Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: 9 Key Differences To Know

You may have enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon in the past, but do you know the key differences between them? If not, don’t worry – this blog post breaks down 9 distinctions between these two popular red wines. 

From their distinct color and aroma profiles to their taste preferences and food pairing suggestions, get ready to learn all about Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon!

Summary of the Differences Between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon:

Aspect Pinot Noir (Burgundy) Pinot Noir (New World)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Origins Burgundy, France Various New World regions (e.g., California, Oregon) Bordeaux, France; Napa Valley, California
Grape Characteristics Delicate skin, small, tight clusters prone to disease from mold Slightly thicker skin, loose clusters, more durable and adaptable Thicker skin, durable, easy to grow in various climates
ABV (Alcohol By Volume) 11.5% to 15% 13% to 15% Varies, typically around 13% to 15%
Appearance Pale to medium garnet Pale to medium garnet or deeper red Deep ruby-red
Serving Decant for 30 minutes, serve at 55 – 64 °F (13 – 18 °C) in a Burgundy glass Decant for 30 minutes to 2 hours, serve at 55 – 64 °F (13 – 18 °C) in a Burgundy glass Decant for 1 to 2 hours, serve at 59 – 64 °F (15 – 18 °C) in a Bordeaux glass
Tasting Notes Earthy, red fruit aromas (red berry, raspberry, cherry, strawberry), tertiary flavors of leather, spice, truffle, and tobacco Red fruit aromas (cherry, cranberry, raspberry), sometimes with floral or herbal notes, lighter tannins Intense black fruit notes, full-bodied, high tannins, often with flavors of leather, nutmeg, baking spice, and graphite
Food Pairings Versatile with various dishes including ratatouille, beans, pasta, mushroom pizza, grilled fish (salmon, swordfish), roast veal, braised pork, venison, duck, and burgers Versatile with dishes like ratatouille, beans, pasta, grilled fish, and lighter meats Pairs well with bold and rich meat dishes like grilled meats, Stroganoff, marinated ribeye steak, and strong cheeses like Blue Cheese and Comte
Price Range From $40 to $3000+ From $40 to $100+ From $30 to $100+ (some premium bottles may exceed $100)

1. Overview of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

1.1. About Pinot Noir

About Pinot Noir
One of the most well-known and esteemed red wine grape varieties in the world is pinot noir. (Source: Internet)

Pinot Noir is one of the most renowned and revered red wine grape varieties in the world. It is known for producing elegant, complex, and highly aromatic wines that captivate wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike. The grape is grown in various wine regions globally, with some of the most famous ones being Burgundy in France, California in the United States, and regions in New Zealand.

Pinot Noir wines display a wide range of flavors, often including red fruit notes like cherry, raspberry, and strawberry. As the wine ages, it may develop more complex flavors, such as earthy, mushroom, and forest floor characteristics.

Due to its challenging nature to grow, Pinot Noir requires specific climate and soil conditions to thrive, making it a labor of love for winemakers. When cultivated and vinified with care, Pinot Noir can produce some of the most exquisite and sought-after wines in the world, capturing the hearts of wine enthusiasts with its elegance and complexity.

1.2. About Cabernet Sauvignon

About Cabernet Sauvignon
Various types of wine fall under the category of cabernet, but Cabernet Sauvignon is the most well-known and recognizable. (Source: Internet)

As mentioned earlier, Cabernet encompasses various types of wine, but Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular and widely recognized. It is a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and originated in the southwestern region of France. Its popularity among winemakers stems from its ease of cultivation.

The taste and flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon can be significantly influenced by its production methods. The use of oak barrels for aging or fermentation and the level of maceration (skin-to-grape contact) play crucial roles in shaping its profile, particularly the level of tannins in the wine.

Extended maceration periods result in higher tannin levels, which require more aging to soften the wine’s harshness. Cabernet’s inherent high tannin content and natural acidity make it an excellent choice for aging.

When Cabernet Sauvignon is aged or fermented in oak barrels, it develops notes of tobacco, vanilla, and leather. In cooler climates, expect higher acidity alongside flavors of blackberries, cedar, and green bell peppers. Warmer climates yield flavors of blackcurrant and black cherry. Generally, the warmer the climate, the sweeter and fruitier (or more “jammy”) the wine becomes.

Cabernet Sauvignon pairs exceptionally well with dishes rich in fat, such as flavorful cuts of steak. The tannins in Cabernet bind with the fat in the steak, enhancing the flavors of both.

Understanding the production methods and flavor characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon helps in selecting appropriate food pairings and appreciating the nuances of this beloved wine variety.

2. Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: 9 Key Differences To Know

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: 9 Key Differences To Know
Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: 9 Key Differences To Know (Source: Internet)

2.1. Origins

The allure of both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon lies in their French origins.

Pinot Noir finds its roots in the Burgundy region of France, while Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Bordeaux. These regions have earned reputations for producing exceptional French fine wines.

As a testament to their acclaim, both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon have been cultivated in New World countries like the USA and Australia.

2.2. Grape Characteristics

Below is a concise comparison of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, focusing on their grape characteristics.

Pinot Noir originates from Pinot Noir grapes. Pinot Noir grapes possess remarkably delicate skin, rendering them vulnerable to damage during harsh weather conditions. Moreover, their growth in small, compact clusters makes them susceptible to mold-related diseases.

Nevertheless, the effort is worthwhile as, when grown successfully, Pinot Noir yields delectable wines with delicate aromas and a smooth, light tannin profile. The struggle is rewarded with exceptional quality.

Cabernet Sauvignon is derived from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a significantly thick skin, endowing the grape with exceptional durability and adaptability to various climates.

Both varieties belong to the red-wine grape family of the species Vitis vinifera.

2.3. Alcohol Content

Below is a concise comparison of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of their alcohol content:

Alcohol content, specifically Alcohol By Volume (ABV), serves as a measure of a drink’s alcoholic strength.

The ABV is directly influenced by the amount of sugar left in the wine after the completion of alcoholic fermentation, known as Residual Sugar (RS).

Pinot Noir typically possesses an ABV ranging from 11.5% to 15%, while Cabernet Sauvignon’s ABV usually falls between 13% to 15%. Grapes with higher residual sugar content will result in dry wines with elevated ABV levels.

2.4. Appearance

Considering the wine’s appearance, a useful rule of thumb is that wines made from grapes with thicker skins tend to have a deeper color.

Consequently, when pouring Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon into a glass, their distinct appearances help us distinguish between the two.

  • Pinot Noir presents a delicate ruby-red hue, light in intensity.
  • In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon displays a much deeper and darker red, almost approaching a purple tone.

2.5. Tasting Notes

Here is a succinct overview of the taste profiles of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon:

Pinot Noir: This dry to off-dry wine exhibits a pale to medium garnet color. Its aroma is characterized by earthy and red fruit notes, such as red berry, raspberry, cherry, and strawberry. Tertiary flavors include leather, spice, truffle, and tobacco.

Cabernet Sauvignon: This dry wine boasts a deep ruby color, and it is renowned for its full-bodied nature, high tannins, and intense black fruit flavors. Tertiary aromas encompass leather, nutmeg, baking spice, and graphite.

For those curious, tannins contribute to the dry sensation experienced on the tongue and mouth after the first sip, and they also play a vital role in the wine’s longevity.

2.6. Sweet or Dry?

Here is a concise overview of the sweetness levels or residual sugar in Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon:

The sweetness level of a wine is measured in grams of sugar per liter (g/L) or as a percentage.

To put it in perspective, 10 g/L is equivalent to 1%, which represents approximately 6 calories per 5 oz serving.

Pinot Noir is commonly found in dry or off-dry sweetness levels.

Cabernet Sauvignon is typically a dry wine, indicating that it contains less than 15 g/L of residual sugar.

An off-dry wine falls within the range of 15-30 g/L of residual sugar.

2.7. Serving and Storing

Below is a concise overview of storing and serving Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon:

Pinot Noir:

  • Decanting time: 30 minutes
  • Serving temperature: 55 – 64 °F (13 – 18 °C) in a Burgundy glass.
  • Recommended storing period: 5 years for regular bottles, and 10+ years for the finest bottles.

Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Decanting time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Serving temperature: 59 – 64 °F (15 – 18 °C) in a Bordeaux glass.
  • Recommended storing period: 5 years for regular bottles, and 10+ years for the finest bottles.

Both wines benefit from decanting before serving, and they have similar recommended storing periods, with the finest bottles of each variety aging well for more than a decade.

2.8. Food Pairings

Here is a succinct overview of the food pairings for Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon:

Pinot Noir:

  • Pinot Noir’s versatility allows for easy pairing with various foods. It complements dishes like Ratatouille, bean dishes, pasta, and mushroom pizza excellently.
  • Surprisingly, Pinot Noir also pairs well with grilled fish, such as grilled salmon and swordfish.
  • For meat options, it complements roast veal, braised pork, venison, duck, and juicy burgers.
  • When it comes to cheese, consider options like Taleggio, Comte, Cheddar, or Pecorino to complement the wine’s profile.

Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • As a bold wine, Cabernet Sauvignon pairs exceptionally well with rich and robust meat dishes like grilled meats and Stroganoff, as well as marinated ribeye steak.
  • For cheeses, opt for strong flavors like Blue Cheese and Comte, as they complement Cabernet Sauvignon’s bold characteristics.

Both wines offer delightful pairings, but Pinot Noir’s versatility opens up opportunities with a wider array of dishes, including grilled fish, making it a more adaptable choice for diverse culinary experiences. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon shines when matched with bold, rich meat flavors and strong cheeses, enhancing its robust profile.

2.9. Price

Below is a brief price comparison overview of Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon:

Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are often considered premium wines, and top-tier bottles can be quite expensive.

For Pinot Noir, the finest bottles hail from the esteemed Côte-d’Or region in France, where prices can soar over $3000.

As for Cabernet Sauvignon, the most exceptional bottles come from Bordeaux in France and Napa in California.

However, there are plenty of excellent bottles available at more affordable price points if you know where to look, and we are here to guide you in the right direction.

Indicative price points for Pinot Noir are as follows:

  • Under $40: Entry-level options from California, Oregon, France, and Australia.
  • Under $100: Look for great bottles from California, Oregon, Italy, and France.
  • Over $100: Outstanding bottles typically priced above $100 are usually from France.

Indicative price points for Cabernet Sauvignon are as follows:

  • Under $30: Entry-level options from California (Sonoma), Washington, Australia, and Chile.
  • Under $100: Look for great bottles from California, Australia, France, and Italy.
  • Over $100: Outstanding bottles typically priced above $100 are usually from the USA, Italy, and France.

In summary, both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon offer a range of price points, and you can find excellent options at various levels, making them accessible to wine enthusiasts with different budgets.

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3. Which wine is better: Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon?

Determining whether Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon is the superior wine ultimately comes down to personal preference.

If you favor fuller-bodied and powerful reds, Cabernet Sauvignon might be the ideal choice for you. On the other hand, if you seek a lighter and more aromatic experience, opt for Pinot Noir.

Why not host a gathering with friends and open a bottle of each to see which one proves more popular?

Pros of Pinot Noir:

  • Body type: low-medium
  • Low tannin content
  • High acidity levels
  • Considered one of the healthiest red wines
  • Complements both vegetable and meat dishes

Cons of Pinot Noir:

  • Difficult to cultivate
  • Shorter lifespan (4-5 years)

Pros of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Excellent longevity (10-20 years)
  • Robust varietal wine
  • Delicious flavor
  • Reduced acidity levels

Cons of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Some California Cabernets can be quite expensive
  • Does not pair well with lighter meals

In the end, both wines have their unique merits and drawbacks, so it’s about finding the one that aligns best with your personal taste preferences and the occasion at hand.

4. FAQs

Q: How does Pinot Noir stack up against other beverages?

Because the grapes used to make Pinot Noir have thinner skins than those used to make other red wines, the wine is lighter in the body. What distinguishes Pinot Noir are the refined, thin, and delicate notes.

Q: Why is Pinot Noir distinctive?

Pinot produces mostly light-colored, medium-bodied, low-tannin wines that can frequently go through dumb phases with uneven and unpredictable aging due to the thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds in the grapes. Young Pinot noir wines frequently have red fruit aromas, such as cherries, raspberries, and strawberries.

Q: What red wine is the most popular?

The most widely consumed wine is likely Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite being produced in numerous locations around the globe, it is a product of the renowned Bordeaux region. The red of Cabernet Sauvignon is a bit darker and leans slightly toward plum tones.

Q: Is Pinot Noir sweet or bitter? 

Well, it can vary significantly. One of the reasons for this variation lies in the amount of residual sugar present in the wine. Pinot Noir can range from very dry to downright sweet, depending on the level of residual sugar. Some Pinot Noir wines can even be crafted into delightful dessert wines, making it a versatile choice that caters to the preferences of a discerning customer.

Q: Which is better Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir?

Deciding between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir is indeed a challenge! If you enjoy dry wines with delicate red fruit flavors, then a delightful bottle of Pinot Noir should be your top pick. On the other hand, if you favor robust wines with powerful tannins and intense dark fruit notes, then Cabernet Sauvignon would be an excellent choice for you. Each wine offers a distinct and enjoyable experience, catering to different taste preferences.

Q: I serve Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon first?

When serving both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s best to start with Pinot Noir. The light-bodied nature of Pinot Noir contrasts with the fuller weight of Cabernet Sauvignon. By tasting the Cabernet first, it can overpower your palate, making it harder to fully appreciate the delicate nuances and subtleties of Pinot Noir.

Starting with the lighter wine ensures you can savor its intricacies before moving on to the bolder Cabernet Sauvignon.

Q: Does Pinot Noir qualify as a classy wine?

Pinot Noir, with its thin-skinned nature, produces light-to-medium-bodied wines that exude finesse, perfume, and freshness, boasting delightful red fruit flavors. It is adored for the elegant styles crafted in the renowned region of Burgundy.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon are both exquisite varietals that bring significant differences to the glass. Whether you’re a novice or a connoisseur, understanding the key differences between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon is essential for enjoying the nuances of each varietal even more. 

Fortunately, with some guidance and some tasting experience, anyone can be an oenophile and find immense pleasure in sipping either one of these delicious red wines. After all, in the end, it comes down to personal taste and preference – so don’t be afraid to try them out yourself! Cheers!

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