Merlot and pinot noir wines come from different grape varietals, and their flavors are notably different with merlot having a much softer taste than the poignant flavors that mark the pinot noir. Also, pinot noir varieties are much more sensitive to the place where they are cultivated, which means that the flavor spectrum within pinot noir alone shows more variety than merlot. Finally, the two grapes are cultivated in different regions.
Merlot wines are one of the major Bordeaux varieties, but their grapes are also cultivated everywhere from California and Washington state to Chile and Romania. It is the fourth most widely grown variety of grape in the world. Typical merlot tastes include plums, black cherries and herbal flavors. In general terms, merlot is not as tannic, or rough, as cabernet sauvignon, and it is a popular introductory wine for people new to red wines.
Pinot noir grapes are much more difficult to grow because of their sensitivity to subtle shifts in climate. However, there is nothing tannic about the flavor of the wine, making it ideal for blending with chicken, sushi, lamb and grilled salmon. The grapes go into Burgundy's best reds as well as solid wines from New Zealand, Oregon, California and Austria. The most common flavors are strawberry, cherry and plum, and some have notes of moist earth and tea leaves.