No, the Pinot Noir isn’t sweeter than Merlot; however, the Merlot is not a sweet wine either, so it’s a bit of a trick question with no definitive answer.
Both are dry wines with little to no residual sugar, so they are pretty low on the wine sweetness scale. If you want a sweet wine, you would have better luck going for dessert wines high on the sweetness scale.
Although Pinot Noir and Merlot aren’t sweet, these wines create the illusion of sweetness because they exude familiar flavors (strawberry, raspberry, plum, etc.) that we generally associate with sweet fruits. Nonetheless, these wines are not sweet; they are simply fruity. Furthermore, although the Merlot and Pinot Noir wines are known for their dry styles, sweet versions exist; however, the level of sweetness depends on the winemaker, wine blend, and location of the wine’s production. Let’s take a brief look at the history of both wines before delving into their different tastes.
Pinot Noir (the French word for black pine) is gotten from a black-skinned grape variety whose origin has been traced to the Burgundy region of France. The Pinot Noir grape is often used as a single-varietal wine (wines from just one type of grape), but it is also used in different wine blends, with the most popular one being champagne.
The wine produced from this grape is a smooth, silky, red wine with light to medium-body weight, moderate tannins, high acidity, medium-high alcohol levels, and a deliciously wide range of aromas and flavors. The nuances of a Pinot Noir can change from bottle to bottle depending on where it’s made and the winemaker’s decisions; however, the primary flavors typically present in this wine are raspberry, strawberry, cherry (both red and black), and earthy tastes.
Merlot (French word for Blackbird) wines is gotten from a blue-colored grape whose origin has been traced to Bordeaux, France. The Merlot typically has a soft, smooth taste with pleasant black cherry flavors. This dry, red wine is famous for its rich, fruity tones and pronounced yet delicate tannins (wines with high tannins can be described as bitter and astringent), with moderate acidity and a chocolatey or mocha finish. The style of Merlot wine largely depends on where and how the Merlot grapes are grown.
Merlot can be single-varietal or blended wines, with the most famous blended wine being the Bordeaux blend. Merlot is often blended with high tannic wines due to its soft tannins: it takes the sharp edges of these highly acidic, tannic wines.
Are Pinot Noir and Merlot sweet or dry wines?
“Sweet” isn’t a quality often associated with Pinot Noir or Merlot. They are both considered dry wines by nature. Wine is called dry in relation to the taste it leaves in your mouth due to little or no residual sugar content after fermentation. During the fermentation process of dry wine, the sugars present in the grapes are consumed by yeast and then converted into alcohol. Essentially, wines are considered dry when they retain less than 3% residual sugar.
The Merlot and Pinot Noir typically have very little sugar content, so they are dry wines; however, their rich, fruity flavors can give them an impression of sweetness. Nonetheless, fruitiness shouldn’t be confused with sweetness. Furthermore, Merlot is typically fruitier than Pinot Noir, and this may cause this wine to be considered sweeter.
One of the reasons these wines are made dry and not sweet is to balance the fruit flavors present in them and ensure they are adequately pronounced. If your Pinot Noir or Merlot is too sweet, the sugar will mute its silky palate, and you’ll miss out on the nuances of your wine’s cherry flavors.
Also, the impression of sweetness gotten from these dry, red wines may also come from their aromas. Opening a bottle of Pinot Noir or Merlot and getting a whiff of delicious-smelling flavors, such as raspberry, strawberry, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, allspice, mint, and cherry, may cause you to question the sweetness of your wine. Nonetheless, the smell doesn’t change the taste of your Pinot Noir or Merlot: it will be dry, not sweet. Although these wines aren’t sweet, they have pleasant tastes and are never bitter due to low levels of tannins.
When is Pinot Noir sweeter than Merlot?
The Pinot Noir and Merlot are very low on the sweetness scale due to being dry wines; nonetheless, there are instances where Pinot Noir can be sweeter than the Merlot and vice versa. A winemaker could decide to make a sweeter Pinot Noir or Merlot by altering the fermentation process and destroying the yeast before it completely converts the sugar into alcohol. In this scenario, the produced wine will retain more sugar and be sweeter than the typical Pinot Noir or Merlot. Essentially, the sweetness of your Pinot Noir or Merlot rests solely in the hands of the winemaker, and the dry or sweet taste will vary from wine to wine. Furthermore, sweetened versions of Pinot Noir or Merlot typically occur in wine blends, rarely occurring in single-varietal versions.
The effects of different climates or harvesting processes on the perceived sweetness of Pinot Noir and Merlot
The sweetness or lack thereof of Pinot Noir and Merlot are heavily dependent on their birthplace. The climate of the wine’s growing region is one of the significant determinants of whether your Pinot Noir or Merlot tastes dry or possesses a hint of sweetness.
Pinot Noir plants are famously temperamental grapevines that are challenging to grow. The grapevine is susceptible to several diseases that can render the grapes unusable; it is also vulnerable to the weather and picky about the type of soil it is grown in. Below are the types of climates it can be grown in and their influence on sweetness:
- Cool Climates: These are Pinot Noir wines grown in cooler climates, such as in Russia, Burgundy, Germany, and Italy. Wines produced in these regions with good sunshine and cool climate are typically bolder and heavier than Pinot Noir grown in warmer climates. Cooler climate Pinot Noir boasts of earthy flavors, black cherry, tea leaves, and strawberries. They often have alcohol levels of 12 to 13.5% and can have complexly wild tasting notes.
- Warmer Climate: Although the Pinot Noir plant requires a cool season and limestone soil to grow, they are often grown in warmer climates despite the challenges present. These Pinot Noir wines taste more berry-like and are frequently described as sweet, although they are still predominantly dry wines. They are lighter and contain higher levels of alcohol, with the average falling in the range of 13.5 to 15%. These wines, grown in warmer regions like Australia and California, have tasting flavors of sweet blueberry, blackberry, and plums.
Summarily, cooler climate Pinot Noir has richer flavors and is fresher than its warmer climate counterpart. However, in warmer climates, Pinot is lighter, easier to drink, and typically referred to as sweeter.
Comparatively, Merlot is easier to grow than Pinot Noir. Although these grapes are primarily cultivated in Burgundy, France, they are widely grown in several countries around the world. Similar to Pinot Noir, the taste of the Merlot can differ depending on how the wines are produced:
- The Bordeaux Style: These wines are typically referred to as Old World Merlot as they are made in regions where Merlot has been produced for years, such as France, Italy, Spain, etc. In this style, the Merlot grapes are harvested early, increasing acidity and pronounced green notes resulting in a spicier wine. The Old World Merlot is typically made in cooler climates, and these wines are lighter with fresher and richer fruity flavors.
- The International Style: The International style is predominantly used in warmer regions that recently started making Merlot wines. These wines are called New World Merlot. This style involves the grapes being harvested later, resulting in a sweeter wine with more refined tannins. These wines are typically heavier than their full-body counterparts and usually contain more alcohol and pronounced dark fruit flavors, such as blackberry, plum, and dark cherries.
Summarily, although these styles both produce predominantly dry Merlot, the International technique produces a heavy, creamy Merlot, while the Bordeaux style produces a lighter, fruitier Merlot with low alcohol content.
Climate and winemaking techniques play a huge part in the taste of these two famous red wines. Also, despite the extra fruity flavors of the Old World Merlot and Warmer Climate Pinot Noir, they are still relatively low on the wine sweetness scale. These wines can be perceived as “sweet,” but in truth, they are dry wines.
What food pairings impact the tastes of both wines?
Besides the harvesting process and climate, another essential factor that affects the taste of Pinot Noir and Merlot is the food your vino is paired with. The right food pairings can bring the sweeter notes of your wine to the forefront, while a wrong pairing can cause your wine to taste overwhelmingly acidic or bitter. The Pinot Noir and Merlot pair with similar dishes, but they have some slight differences
Pinot Noir and Merlot are elegant, delicate wines, so foods that are overly rich or sweet can muddle the flavors present in them. The best pairings for Pinot Noir and Merlot include duck, pork, lamb, chicken, cheese (Merlot can’t handle strong cheeses), mushroom, and chocolate-based desserts with low sugar content. Furthermore, they pair well with roasted meats, although the New World Merlot, with a fuller body, can handle gamey meats best.
Merlot doesn’t pair well with sugary meals, highly spicy meals, delicate seafood, and citric-based or acidic meals. The flavors of these meals can be overpowering, causing you to miss out on the smooth, fruity flavors in your wine. Conversely, while Pinot Noir also doesn’t pair well with sugary meals, acidic ingredients in your meal can make your Pinot Noir seem sweeter due to its already-high acidic levels: think a squeeze of lemon, the presence of tomatoes, or a splash of vinegar. Also, salt is another condiment that pairs well with Pinot Noir, so don’t shy away from salting your sausage or sausage-based dishes.
Conclusively, Pinot Noir isn’t sweeter than the Merlot, as they are dry wines with little to no sugar content. However, the impression of sweetness in Pinot Noir can be enhanced by pairing the wine with tart or acidic dishes. Furthermore, the sweetness of these wines will vary from bottle to bottle and blend to blend, so if you want a Merlot or Pinot Noir with a sweet taste, you may have to opt for a wine blend with higher sugar content.