Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What’s the difference between a Merlot and a Chianti?
—Rob, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Let’s start with what Merlot and Chianti have in common: They are both red wine.
After that, the details diverge. Chianti is a district in Italy’s Tuscany region, and the wines of Chianti are made primarily from the Sangiovese grape. Merlot, on the other hand, is a grape, not a region. Merlot is also a blending component of many important and tasty red wines, as it’s one of the primary grapes from France’s Bordeaux region (and wines inspired by Bordeaux).
Now, some of my Italian wine-loving readers might be thinking, “But wait, there can be some Merlot in a Chianti!” And that’s true. Chianti has to be at least 75 percent Sangiovese, and the rest can be approved grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Then again, a bottle of Merlot from most parts of the world typically only has to have 75 percent Merlot, and the rest can comprise other grapes, including Sangiovese. It gets confusing, but it gives winemakers some flexibility in off years and makes it easier to maintain a house style from vintage to vintage.
Chiantis and Merlots can be made in a variety of styles, but overall I’d say that Chiantis are distinguished by their bright, juicy red fruit flavors, while Merlots are noted for being soft and supple.