Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: How They Taste, Alcohol Level and Food Pairing Ideas

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon is a challenging debate for a red wine lover to solve. Before you return to the wine shop next, discover more about these two wines. Keep reading to discover the flavor profile, alcohol content, level of tannin, and other key differences.

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: What Do These Wines Taste Like?

Pinot Noir Flavor Profile

Pinot Noir has thinner skin, so it is a relatively light style of wine.

  • Aromas. This type of wine usually has red fruit aromas like red cherries, cranberries, and raspberries. In addition to the fruity taste, black pepper is common.
  • Fruity Flavors. The typical taste of Pinot Noir includes cherry, mushroom, and forest floor (find out how Malbec vs Pinot Noir taste here). IF the wine was aged in oak barrels, you could also taste vanilla and baking spice.
  • Tannin Content. The typical taste of Pinot includes a relatively low level of tannin. That means you will taste minimal bitterness. If you are mainly a white wine drinker, the lower tannin content of Pinot Noir makes it an accessible wine (find out more through this Pinot Nero vs Pinot Noir guide). Some wine lovers also describe the Pinot Noir tannin content as “silky tannins,” which is one reason why Pinot Noir is an excellent introductory wine.  

Cabernet Sauvignon Flavor Profile

Unlike Pinot Noir, the Cabernet Sauvignon wine grape has a thicker skin. That is an advantage because it means that the grape is resistant to the elements. The thicker wine grape skin is a crucial reason why Cabernet Sauvignon has become one of the most popular grapes.

  • Aromas. Typical aromas include cedar, blackcurrant, violet, and spice.
  • Fruity Flavors. Black fruit notes are typical such as black cherry and blueberry. Beyond the fruity taste, you may also taste vanilla notes in the case of oak aging.
  • Tannin Content. Cabernet Sauvignon generally has a high level of tannin. If you compare it directly to Pinot Noir, the Cabernet wine will seem somewhat bitter. If you are used to white wines, Cabernet Sauvignon will probably feel like a heavier wine (learn more about this wine through this Shiraz vs Cabernet Sauvignon comparison).

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Level of Alcohol?

Even if you embrace moderate consumption as a guideline, it is still helpful to know what alcohol level to expect in each type of wine.

Pinot Noir Alcohol Level

Expect a bottle of wine with a 12-15% level of alcohol.

Cabernet Sauvignon Alcohol Level

When you open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, expect a higher level of alcohol: 13.5% to more than 15%.

Food Pairings For Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

As you share these wines with other wine drinkers, the right food pairings or dishes can add enjoyment to your experience.

The Best Food Pairings for Pinot Noir

Finding the perfect partner for Pinot Noir somewhat depends on the style. In addition, Pinot Noir is made in a variety of climates which all have an 

  • Cheeses. Blue cheeses are the perfect partner for Pinot Noir.
  • Japanese Dishes. Pinot Noir goes well with several types of fish common in Japanese dishes like tuna and sea bass sushi rolls. For more ideas, check out my article on Red Wine With Sushi: 7 Tips For A Great Meal.
  • Pasta Dishes. Pinot Noir is a perfect partner for tomato-based pasta dishes like marinara with meatballs.
  • Game Meats. If you have mature Pinots from Burgundy, game meats like pheasant and partridge are traditional choices. Also, any dish with truffles is a perfect partner for Pinot Noir.
  • Dark Chocolate. Pinot Noir is a park partner for dark chocolate to close your meal. What if you don’t happen to like Pinot Noir with chocolate? In that case, check out my article on wine chocolate pairing for additional ideas.

The Best Food Pairings for Cabernet Sauvignon

The relatively high tannins and alcohol level in Cabernet Sauvignon mean we have to choose food pairings carefully (curious to learn more about Cabernet Sauvignon? Check out this post: Grenache vs Cabernet Sauvignon). Keep in mind that Cabernet Sauvignon has an affinity for oak. Those additional flavors like vanilla can make food pairing more challenging.

  • Meat Dishes. More than anything, a meat dish is a perfect partner for Cabernet Sauvignon. For example, steak, roast lamb, and burgers can work well with red wine.
  • Cheeses. Avoid blue cheeses! Instead, look for a semi-hard aged cheese like aged cheddar or aged gouda.
  • Pasta Dishes. Try Spaghetti Puttanesca with your glass of wine.
  • Vegetarian Options. A typical salad is not going to work. However, a dish that emphasizes Portobello mushrooms can work well.

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: What Wine Regions Are Good?

When you ask Pinot Noir or Cabernet sauvignon at the wine shop, it is best to have some idea of what you want. You can ask for a crowd pleaser suggestion or an introductory wine. After you taste a few of these wines, keep exploring by looking for specific wine regions.

Pinot Noir Wine Regions

This type of wine is made in many different countries. However, when you go to a wine shop, you will probably have the best luck by focusing on these three countries.

  • France. France is home to most of the world’s Pinot Noir, with 59% of the world’s wine production. In particular, Pinot Noir from Burgundy is well regarded. You can also find this type of wine in the Champagne wine region, Alsace and the Loire.
  • The United States. America is the world’s second-largest producer, with 26% of global production. Specific wine regions of note include the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley in California. In addition, look for this type of wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Anderson Valley of California has also become known for Pinot Noir over the past decade.
  • New Zealand. New Zealand is the third largest Pinot Noir producer, with 3% of global production. The cooler regions of southern New Zealand are the best place to find Pinot Noir (e.g., Central Otago, Nelson, Marlborough, and North Canterbury).

Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Regions

As with Pinot Noir, three countries account for the vast majority of the world’s Cabernet Sauvignon production. Of course, no wine lover would ignore Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, the ancestral home of the wine.

  • The United States. By volume, the US is the king of Cabernet Sauvignon production with 74% global wine production.  Specifically, look for this type of wine in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley to experience some of America’s best varietal wine (i.e., wine from a single wine grape).
  • Australia. As an astute wine shopper, you should also know about Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. As the second-largest producer of Cabernet Sauvignon (i.e., 7% of global wine production), seek out this type of wine from Coonawarra, Margaret River, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, and Langhorne Creek.
  • Chile. Look for the Colchagua Valley wine region and the Maipo wine region for some of Chile’s best Cabernet Sauvignon. By the way, wine drinkers can usually find a bargain in Chile compared to what you would find in Washington State, Napa Valley, or Sonoma Valley.

The above list is not meant to be an exhaustive guide. You can also find Cabernet Sauvignon made in Canada, for example.

The Next Step In Your Wine Journey

Now that you’ve learned about these two wine varieties don’t stop your wine journey. If you want to explore these wines in depth at home, use the following guide to organizing a wine tasting at home. On the other hand, you might look for lighter styles of wine? In that case, you might want to try Riesling. To fully appreciate a less familiar wine like Riesling, I recommend contrasting it with another wine: use this comparison article – Riesling vs Chardonnay – to get started.

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: How They Taste, Alcohol Level and Food Pairing Ideas
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