Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon (5 Important Differences)

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I love both wines equally, but there is an old quote in my country: “We drink Pinot Noir while we are waiting for the Cabernet Sauvignon to mature.”

Comparing Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon would be akin to comparing Beauty and the Beast. Both wine varieties are at the top of every wine drinker’s list, yet they are entirely different.

comparison chart about wines

On one side, we have Pinot Noir which is one of the most delicate and gentle red wines, and on the other side, we have Cabernet Sauvignon which is considered to be one of the most powerful red wines.

The facts backed by centuries of winemaking and competition between two of the most popular reds in the wine world, enjoyed by the European aristocracy, the Catholic Church, the kings and queens.

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1. The Difference Between the Grapes

A ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grape is much smaller than a ripe Pinot Noir grape, yet the skin of this red grape is much thicker.

The majority of tannins in red wines come from the skin of the grape. Pinot Noir’s thin skins place it at the bottom of the list of tannic wines , while Cabernet Sauvignon ranks at the top due to its thick skins.

Along with alcohol content, tannin content determines the body of the wine. The low tannin levels in Pinot Noir contribute to its light-bodied nature, while the high tannin content in Cabernet Sauvignon results in a full-bodied wine.

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The Pinot Noir grapes are challenging to cultivate due to their thin skins; the grape itself thrives in cooler mornings, modest humidity, and a relatively cool climate.

On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are highly adaptable and are among the most widely planted grapes worldwide.

2. The Region of Origin (Burgundy vs Bordeaux)

While both of these red grapes originate from France, Pinot Noir is native to the Burgundy wine region, and Bordeaux is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the six red wine grape varieties allowed by law in Bordeaux and is considered one of the most important, alongside Merlot.

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In addition to Burgundy, Pinot Noir wine grapes are grown in other regions in France, including Champagne, the Loire Valley, and Alsace. They also thrive in California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, and Germany.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown globally, with notable regions including Bordeaux, Italy, California, Chile, and Australia.

3. Aroma and Tasting Notes

The Pinot Noir grape will almost always produce a light-bodied, delicate wine with low tannin and low alcohol content.

On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon wine is consistently bold, rich, and full-bodied, characterized by high tannins and rarely falling below 14% ABV.

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Pinot Noir Flavor Profile

The color is typically a pale ruby, and the aroma is dominated by ripe berries, earthy, and mushroomy flavors. The taste of Pinot Noir is characterized by black cherry, raspberry, and herbal notes. A pleasant and refreshing acidity cuts through the fruit flavors of the wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon Flavor Profile

The color of Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby, with black currants and dark fruits on the nose, finished by a touch of spiciness on the palate, tobacco, and earth.

4. Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Glass

Choosing the right wine glass can significantly impact the final taste profile of the wine. There are specially designed glasses for both of these magnificent red wines.

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Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Glass

Cabernet Sauvignon tastes much better in the Bordeaux wine glass than in any other glass. The Bordeaux wine glass is specifically designed for heavier reds. Its tall shape, wide bowl allowing the wine to breathe, and broader opening contribute to a smoother taste. Merlot is another red wine that also enhances its taste in a Bordeaux wine glass.

Pinot Noir Wine Glass

The Burgundy wine glass is perfectly shaped for Pinot Noir wine. Compared to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wine glasses, the Burgundy glass has a wide bowl designed to enhance the rich fruit aroma and notes of the wine. Its narrow opening at the top concentrates these aromas on the nose and helps reduce the acidic taste of the wine.

glasses and grapes

5. Food Pairings

Before deciding on what to drink with your meal, let’s first look at the most important characteristics:

Wine and food pairing is all about finding the perfect balance between the two. Pairing a light Pinot Noir, with a juicy steak will overwhelm the wine flavors and increase the acidity and bitterness. Conversely, pairing a rich, heavy, bold wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon, with a light dish such as fish or veggie risotto will overpower and diminish the flavors of the food.

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Pinot Noir pairs well with any poultry dish, creamy Alfredo Pasta, shrimp scampi, grilled salmon, and many others. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon goes best with lamb shank, grilled steak, and red meats.

Is Pinot Noir Sweeter Than Cabernet Sauvignon?

Both are dry red wines, yet Pinot Noir will taste sweeter than Cabernet Sauvignon, due to its fruit-flavored profile and low tannin content, but both wines contain 1-3 % of residual sugar.

A Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the New World will be slightly sweeter than an Old World Pinot, and vice versa, with the main reason behind that being the warmer climate.

So, Which Red Wine Is Better Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir?

At the end of the day, the differences between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are many, and comparing these two wines is just a matter of personal taste. Some people prefer lighter wines, while others enjoy heavier reds.

If craving a red wine on a hot summer day, you should slightly chill a bottle of Pinot, and enjoy it by the pool with a shrimp cocktail, or a light cheese such as Brie.

And during winter there is nothing better than enjoying a glass of robust Cab with some blue cheese next to the fireplace.

Is Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon more beginner friendly?

As per our expertise, Pinot Noir is the better option to start with, due to its low tannin content and fruity taste.

How does the price-quality ratio of Pinot Noir compare to that of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Generally speaking, Pinot Noir tends to be more expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon at the same quality level. This is because Pinot Noir grapes are often more difficult to grow and are more susceptible to disease, making them harder to cultivate and resulting in lower yields.

What is a common region known for producing both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon wines?

One region that is known for producing these popular wines is the Sonoma County AVA in California, USA.

Stan Kushkin

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