Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: What’s the Difference?

Dark blue Pinot Noir grapes on the vine.
Estimated reading Time: 4 minutes

Delicate or strong, clear or dark, there’s a red wine that matches perfectly to every wine lover. Where to start? It’s important to know that red wine grape varieties aren’t all the same. Each grape variety creates a completely different wine in terms of aroma, texture, flavor profile, and body, including other factors that influence the final result like climate, soil type and even the barrel type where the wine is aged.

Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are two of the most popular wines on the market, and they have some similar characteristics. However, there are differences as well that set both of these wines apart, and once you understand these differences between both, you’ll be able to clearly tell them apart.

Pinot Noir

The name Pinot Noir originates from the two French words ‘pine’ and ‘black’, referring to the bunch of dark color grapes, which looks like a pine tree (with a conical shape).

Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red wine that is so light in density that it can almost be seen through it. It’s very light in tannins and is an easy drink. This grape is delicate when it comes to adapting to places other than its place of origin (Burgundy, France), because it necessarily needs to be in cold and dry climates; otherwise, it does not thrive easily, because of its very thin and sensitive skin. In fact, this characteristic also makes the wine from this grape a little lighter and also softer. The tannins are also more delicate. The Pinot Noir variety is very low in phenolic content- which are naturally chemical compounds that affect the body, the taste, and the color of the wine. It’s the lack of these compounds that make Pinot Noir so appealing to white wine drinkers who want to start trying red wines.

There are two different varieties of Pinot Noir. The first variety is the one that grows in cool cold climate and volcanic soil, as it happens in Burgundy, which makes the wine more earthy and turns the aromas into fruity. The other variety is that of the Pinot Noir grown in temperate and warm areas, which leads to the release of hidden, very fruity and rich aromas. Amongst these we must certainly mention the Californian wines, which have become important thanks to the fact that for almost the whole year the vineyards grow in mild temperatures with very high exposure to the sun’s rays. These wines are full-bodied and highly appreciated.

Pair it with: Fatty fishes, roasted and grilled meat and chicken, boiled vegetables, risottos and soft cheeses, specially goat cheese.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most popular red wine varieties, especially as it is used in major blends. The name Sauvignon comes from the word “Savage.” It has a dark red colour. Its production is often associated with ageing in oak barrels, which are ideal for improving its intensity, taste and aromas, and from which it obtains that special, renowned tannin taste.

The origins of Cabernet Sauvignon were discovered not so long ago, in 1997 and its grape is originally from the Bordeaux region in France. It was obtained by blending Cabernet Franc (red grape) with Sauvignon Blanc (white grape) and is easily adaptable to different locations, so it can also be found in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and many other countries. The wine of this type of grape is full-bodied, with an intense aroma and quite high tannins, due to the thicker skin of the fruit. It has aromas of dark red fruits when they are still young such as blackberry, blueberry and plum, to tobacco, truffle and leather when they are mature as well as vegetable notes such as asparagus and pepper.

Pair it with: pepper sauces. red meats, fatty steaks, strong and yellowish cheeses, gorgonzola.

What’s the Difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are two of the most popular wines in the world. Pinot Noir is elegant and thin and needs a delicate palette to appreciate its finesse, while Cabernet Sauvignon is powerful and bold and gives a punch in every sip you drink.

One of the great differences between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon is the thickness of its skin. While Cabernet Sauvignon has a thick skin, making the grape more resistant to climatic diversities, Pinot Noir has a very thin and sensitive skin making it difficult to adapt to places other than its place of origin (Burgundy, France), as it necessarily needs to be in cold and dry climates.

Another difference is that these grapes are grown in different climates and have different harvesting periods. The first to be harvested is Pinot Noir, which grows best in colder climates while Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested later and develops better in warmer climates.

Of these two red wines, the lighter is usually Pinot Noir with a light to medium body, while Cabernet Sauvignon ranges from medium to full-bodied. The final sensations that the wines leave in the mouth are also different. The finish of Pinot Noir will leave pleasant flavours of cherry, raspberry and strawberry in the mouth, while the Cabernet Sauvignon will leave flavours of black cherry, plum and currant in the mouth. When evaluating the finish, it’s also important to also note the impact of acidity: it will be lower in Pinot Noir and very high in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Finally, as for temperature, Pinot Noir can be kept well at 14 degrees Celsius while Cabernet Sauvignon is better kept between 16 and 18 degrees.

Final Notes

Understanding the differences between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon is essential for those who want to know how to choose the ideal drink according to their taste, or even for those who want to harmonize them with a certain kind of food.

Remember that these are only recommendations based on the characteristics of each type of wine. The biggest rule of all is that you find the wine that best works with your tastes and preferences!