Chardonnay vs Merlot: the top differences & similarities

Chardonnay vs Merlot wines are very different, so how do you choose between them? Get your glass of wine as you explore both types of wine.

Chardonnay vs Merlot

The Top Similarities For Chardonnay and Merlot

While different, these classic wines have some similarities.

1 Dry Wines vs Sweet Wines: Chardonnay and Merlot Are Usually Both Dry

Both wine varietals are usually made in a dry wine style. That said, variations in sugar levels (i.e., residual sugar) affect what goes into your glass of wine.

Chardonnay Is Usually A Dry Wine

Chardonnay is known for its dry expression, with most Chardonnay wines being fermented until they reach complete dryness. These dry Chardonnays have minimal residual sugar and are often preferred by those who enjoy crisp, refreshing wines.


A few exceptions exist to the rule, particularly in regions like California and Australia, where some winemakers may produce Chardonnays with a touch of residual sugar, resulting in a slightly off-dry or semi-sweet style. However, these sweeter Chardonnays are less common.

Merlot Wine Usually Has A Dry Taste

As a red wine, Merlot is typically produced in a dry style. Most Merlot wines are fermented until fully converted, the grape sugars into alcohol, resulting in a dry profile with little to no residual sugar.

Dry Merlots are the norm. Some winemakers may choose to craft a slightly sweeter version. These off-dry or semi-sweet Merlots can showcase a hint of residual sugar, giving the wine a sweetness. However, these sweeter variations are less common and often considered exceptions than the norm.

Before buying a bottle, it is wise to re-check sugar levels. The driest wines usually have a very low gram of sugar number,

2 Alcohol Content: Chardonnay and Merlot Have Similar Alcohol Levels

Chardonnay and Merlot can vary in terms of alcohol content, but both wines generally fall within a similar range. The alcohol content of a wine is primarily determined by factors such as grape ripeness, fermentation process, and winemaking decisions. Here’s a comparison of Chardonnay and Merlot in terms of alcohol content, along with three specific wine examples for each varietal:


Chardonnay wines typically range from 12% to 14% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, it’s worth noting that there can be variations within this range depending on factors such as the climate, winemaking style, and the production region.


Merlot wines generally have a similar alcohol content to Chardonnay, ranging from around 12% to 14% ABV. However, there can be variations depending on factors such as grape ripeness, winemaking techniques, and regional styles.

In contrast, compare these two wines to a port wine like tawny port. Port wine, a popular fortified wine, often has 20% alcohol content. I have rarely seen Chardonnay or Merlot made into sweet dessert wines.

Merlot Vs Chardonnay: The Top Differences

1 Red Grape vs White Grape

The most important difference between Chardonnay vs Merlot is the wine grapes used to make the wine. Merlot is made using a red wine grape, while Chardonnay uses a white wine grape. As a result, the wines have a different appearance.

The difference in red vs. white grapes leads directly to the second difference: tannin count.

2 Tannin Levels

Tannin levels are another major difference between Chardonnay and Merlot.

Chardonnay is typically produced with little to no skin contact during winemaking, resulting in minimal tannin extraction. As a result, Chardonnay wines are generally low in tannins, especially compared to red wines like Merlot.

Merlot, a red wine, is produced with extended skin contact during fermentation, leading to greater tannin extraction. While Merlot is generally considered to have lower tannins than other red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, it still typically exhibits moderate tannins. You’re likelier to find silky or bold tannins in Merlot than in Chardonnay.

3 Fruit Flavors

Merlot and Chardonnay both have fruity aromas and flavors. The range of flavors in these wines means that both of these varieties have the potential to be a crowd pleaser.

The main fruity flavors in Chardonnay include citrus (lemon and lime), apple (i.e., green apple), pear, and tropical fruits. Chardonnay, made in warmer climates, are known for their tropical fruity notes like pineapple and mango.

Merlot wine has very different fruity flavors. Expect dark fruit flavors like black cherry, blackberry, and black plums. This wine type also has red fruity notes, including strawberry and raspberry. The mix of strawberry notes and blackberry aromas is a key factor in the discussion.

4 Wine Body Comparison

Chardonnay and Merlot vary in terms of wine body.


Merlot is generally considered a medium-bodied red wine. It falls between the lighter-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and the fuller-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot’s body is characterized by a moderate level of tannins (compounds found in grape skins that contribute to the wine’s structure and texture) and a balanced mouthfeel.


Chardonnay, on the other hand, is typically considered a light-bodied white wine. The body of Chardonnay can vary depending on the winemaking style and region. In cooler climate regions, Chardonnay often leans towards the lighter-bodied side, with a crisp and refreshing character. These wines tend to have moderate alcohol levels and a lighter mouthfeel.

For comparison, contrast these wines with a full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon to see how the wine body affects your drinking experience.

Food Pairings For Chardonnay vs Merlot

Both grape varieties pair with a wide range of foods. For example, both wines can pair well with goat cheese.

Merlot Food Pairings

Chicken Parmesan: The richness of Merlot pairs well with the flavors of Chicken Parmesan, particularly the tomato-based sauce and melted cheese. The wine’s moderate tannins and fruity flavors complement the dish’s savory elements.

Cold Roast Chicken: Merlot can enhance the flavors of cold roast chicken, offering a pleasant contrast. The wine’s fruitiness and smooth texture complement the meat’s subtle flavors, making it an enjoyable pairing.

Cream Sauces: Merlot’s fruitiness and moderate tannins provide a pleasant counterbalance to creamy sauces. Try pairing it with creamy mushroom pasta or creamy chicken dishes for a harmonious combination.

Blue Cheeses: The bold flavors and creamy textures of blue cheeses are complemented by Merlot’s fruitiness and moderate tannins. The wine’s depth and complexity can enhance blue cheese’s savory and tangy characteristics.

Chardonnay Food Pairings

Chardonnay is one of my favorite white wine varieties. It is a popular grape because a delicious bottle of Chardonnay can pair well with several types of food.

Range of Foods: Chardonnay’s wide flavor profile and adaptability make it a versatile choice for pairing with various foods. It pairs well with seafood dishes, such as grilled shrimp or seared scallops, roasted vegetables, creamy pastas, and light to medium-bodied cheeses.

Citrus Flavors: Chardonnay often exhibits citrus flavors, such as lemon or grapefruit, which make it a natural companion to dishes with citrus-based sauces or marinades. It can elevate the flavors of grilled lemon chicken or citrus-infused seafood.

Savory Flavors: Chardonnay’s depth and complexity can complement savory flavors. It pairs well with roasted pork loin, herb-roasted chicken, or creamy risotto, whose rich texture and balanced acidity can provide a satisfying combination.

Wine Pairs: Chardonnay’s popularity and wide appeal make it a crowd-pleasing choice for gatherings or wine pairings. Its versatility allows it to complement a variety of appetizers, main courses, and cheeses, making it an excellent option for entertaining guests.

To fully appreciate Chardonnay, try French wines like Petit Chablis.

Wine Botte Recommendations

Want the best bottle of wine for a special occasion? Starting with this list of well-reviewed wines makes that daunting task much easier.


Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot has moderate tannin levels and 13.5-14.% ABV (alcohol by volume). This level of alcohol contributes to the wine’s richness and body.

The wine’s fruity flavors include ripe red fruits, such as strawberries, often prominent, lending a vibrant and juicy character to the wine. Other fruit notes may include black cherries, plums, and blackberries, adding depth and complexity to the flavor profile. The wine is made in the Calistoga AVA (American Viticultural Area), part of the Napa Valley wine region.

Shafer Vineyards

Shafer Vineyards Merlot is Known for its exceptional Merlot. Shafer Vineyards offers a fruity taste with well-integrated tannins and a velvety texture. Their Merlot has earned scores of 90 or higher.

Pride Mountain

Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot produces a wide variety and complex flavors, combining ripe fruitiness with structure and depth.


Chardonnay might be my favorite wine in the white wine category these days. Here are some examples of the classic variety to explore. If you have only had Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, or Pinot Grigio lately, try the new Chardonnay this season.

Kistler Vineyards

Kistler Vineyards Chardonnay, produced in California’s Russian River Valley, offers a creamy texture, crisp acidity, and complex flavors. Many of their Chardonnays score 90 or higher.

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Pucelles” is a Burgundy estate that produces an exceptional Chardonnay from the Premier Cru vineyard “Les Pucelles” with natural sugars, fruity flavors, and a score of 94 points.

Ramey Wine Cellars

Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay specializes in producing Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley, offering various styles with a balance of fruitiness, complexity, and high scores.

Peter Michael Winery

Peter Michael Winery “Belle Côte” Chardonnay offers complex flavors, including fruity flavors and a creamy texture. Their “Belle Côte” Chardonnay consistently receives high scores.

Chardonnay vs Merlot – How To Enjoy Both

Invite a few friends over for a wine and cheese night! With a variety of cheeses and other foods is the perfect setting to enjoy both of these wines.

Chardonnay vs Merlot: the top differences & similarities
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