Differences between Cabernet and Merlot

Four Main Types of Antioxidants in Red Wine

Antioxidants in Cabernet versus Merlot. Red wines, like cabernet and merlot, provide a myriad of health benefits, such as supplying powerful antioxidants.  Antioxidants help fight free-radical damage by limiting oxidative stress and atypical cell formation.  The antioxidant content in wines are influenced by a myriad of factors, including the grape, the environment, the year of harvest, the soil and the age of the wine.  Thus, slight variations in antioxidant quantities exist among merlot and cabernet wines.

Merlot vs. Cabernet

Cabernet and merlot wines derive from different grapes.  However, both of these grapes originate from the Bordeaux region of France. Winemakers may blend the two grapes in varying ratios, as both types of grapes complement each other.  According to WineSpectator.com, cabernet is a bold, slightly bitter wine with flavors of plum and currant. However, merlot is a smoother and softer wine, balancing chocolate, herb and cherry flavors. 

Types of Antioxidants

Merlot and cabernet wines contain several types of polyphenol antioxidants , including catechins, resveratrol, tannins and anthocyanins.   According to a 2005 article published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” polyphenols are found in the grapes and may assist in preventing heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, certain cancers and some degenerative conditions. Resveratrol assists in increasing your good cholesterol, decreasing your bad cholesterol and preventing blood clots. Catechins support the maintenance of antioxidant defenses against free radicals. Tannins provide the bitter taste in wine and derive from the grapes and the wood of the barrels used during the winemaking process.  Additionally, anthocyanins are pigmented antioxidants derived from the skin of grapes and provide the dark, rich color to red wines. 

Resveratrol and Catechins

The soil and the environment can influence the amount of resveratrol antioxidants in wine.  According to Cornell researchers, merlot wines made outside of the New York region contain greater amount of resveratrol than cabernets made outside of the New York region.  However, among wines made in the state of New York, cabernet wines contain more resveratrol than merlot wines. More resveratrol may be produced in humid climates, such as regions like New York, to combat the growth of mildew often found on grapes in more moist environments.  Similarly, the quantity of catechins in cabernet and merlot wines can vary from less than 10 milligrams per liter to more than 100 milligrams per liter based on the ripeness of the seed and environmental influences of the winery, according to ETS Laboratories.  


Cabernet wines generally contain more tannins than merlot wines, as cabernet wine is considered a tannic wine.  Cabernet grapes may yield highest tannin quantity when grapes are used at full ripeness, but merlot grapes may produce the greatest tannins when the color density of the grapes is highest, according to a 2004 research study on Slovenian wines published in “Food Technology and Biotechnology.” Because cabernet wines generally have a bolder and bitter taste compared to merlot wines, a greater quantity of tannins in Cabernet wines explains some of this taste difference.   


Environmental factors can significantly affect the anthocyanin content in wine.  According to a 1999 study published in the “Enology and Viticulture,” different soil mixture significantly increased the anthocyanin content in Cabernet grapes.  However, soil difference did not affect the anthocyanin content in Merlot grapes. Additionally, among Slovenian wines, a significantly greater anthocyanin content was found in Cabernet wines than in Merlot wines, according a 2004 research study in “Food Technology and Biotechnology.”


WineSpectator.com: What’s the Difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Polyphenols: Antioxidants and Beyond

Beekman Wine and Liquors: Truth in Wine Labeling

MayoClinic.com: Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart?

Wineanorak.com: Tannins

“Food Technology and Biotechnology”: Phenolic Compounds from the Fermentation of Cultivars Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Slovenian Coastal Region

Cornell University: Higher Levels of Resveratrol Found among N.Y. Red Wines

ETS Laboratories: Red Wine Phenolic Report

American Journal of Enology and Viticulture: Changes in Anthocyanins in Berry Skins of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes Grown in Two Soils Modified with Limestone or Oyster Shell Versus a Native Soil Over Two Years