ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I just read your description about the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but I wanted to ask you if it is possible that some Merlot—perhaps depending on the region—could be stronger than others? I recently created a tasting group, we are beginners, and we started with two grapes, Cabernet and Merlot, and I was worried because I could not identify the difference as they were supposed to be.

—Mario, Mexico

Dear Mario,

Absolutely! I imagine that by “stronger” you mean something like more concentrated or tannic, and that’s entirely possible. When I—or any wine lovers—talk about the differences between regions or types of wines, we have to speak in extremely broad generalities, and there are always exceptions to these generalities. That’s part of what makes wine so much fun—it's not always predictable. As you mention, regional differences and a myriad of other variables, from how the grapes were grown, picked and vinified to vintage variations, can all affect the final product.

Keep in mind, though, that these generalities are based on a lot of data points. Here at Wine Spectator, we try thousands of wines in our blind tastings every year, so our experience influences how we see the world of wine. If you’ve only tried a few Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons so far, you might lean to different conclusions.

I understand that the world of wine is so expansive that it’s tempting to create some absolutes, but you should also leave yourself open to surprises. I’m happy to read that you’ve started a tasting group, and exploring different regions and/or varietal bottlings is a great way to learn and discover.

—Dr. Vinny


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