Which Is Better: Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir?

which is better: Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir - infographic

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, two sweethearts of the wine world, are at opposite ends of the red wine spectrum. Cabernet brings heft and weight, while Pinot offers finesse and grace. Which wine will you enjoy most? 

Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful, structured wine with rich black fruit – blackberry, black cherry – and chewy tannins that coat your mouth. Pinot Noir wines offer crunchy red fruit with softer tannins and a crisp, fresh edge. Cabernet Sauvignon is better for heavy dishes featuring roasted meat; choose Pinot Noir for lighter dishes that use cream sauces or herbal rubs.

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

Where Is Cabernet Sauvignon Grown?

Originally from the Bordeaux region in France, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape variety in the world. You’ll find excellent examples of Cab California, Washington, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and even New Zealand.

What Does Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?

what does cabernet taste like - cabernet sauvignon vs Pinot Noir

Cabernet Sauvignon wine will typically be a higher alcohol wine (+13% ABV), giving it a full body. The grape has thick skin which means it will be tannic (drying in your mouth), and deeply colored.

A ripe Cabernet Sauvignon has rich black fruit – currant (cassis), black cherry, black plum, and blackberry (bramble).

New wine drinkers are often surprised by Cabernet Sauvignon’s green notes.

This can come across as mint or tea leaf, mint, or menthol. In underripe grapes, you’ll taste bell pepper, which can be off-putting.

In cooler years or locations where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to ripen fully, the wines will have green bell pepper aromas and flavors from a chemical compound called methoxypyrazines (meth-oxy-pie-ra-zine).

In warmer growing climates, this same compound gives complexity to the wine with sage and herbal notes.

Enologists (winemakers) have experimented with ways to get rid of unwanted green notes from Cabernet.

Today, producers fortunate enough to have access to advanced winemaking facilities can actually heat up the grapes (i.e., microwave them) to help reduce the green bell pepper flavors. 

Helpful Tip: Go check out this full post on Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon Wines Do Well With Oak

This means that the winemaker will often age the wines in oak barrels. Aging wine in oak does a couple of things.

  • Oak will stabilize the wine’s color
  • Oak will soften harsh tannins (the drying sensation in your mouth)
  • Oak can add complexity with baking spices, mocha, vanilla, and even smoke

Because Cabernet Sauvignon is such a big wine, winemakers often blend it with a small portion of wine from a different grape.

This can help tame Cabernet and make it more drinkable earlier on (i.e., they don’t have to wait to sell it).

Winemakers often add Merlot as the blending partner of choice for Cabernet Sauvignon. It brings luscious red fruit, softer tannins, and medium acid.

What Does Aged Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?

Cabernet’s high alcohol and tannin can make it suitable for aging. Aged Cab Sav can express any of the following:

  • Leather
  • Tobacco
  • Dried potpourri
  • Dried fig

Where Is Pinot Noir Grown?

Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, winemakers craft world-class wines from Pinot Noir in almost every major wine region. You’ll find delicious Pinots from California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa, and even Canada.

What Does Pinot Noir Taste Like?

pinot noir wine infographic pinot noir vs cabernet sauvignon

Pinot Noir compared to Cabernet Sauvignon almost has a rosé quality about it in the glass.

You should be able to see the stem of your glass clearly when looking down at the wine.

The grape Pinot Noir thrives in a cooler growing environment than Cabernet Sauvignon. Thanks to this, Pinot will have lower alcohol than most Cabs.

Don’t be fooled by the Pinot’s lighter color.

Helpful Tip: Check out this full post that dives into the world of Pinot Noir wine.

If Cabernet’s signature marker is tannin, then Pinot Noir is all about acid. The acid allows Pinot Noir to wrap itself in luscious, crisp red fruits – cherry, cranberry, and raspberry.

If you dislike the drying sensation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir’s thin skins mean that the final wine will have naturally lower tannin (mouth drying qualities) than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winemakers working with Pinot Noir may even decide to include the grape stems in their winemaking to help boost tannin and add structure to the final wine.

Another common winemaking technique for Pinot Noir is the use of whole cluster fermentation.

The winemaker throws whole, uncrushed grape clusters into a large tank to ferment. The weight of the berries will slowly crush them and release the grape juice, but not before the grapes undergo a unique chemical process called intracellular fermentation (often referred to as carbonic or semi-carbonic fermentation).

What’s so special about this process?

It adds complexity.

The wines can develop intense aromas and flavors of banana, maraschino cherry, and even cinnamon. It also produces glycerol, which increases a wine’s body and mouthfeel.  

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, the Pinot does well with oak. Pinot Noir aged with oak can show baking spice, toast, and vanilla.  

What Does Aged Pinot Noir Taste Like?

young pinot noir vs aged pinot noir aromas

Older Pinot Noirs are some of my favorite wines.

Pinot’s high acid and concentrated red fruits can make it one of the most age-worthy wines.

Aged Pinot can develop any of the following:

  • Dried cranberry and cherry
  • Earth/forest floor
  • Game
  • Mushroom

What Foods to Pair with Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Pinot Noir

steak meal - pinot noir vs cabernet Sauvignon

Cab and Pinot both have cult fanbases. These wines can be revolutionary when paired with the right cuisine.

Easy Pairing for Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is not a cocktail wine. Cab demands food. Rich food. Heavy dishes featuring roast meats and rich fats will marry well with Cab Sav. The wine’s powerful tannins can cut through the layers of protein and fat, refreshing your palate with every bite.

If you’re a vegetarian, think of lentil soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, or grilled portobello mushrooms and root veggies.

Discover: Cabernet Sauvignon Cheese Pairing Guide

Easy Pairing for Pinot Noir

Pinot’s acid profile makes it one of the world’s most versatile food wines. Pinot Noir brings a bouquet of red fruit that can form a natural partnership with risottos, roasted game, and baked chicken or herbed fish.

A quick rule of thumb for pairing Pinot Noir: Would the meal go well with a cranberry sauce or vinaigrette?

Vegetarians will find Pinot Noir pairs beautifully with a hearty kale salad or even a Spanish tortilla.


Avoid spicy foods with both wines – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Peppery hot dishes will enhance the alcohol burn and tannin when it comes to the Cabernet, making the wine seem harsh and unforgiving. Bold seasoning can easily overwhelm the nuanced beauty of Pinot Noir. 

Discover More:
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Malbec
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Chardonnay
Pinot Noir Cheese Pairing Guide

Thirsty for More?

Check out the 6 Essential Wine Bottles for Beginners to get you started on your wine journey.

Here are more side-by-side wine comparisons:
Merlot vs Malbec
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc
Malbec vs Cabernet Franc

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