Tempranillo vs Merlot


If you’re comparing Tempranillo vs Merlot, you’ve noticed there’s a difference. Smart!

Tempranillo has more tannin and savory notes than Merlot. Merlot has a plusher body with plum and soft, silky tannins.

Comparing Tempranillo vs Merlot is a perfect way to learn about these two common red wines.

Tempranillo Basics: Spain’s Red Wine

tempranillo vs merlot- tempranillo wine profile infographic

Tempranillo, a well-regarded grape originating from Spain, has gained worldwide recognition for its robust character. Now a global favorite, Tempranillo thrives in vineyards worldwide, from Spain’s Rioja and Ribera del Duero to New World regions.

With its deep crimson color, Tempranillo offers a palate of red berries complemented by subtle hints of coconut, herb, and cedar. This flavorful profile has made it popular among wine enthusiasts globally, securing its place in cellars.

Spain, the birthplace of Tempranillo, showcases its versatility from everyday wines to prestigious reserva and gran reserva selections.

Fun Wine Fact: Tempranillo gets its name from the Spanish word “temprano,” meaning early, as it usually ripens before many other grape varieties.

Helpful Tip: Here’s a complete guide to Tempranillo.

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Merlot: The Silky Red Bordeaux

tempranillo vs merlot -merlot wine profile infographic

Merlot, also from France, has gained global recognition for its smooth, silky, quaffable quality. It is known for its well-integrated tannins and plum profile. Expect notes of blackberry, cherry, and hints of vanilla. It ages well and can develop more complexity over time. (Here’s a deep-dive into Merlot Wine.)

Fun Wine Fact: Merlot is one of the main grapes that goes into Bordeaux wines.

Wine Comparison: Tempranillo vs Merlot

Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison that covers the most common styles of Tempranillo and Merlot:

Characteristics Tempranillo Merlot
Hue Deep ruby to garnet Medium Ruby to garnet
Color Red Red
Aromas Red berries, plum, tomato, coconut Red and black cherry, plum, herbal
Tannins Medium to high Medium, Soft
Acid Moderate Moderate
Alcohol (%) 13-15% 13-15%
Body Medium to full Medium
Intensity Moderate to pronounced Moderate
Key Growing Regions Spain (Rioja), Argentina, Portugal France (Bordeaux), Italy, California
Classic Pairings Grilled meats, chorizo, tapas Roast chicken, pasta, soft cheeses
Price Range $10-$50 $10-$40

Tempranillo Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Tempranillo is typically produced in a dry style, offering minimal residual sugar.
  • Alcohol: Tempranillo wines generally have a low to moderate alcohol content, ranging from around 12% to 14% ABV.
  • Body: Known for its medium to full body, the style of Tempranillo will depend on the growing region and winemaker.
  • Tannins: Tempranillo has more pronounced tannins than Merlot, in the medium to high range.
  • Flavor and Aroma Intensity: Tempranillo has juicy red fruit, including cherry, plum, and tomato (tomato leaf); aged Tempranillo can get savory leather notes
  • Flavors: The flavor profile often includes red cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, with a touch of coconut and spices.

Merlot Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Merlot wines are typically produced in a dry style, offering minimal residual sugar.
  • Alcohol: Merlot wines generally have a moderate to high alcohol content, ranging from around 13% to 15% ABV.
  • Body: Known for its medium body, Merlot has a plush, rounded mouthfeel.
  • Tannins: Merlot wines often have smooth tannins that make it an approachable red wine for new wine drinkers
  • Flavor and Aroma Intensity: Most Merlot wines have medium intensity on the nose, with plum, blackberry, cherry, and notes of mocha and vanilla if oaked.
  • Flavors: The flavor profile often includes blackberry, cherry, and hints of vanilla.

Helpful Tip: If you’re unsure about serving temperatures, here’s a breakdown of wine serving temperatures for different wine styles and occasions.

Are Tempranillo and Merlot Similar?

Both Tempranillo and Merlot are red wines that can be oaked to give them spice and vanilla flavors. They are both red wines that get used in blends. Tempranillo goes into Rioja wines. Merlot goes into Bordeaux wines.

What Is the Difference Between Tempranillo and Merlot?

Tempranillo is fuller bodied with higher tannins than Merlot. Tempranillo has a savory quality to it, like tomato leaf. Merlot has softer tannins and a medium body with plum notes.

Tempranillo vs. Merlot: Food Pairings and Serving Temperature

pork loin - tempranillo vs merlot

Tempranillo: Tempranillo’s bright red fruit profile makes it an excellent pairing partner for earthy dishes, like lentil soup and paella. Check out: Tempranillo Food Pairing Guide

Merlot’s softer body and tannins make it a great partner for white meats, like pork chops, as well as green leafy winter salads, risottos, and pizzas.

Both Tempranillo and Merlot are best enjoyed at a slightly cool temperature. Place them in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Discover More:
Red Wine and Cheese Pairing: What You Need to Know
Tempranillo Cheese Pairing Guide
Merlot Cheese Pairing Guide
Merlot Meat Pairing
Merlot Vegetarian Pairing
Merlot Food Pairing Guide

Which Is More Expensive, Merlot vs Tempranillo?

tempranillo vs Merlot - wine shelf

Tempranillo and Merlot do have an overlapping price-point, but Tempranillo wines won’t be as widely available depending on where you live in the world, they just don’t share Merlot’s easy-drinking popularity. Hence, you’ll find extreme value Merlot ($5), but you probably won’t find the same for Tempranillo.

Helpful Tip: Here’s how a bottle of wine gets priced. This post is a little nerdy, but it’s quite complicated and nuanced depending on where you are in the world and where you’re buying your wine.

Tempranillo Cost

Entry-level Tempranillo wines are typically affordable, ranging from $8 to $10 per bottle. If wine affordability is something you’re thinking about, you’ll find drinkable Tempranillo wines in most wine markets wherever you shop.

If you are looking for premium Tempranillo wines, there are higher-priced bottles available. These bottles, priced around $30 to $50 or higher, offer a more complex and nuanced drinking experience.

Helpful Tip: Look for Rioja DOCG and Ribera del Duero DO quality wines made from Tempranillo. Look for affordable Tempranillo from La Mancha DO.

Merlot Wine Cost

  • Entry-level Merlot wines are often priced between $4 and $10 per bottle, offering accessible options for everyday enjoyment.
  • Mid-priced Merlot’s will go for $10-$15
  • If you’re looking for premium selections from renowned producers or specific regions, prices can range from $15 to $30 or more.

See: How Much Should You Pay for a Bottle of Merlot Wine

Which Is Better, Tempranillo or Merlot?

tempranillo vs Merlot- wine bottles in winery

If you enjoy red wines with bright red fruit, a fuller body, noticeable tannins, and a savory quality, then Tempranillo is the better wine for you. If you like softer, plumper red wines without as much grip in your mouth, then Merlot is the better choice.

Final Thoughts – Merlot or Tempranillo?

Both Tempranillo and Merlot have their own unique personalities. Merlot is a mid-week grab and go kind of wine that doesn’t need encouragement to enjoy. Tempranillo is definitely a food wine, often with layered complexity you don’t always get in Merlot.

I’m a big fan of side-by-side tastings to tease out the different wine characteristics. A great way to get started with these two wines is to do a side-by-side comparison.

Grab 2 bottles of similarly priced Tempranillo and Merlot. Invite over a few friends and enjoy an evening of swirling and sipping

Discover: Spanish red wines you need to be drinking

Thirsty for More?

I’m a big believer in doing side-by-side tastings to boost your wine knowledge. Here’s how to host your own wine tasting for beginners.

Check out this post on Merlot vs. Pinot Noir, another popular red wine comparison, along with Shiraz vs. Malbec.

Here’s a full pairing guide for Tempranillo wine.

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