red Pinot Noir grapes.

Many countries around the world produce wine, though some of these wines are in the first-class range – which make them highly popular and much loved by oenophiles from around the world – while a few others are still inching their way to world-class levels.

Some of the popular wine-producing regions are in Italy, Australia, France, South Africa, Spain, California, and Chile. Even though most of these regions grow more than a few types of grape varietals, some places are particularly prominent and distinguished for a few, such as Spanish Tempranillo, Napa Valley Chardonnay, etc.

Is It True That Red Wine is Healthier Than White Wine?

So, from all the points highlighted thus far in this somewhat comparison article, it should be apparent that the next time you want to drink wine, you will know the type of wine to go for. In other words, red wine far surpasses its white counterpart when it comes to promoting overall health.

Be that as it may, the consumption of alcohol should not be taken as a way or method of improving your health. this article is, in no way, endorsing or promoting the consumption of alcohol with the primary goal of improving your overall health. This is because of the harmful consequences that may occur if you go over and beyond what you should consume within a specific period.

In addition to this, most of the published studies highlighted in this write-up are nothing but purely observational, implying that they cannot demonstrate cause and effect.

That being said, if you enjoy drinking wine, the most apparent and recommended choice is red wine. But you should do your best to limit your alcohol intake as much as possible – or even avoid it altogether – as this is the safest option for you.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Shiraz sweet?

No, Shiraz are known as a dry wine but that dryness will vary depending on what region, or what brand of Shiraz you choose.

Which wine is sweeter, a Shiraz or Merlot?

Merlot wines are sweeter, but they are not sugar-sweet, rather they are fruit sweet, but Shiraz is more robust and masculine in flavors, and is more full-bodied.

Why is Shiraz called Shiraz?

Shiraz originally referred to wines produced around the city of Shiraz in Persia, however, today Shiraz is more of a marketing term coined for the Syrah wines produced in Australia and South Africa (as they are identical).

The Final Sip: Shiraz vs Merlot

You have learned a lot about the differences between Merlot and Shiraz wines. If you are a beginner who is just starting out in the wine universe, the best option that you should go for is Merlot red wine as it is not only soft, velvety, and fruity but also has low tannin content while the alcohol content is also moderate.

Merlot pairs remarkably well with most foods such as baked pasta dishes, spicy foods, sausage, seared salmon, cheeseburgers, etc. However, you are at liberty to experiment with different foods to your heart’s content.

Shiraz, on the other hand, is a red wine that is produced with veteran wine drinkers in mind. High in tannin structure content and moderately alcoholic, this dry red wine that is also full of healthy antioxidants can best be paired with strong meat entrées such as pork, steaks, barbecued chicken, grilled sausages, etc.

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Further Reading On Merlot and Shiraz

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Ben Holt

Ben practiced as a "Wine connoisseur" in the restaurant industry for over 2 years. He suggested, tested and educated diners on which wine would best fit their meal. Ben is also a freelance writer with over 4 years of experience. He now shares his insights on wine and wine accessories for those looking to take their love of this amazing beverage to the next level!

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