Alternatives to Merlot

Merlot is a popular red wine, famous for its smooth tannins, medium body, and approachable flavors of black cherry, plum, and herbs. However, if you’re a Merlot fan and it’s not available or you are looking to expand your palate, there are plenty of exciting alternatives to explore. Let’s dive into some of these options, each with its unique profile but similar enough to appeal to the Merlot lover.


Malbec, particularly from Argentina, is a crowd-pleaser and a great step up from Merlot. It typically presents a bit more body and tannins than Merlot but remains very approachable. Malbec wines are known for their deep fruit flavors like blackberry and plum, often combined with a touch of vanilla and cocoa, thanks to oak aging.

Grenache / Garnacha

Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain) is a fantastic starting point. This grape tends to produce wines that are medium-bodied with soft tannins, much like Merlot. The flavor profile typically includes ripe red fruit like strawberries and raspberries, often with a hint of spice and a smooth finish. Grenache from Spain or a Grenache blend from the Rhône valley in France would be a great choice for Merlot lovers looking to try something new.

Pinot Noir

For those who prefer a lighter, more delicate red, Pinot Noir is a wonderful choice. While lighter in body compared to Merlot, Pinot Noir offers a similar level of approachability with its soft tannins. It’s known for its flavors of red berries, cherries, and often a hint of earthy or floral notes. Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy would be a great place to start.

Zinfandel and Primitivo

For those who enjoy the fruitier side of Merlot, Zinfandel and its genetic cousin Primitivo offer excellent options. Primarily grown in California, Zinfandel wines are known for their robust fruit flavors, including jammy berries and plums, often accompanied by a peppery spice. Similarly, Primitivo, primarily from the Puglia region in Italy, shares a similar flavor profile with a slightly more rustic edge. It often presents rich, dark fruit flavors with a hint of earthiness and spice, making it another compelling choice for Merlot enthusiasts seeking a wine with a similar plushness but a different character.


Montepulciano, not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (which is made from Sangiovese), is an Italian varietal that produces wines with a character similar to Merlot. It’s known for its lush, ripe fruit flavors, soft tannins, and a friendly, easy-drinking nature. These wines often feature notes of plum and blackberry, with a hint of earthiness, making them excellent companions to a wide range of foods.


Originally from Bordeaux, France, Carménère is now predominantly found in Chile. It shares many similarities with Merlot, including its medium body and soft tannins. Carménère tends to have a slightly spicier profile, with flavors of ripe blackberries, spices, and sometimes a touch of green bell pepper. It’s a great choice for those who enjoy Merlot but are seeking a wine with a bit more complexity.


Barbera, another Italian classic, is a great choice for Merlot lovers. It’s typically lighter in tannins and has a vibrant acidity, making it very approachable and food-friendly. Flavor-wise, Barbera offers juicy cherry and blackberry notes, with a hint of herbs and earthiness. It’s a wine that combines simplicity with just enough complexity to keep things interesting.

Exploring alternatives to Merlot opens up a world of possibilities in the red wine spectrum. Each of these varietals offers a unique taste experience while maintaining some of the characteristics that make Merlot so popular. The key to enjoying wine is exploration and experimentation, so don’t be afraid to try these suggestions and find your new favorite. Remember, wine tasting is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy the ride.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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