Which wine is more dry, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?

Ask Dr Vinny

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,

I overheard a bartender at a local winery state that "Merlot is the driest red wine." By no means am I an expert, but my experience is that Cabernet Sauvignon is almost universally drier. Like a fool, I challenged the young man, but he held his stance. Perhaps I am confusing acidity or body with the relative dryness of my wine? Please enlighten me!

—Bill, Marblehead, Ohio

Dear Bill,

Dryness has a couple of meanings in wine. The term is commonly used to refer to the absence of sweetness, and most table wines wines are technically dry in that they lack the residual sugar that makes dessert wines sweet. The typical Merlot has the same amount of residual sugar as the typical Cabernet—virtually none. Instead, I'm guessing both of you are referring to the feeling of dryness, which as you suggest is created by a wine's body: the balance of its acidity, weight, tannins and alcohol.

I agree with you that in general, Cabernet Sauvignon is a bigger, bolder wine that is much more likely to give you that puckery feeling from (in particular) its tannins than is Merlot. In fact, Merlot is known and loved for its supple tannins and easy-drinking profile. And while some Merlots might have higher levels of acidity than typical Cabernets, acidity makes your mouth water, not dry it out. So I'm on your side. While there are probably some examples of a Merlot feeling "dryer" than a Cabernet, generally Cabernet Sauvignons will leave more of a drying sensation than most Merlots.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

How do you soften a hard cork?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens after a wine bottle is opened, and …

Jan 24, 2023

How long can Champagne be stored in a wine cooler?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens as sparkling wine ages, how long it …

Jan 17, 2023

I shook a bottle of wine with sediment and now it's cloudy. Is it ruined?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where sediment comes from, and what to do if …

Jan 9, 2023

Can a cork-tainted bottle of wine cross-contaminate other bottles in my cellar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how and when cork taint or TCA contamination …

Jan 3, 2023

Dr. Vinny’s Wine Care Clinic: Top Tips for Safekeeping Your Wine Bottles

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers all your wine storage and serving questions!

Dec 27, 2022

Can you cook with non-alcoholic wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the benefits of cooking with wine, and shares …

Dec 19, 2022