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Pinot Noir vs Cabernet: Excellent Dinner Partners - Which One To Go For?

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Last Updated: May 10, 2024

The best thing about wine is that one can never ruin others for you.

You’ll always have an endless series of choices to make when pairing your dinner with decent red wine, and today I will pin Pinot Noir vs Cabernet, two excellent dinner partners, both highly rated and loved by fans and critics alike.


While Cabernet is widely grown throughout vineyards of the world, Pinot Noir is not as ubiquitous but makes up for it by being an elegant brew. Though both of them are red wines, they are distinct and have their own well-defined tastes, both excellent, but in different ways.

I will not point out winners or losers but instead, offer my humble opinion about which one will be better suited for a given situation.

Main Differences Between Pinot Noir and Cabernet

Here’s what I can say about the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet:

  • While both of these exquisite red wines hail from the heart of France, Pinot Noir has its roots in the Burgundy region, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon originates from Bordeaux.
  • Cabernet is usually full-bodied, whereas Pinot Noir may be light-bodied or medium-full-bodied – of course, this is not carved in stone.
  • Cabernet has a high level of tannins, whereas the same is not true for Pinot Noir which only contains low portions of tannins.
  • Cabernet is perfect for aging, you can enjoy a variety of flavors depending on how old the wine is, whereas Pinot Noir is slightly behind in this area.

Pinot Noir

To kick-start this Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Pinot Noir comparison, let’s explore both of these red wines in detail. 

Pinot Noir offers a blend of tastes, a tantalizing mixture that allures enthusiasts and regular people (when they first experience it) alike.

The primary effect is usually fruity, accompanied by the intoxicating aromas of raspberry or black cherry. As for the body, Pinot Noir is usually light or medium-full, in contrast to Cabernet Sauvignon which is a full-bodied red wine.

Newer versions of this type keep popping up from all over the world, but as with the classic, they are all low-tannin red wines with a primarily fruity (although not excessively sweet) flavor.

Cabernet Sauvignon

In contrast to Pinot Noir, Cabernet is a highly tannic and acidic red wine that offers a mixture of flavors including spice and vanilla in addition to grapes and tobacco.

It is primarily a dry wine, meaning that the residual sugar content is minimal. The wine also has an infatuation for oak and seems to imbibe its presence both during fermentation or when stored in a barrel for prolonged periods.

If you happen to sniff it, the first and most distinctive aroma that you’d come across will be of black currant. Though it is produced in almost all wine-making centers of the world, in local varieties, this one element persists in all forms of Cabernet.

Depending on the origin and variety of the Cabernet, you might also feel the hints of mint or eucalyptus to name a few. Just like the Pinot Noir, Cabernet is not a dessert wine, not all that fruity either, but is instead a dinner companion.

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Food Pairing

Wine adds elegance and class to dining but to get it right, the taste of the wine must be compatible with that of your food, but not strong enough to overshadow it or too light to be lost somewhere in the whole thing.

Hence food pairing for wine is as important as it gets and I cannot overstate its importance.

I’ll discuss your options briefly under the following headers, stay sharp!

Food Pairing For Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is honed for its versatility, the sheer variety available and the foods it can be paired with are both parts of an endless list. Pinot Noir can help you double the pleasure and elegance of your dining experience and this is especially true if you're eating meat.

If your dish has mushrooms, fish, meat, or duck in it, you’re in for a delight by pairing it with Pinot Noir. Apart from the ingredients, you must also factor in the different varieties of Pinot Noir – they are meant for different things.

Just a PS, you’d want a chilled glass for this wine, except for the mature ones.

Fresh Pinot Noir 

The fresh variants such as the red burgundy, are best paired with cold meats. You can also go for it if you're having something from the French cuisine, perhaps with sauces – like mustard sauce.

Goat cheese, spring vegetables, and asparagus will also go fine with such varieties.

Fruity Pinot Noir 

The fruitier or sweet versions are perfect companions for spicy foods such as seared salmon, grilled or roasted quail, duck, tuna, and pretty much all spicy meat-based dishes.

If you’re planning on having a family barbecue at your place, this variety will be perfect for serving to your guests.

Silky Pinot Noir

The silky or elegant version will go perfect with garlic-loaded roasted chicken, lamb chops, and rare fillet steak, to name a few. Roasted or grilled meats and mushrooms will find a fine companion in a glass of silky Pinot Noir.

Rich Pinot Noir

This too pairs well with roasted meats, even more so with roasted turkey, especially if it is served with a mild blue cheese. You know what this means, right? This one can be your Thanksgiving Day wine!

Mature Pinot Noir

If you love hunting and throwing dinners, then a bottle of mature Pinot Noir might be right up your taste bud alley. Pretty much any game-bird will be perfect for pairing with this wine.

Of course, the list does not end here.

You can explore on your own as well – just be sure to pair the food and wine appropriately.

Food Pairing For Cabernet Sauvignon

cabernet sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon may not have as many companions as some other competing red wines but there is one that pairs up so perfectly with this one that it’s as if they’re both soul mates: red meat.

Red Meat

Whether it is as a rare steak or barbecue, red meat is the perfect companion for Cabernet. The younger wines are perfect for coupling with spicy foods while you can go for low-sauce European dishes with the mature versions.

Other Food Parings For Cabernet

Cheeses also work fine, and so do garlic and mushrooms. You can wash down burgers and steaks with Cabernet, and the blend of tastes from both the food and wine will be exquisite.

If you’re going for beef dishes, roasted or grilled lamb, hard cheeses like cheddar or blue cheeses, or dried-up mushrooms (otherwise known as portabello), your safest bet would be to have them with Cabernet.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still confused about comparing Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon, here are the answers to some questions that may be bothering you:

Does Pinot Noir have more alcohol than Cabernet?

No. Though both Pinot Noir and Cabernet are low-sugar brews, the former has the lesser of the two which means that less ‘fuel’ is available for fermentation, resulting in comparatively lower alcohol content.

To put it simply: Pinot Noir contains less alcohol (generally) than Cabernet, however, neither one has particularly high levels of alcohol in them.

Is Pinot Noir sweeter than Cabernet Sauvignon?

Yes, Pinot Noir is (generally) sweeter than Cabernet Sauvignon. This does not make much difference since both tastes are impressive in both cases. Pinot Noir is available in several fruity versions, while most Cabernet wines are not all that sweet in comparison. As far as drinkability is concerned, though, a first-timer will be better off with a sweet variety of Pinot Noir rather than highly tannic and acidic Cabernet Sauvignon.

Which is better -- Pinot Noir or Cabernet?

Neither is better or worse. Both wines have their pros and cons and they are distinct brews with unique tastes and different food pairings. 

To say that one is superior to the other would be unfair to the hordes of fans and enthusiasts that prize both of them as elegant and exquisite dinner partners. The best way to approach the choice would be to pair the wine with whatever you’re having for dinner, this way, you’ll be able to enjoy the best both have to offer.

Bottom Line

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Choosing between Cabernet or Pinot Noir should not be based on a qualitative comparison, as that would leave you paralyzed in the selection process. Instead, consider the food pairings I have mentioned above, and if uncertain, just ask someone.

You can even drop the question in the comments section below.

My point is that both wines have a ton or even more to offer, and you'd be glad to have tasted both of them.

Cheers to life and fine dining with red wine!

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