Pinotage vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Big Red Wines

Characteristics Pinotage Cabernet Sauvignon
Hue Deep red to black Deep red to purple
Color Red Red
Aromas Dark fruit, coffee, smoky Black currant, plum, cedar
Tannins High High
Acid Medium (-) to Medium Medium (+) to High
Alcohol (%) 13-15% 13-15%
Body Full Full
Intensity Pronounced Pronounced
Key Growing Regions South Africa France, California, Australia
Classic Pairings Grilled meats, BBQ, Chili Roasted vegetables and red meat, hearty stews
Price Range $15-$40 $20-$100

When it comes to red wines, some are widely recognized, like Cabernet Sauvignon, and others bring surprises, like Pinotage.

Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied with distinct notes of blackcurrant and mint. Pinotage is also full-bodied with a meaty quality. Cabernet Sauvignon is made around the world, Pinotage is a South African wine. Both wines pair well with heavier dishes.

Here’s what you need to know about Pinotage vs. Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pinotage Basics: A Bold South African Gem

pinotage wine profile - pinotage vs Merlot

Pinotage, hailing from South Africa, isn’t as widely known as other red wines. Often associated with regions like Stellenbosch and Paarl, Pinotage offers a robust flavor profile with pronounced dark fruit notes and a subtle earthiness. Pinotage is well-known for its full body, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. (For a deeper dive into Pinotage wines, explore here.)

Fun Wine Fact: Pinotage is a new wine grape that’s only been around for about 100 years.

Cabernet Sauvignon Basics: The Big Red Wine

cabernet sauvignon wine profile - pinotage vs cabernet sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is an internationally celebrated red wine grape cultivated in major wine-growing regions across the globe. Originating from the Bordeaux region of France, today Cabernet Sauvignon vines thrive in California, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Spain, and many more countries. Cabernet Sauvignon has a full body with robust tannins and higher acid levels. (Here’s a comprehensive guide to Cabernet Sauvignon wine.)

Fun Wine Fact: Cabernet Sauvignon is often used in Bordeaux red wine blends, contributing structure and an ability for these wines to age.

Wine Comparison: Pinotage vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

Here’s a quick side-by-side that covers the most common styles of Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Pinotage Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Pinotage is usually made in a dry style.
  • Alcohol: Pinotage wines generally have a moderate to high alcohol content, ranging from around 13% to 15% ABV.
  • Acid: Pinotage tends to have medium (-) acid, lower than Cabernet Sauvignon, giving it a plusher mouthfeel
  • Body: Known for its medium (+) to full body, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tannins: Pinotage tends to have firm tannins, like Cabernet Sauvignon, contributing to its structure and aging potential.
  • Flavors: The flavor profile often includes dark berries, coffee, and a hint of smokiness, meat, or leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Cabernet Sauvignon is almost always made in a dry style, unless it is an inexpensive bulk wine
  • Alcohol: Cabernet Sauvignon wines typically feature a moderate to high alcohol content, similar to Pinotage, ranging from around 13% to 15% ABV.
  • Acid: Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have medium (+) to high acid, higher than Pinotage.
  • Body: Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a bold and full-bodied profile, accompanied by firm tannins.
  • Tannins: Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have pronounced tannins, contributing to its structure and aging potential.
  • Flavor: Rich flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, dark cherry, with notes of cedar, tobacco, and vanilla.

Helpful Tip: If you’re unsure about serving temperatures, here’s a breakdown of wine serving temperatures for different wine styles and occasions.

Are Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon Similar?

Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon are both red wines crafted in a dry style. Both wines will exhibit dark plum and cherry notes. Both wines have a firm tannin structure.

What Is the Difference Between Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Pinotage showcases more non-fruit aromas and flavors, such as meat, smoke, leather, and rubber. Pinotage will present a darker hue in the glass compared to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pinotage vs Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaking

Both Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon can be oaked to impart toast, vanilla, or mocha flavors. Pinotage, however, is more challenging to work with in the winery than Cabernet Sauvignon, and winemakers need to be vigilant with fermentation temperatures. Without careful monitoring, Pinotage can develop off-putting rubbery notes.

Helpful Tip: Here’s what oak adds to wine.

Pinotage vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Food Pairings and Serving Temperature

merlot vs pinotage - hamburger

Pinotage’s bold and robust character makes it an excellent companion for hearty dishes, grilled meats, and flavorful cheeses. Cabernet Sauvignon, with its robust tannins and pronounced flavors, pairs well with red meats, rich pasta dishes, and strong cheeses.

Both Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon are best enjoyed at a slightly cool temperature. Place them in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Note: You may need to decant both Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon if they are made in a fuller-bodied style. If your wine seems closed when you first take a sip, give it a good swirl or let it sit for about 10 minutes to see if it opens up.

Discover More:
Cabernet Sauvignon Cheese Pairing Guide

Which Is More Expensive, Pinotage vs. Cabernet Sauvignon?

Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon differ in price points on the export market. Pinotage may not be as widely available as Cabernet Sauvignon, but entry-level Pinotage does exist depending on your location.

Pinotage Cost

Entry-level Pinotage wines are generally affordable, ranging from $10 to $18 per bottle. Premium Pinotage wines can reach higher price points, around $25 to $40, offering more complexity and depth.

Helpful Wine Buying Tip: Pinotage is one of those wines where you always want to purchase the more expensive bottle. Because of how challenging it is to work with, poorly made Pinotage is truly awful. Check out more in the full Pinotage guide.

Cabernet Sauvignon Cost

Cabernet Sauvignon is widely available at various price points. You’ll find budget-friendly Cabernet Sauvignons starting under $10 USD. These wines, while more affordable, can still deliver a satisfying experience.

Cabernet Sauvignon starts to get interesting around $20 USD. Premium Cabernet Sauvignon wines, sourced from renowned regions, can easily cost you $80+ USD, well above premium Pinotage wines.

Which Is Better, Pinotage or Cabernet Sauvignon?

If you enjoy bold and robust red wines with tannin, meat, and tobacco, Pinotage is the better choice for you. If you prefer a more fruit and herbal-driven wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is the better option.

Final Thoughts – Pinotage or Cabernet Sauvignon?

pinotage vs cabernet sauvignon - wine cork

I appreciate both Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon and have bottles of both wines in my cellar. In my view, choosing between Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon requires more careful consideration of your preferences. Cabernet Sauvignon is easier to find and generally offers a decent drinking experience regardless of how much you paid for the bottle.

Pinotage needs you to think a little more about what you want. From what label you buy to how you’re going to pair this unique red wine.

I always recommend organizing a side-by-side tasting to fully appreciate the differences between these two wines. Grab two bottles of similarly priced Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon, invite friends over, and enjoy an evening of swirling and sipping.

Thirsty for More?

I believe in enhancing your wine knowledge through side-by-side tastings. Here’s a guide on how to host your own wine tasting for beginners.

Check out this post on Malbec vs. Syrah, another popular red wine, along with Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot.

You can discover delicious wines at every price point. Explore this post on finding great red wines under $50.

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