Pinot Noir Vs Cabernet Sauvignon (7 Key Differences)

    Pinot Noir Vs Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

    So you’re having friends round for dinner and you’ve got two options for the red wine: Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon.

    But what’s the difference between the two? How can you compare Pinot Noir with Cabernet Sauvignon? 

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    Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: 7 Main Differences

    Cab Sav Vs Pinot Noir

    What is the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon have world wide reputations for being fine, red wines made from noble grape varieties.

    So what separates one from the other?

    Here are 7 main differences between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon to help you choose between the two with ease.

    1. Origins

    Cab Sav and Pinot Noir Origins

    Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon originate from France, which is part of their charm.

    • Pinot Noir originates in the Burgundy region of France, whilst Cabernet Sauvignon is native to Bordeaux.

    Because of their reputations for making exceptional French fine wines, both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown in New World countries such as the USA and Australia.

    So how do these origins and locations affect the characteristics of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    2. Grape Characteristics

    Cab Sav and Pinot Noir Grapes

    What characteristics do Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have?

    It may surprise you that for such a popular style of grape, Pinot Noir is an incredibly difficult grape to grow.

    • Pinot Noir grapes have very delicate skin, making them susceptible to damage in extreme weather conditions, and the grapes grow in very small, tight clusters which means they are prone to disease from mould.

    However, because of its thinner skin, when grown successfully Pinot Noir makes delicious wines with delicate aromas and light, smooth tannins. It’s worth the struggle.

    • Cabernet Sauvignon, however, has a really thick skin which makes the grape very durable and easy to grow in all manners of climates.

    But how does thickness of skin affect the wine’s appearance? What do Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines look like when poured into a glass?

    3. Appearance

    Cab Sav Vs Pinot Noir Appearance

    When thinking about the appearance of a wine it’s useful to know that, more often than not, the thicker the skin of the grape the deeper a wine it will make.

    As a result, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon will look very different once poured into a glass and this can help us tell the two apart.

    • Pinot Noir will pour a very light and delicate ruby red.
    • In comparison, Cabernet Sauvignon will pour a much deeper and darker red that will almost look purple.

    So how does appearance affect the serving suggestions for Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir?

    4. Serving

    It can sometimes feel like there are as many wine glasses as there are types of wine and this can make serving your red wines confusing. But it doesn’t have to be.

    Because of their different characteristics, if you want to get the best out of your wine there are some differences between the glasses you can serve your Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in.

    • Burgundy, medium-sized, red wine glasses are perfect for the lighter, delicate natures of Pinot Noir wines.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon pours a much fuller-bodied and deeper red wine so its flavours and aromas are better suited to a larger, Bordeaux style wine glass.

    These different ways of serving will help you get the optimum taste out of each wine.

    5. Tasting Notes

    Cab Sauvignon Vs Pinot Noir Tasting Notes

    They may look different, but do Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon taste the same?

    • Pinot Noir grapes make a lighter, more delicate red wine with fruitier perfumed toasting notes. Think the snap of chocolate, cherry garcia and sugared violets as well as woodier notes of green forests and mushrooms.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon will not only look darker, but taste of darker fruit, too. Think ripe black cherries, soft cigarette smoke as well as fresh green bell peppers.

    So what are the best food pairings for Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    6. Food Pairings

    Pinot Noir is a very food friendly wine on account of its light colour and easy level of tannins.

    • Try Pinot Noir with soft cheeses, pepperoni pizza and anything with mushroom in it to see the versatility of this great wine.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon, however, has a fuller body and a deeper flavour so is better suited to more savoury, richer dishes. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon with your next barbecue or lamb roast dinner.

    So how does this affect price?

    Is Cabernet Sauvignon more expensive than Pinot Noir?

    7. Price

    Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon go into Burgundy and Bordeaux wine blends respectively and these both sell for very high prices.

    When it comes to individual varieties, the price comparisons become a bit easier to make.

    • Pinot Noir’s lighter skin makes it prone to lots of issues and therefore a tricker grape to grow. As a result it can be a more expensive wine to make and ultimately buy.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon can be a cheaper option in comparison as it doesn’t always have such high production costs, but both grapes make exceptional wines and the prices will vary from maker to maker.

    So now you can confidently tell the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, how can you choose between the two?

    Which Is Better: Pinot Noir Or Cabernet Sauvignon?

    Whether Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon is the better wine is really up to personal preference.

    It’s a tough choice but if you prefer fuller-bodied powerful reds then Cabernet Sauvignon may be your best choice.

    Opt for a Pinot Noir for something lighter and more aromatic in comparison.

    Why don’t you open a bottle of each next time you have friends round and see which is the most popular of the two?

    Pros of Pinot Noir

    • Body type: low-medium
    • Tannin content is low
    • High acidity levels
    • It is thought to be the healthiest red wine
    • It complements both vegetable and meat meals

    Pinot Noir's Cons

    • Difficult to cultivate
    • It has a shorter lifespan (4-5 years)

    Pros of Cabernet Sauvignon

    • Excellent longevity (10-20 years)
    • A robust varietal wine
    • Delicious flavour
    • Reduced acidity levels

    Cabernet Sauv's Cons

    • Some California Cabernets are quite expensive
    • It does not go well with lighter meals

    Summary of the differences between Cabernet Sauv and Pinot Noir

    Although the details of each wine can vary with production method along with the region of origin. Here's a summary of the differences between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir:

    Pinot Noir Cabernet Sauvignon
    Origins Originates from the Burgundy region of France Native to Bordeaux, France
    Grape Characteristics Delicate skin, small clusters, prone to disease Thick skin, durable, easy to grow in various climates
    Appearance Light and delicate ruby red Deeper and darker red, almost purple
    Serving Best served in medium-sized, red wine glasses Flavors and aromas suited to larger, Bordeaux style wine glasses
    Tasting Notes Lighter, more delicate with fruitier perfumed notes Darker fruit flavors with hints of smoke and bell peppers
    Food Pairings Soft cheeses, pepperoni pizza, mushroom dishes Savoury, richer dishes like barbecue or lamb roast
    Price Can be more expensive due to difficulties in growing Often a cheaper option with varying prices

    Before You Go...


    We hope this article answers any questions you may have on Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon.

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    philip thompson Author: Philip Thompson
    Philip is the General Manager at Expert Wine Storage, and is very knowledgable about all things relating to wine and wine storage, including wine fridges. He is regularly featured in media outlets sharing his knowledge on wine. Connect on Linkedin

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