Pinot Noir vs Cabernet – Which Should You Choose?

With a number of options and varieties, wine lovers are always spoiled for choices. Pinot Noir and Cabernet are two of the most popular and beloved types of red wine in the world. However, Cabernet is virtually grown everywhere and produces bold and compelling wines that pack a punch when it comes to flavors.

Pinot Noir grows in fewer regions because it is difficult to grow. Nevertheless, Pinot Noir is thin-skinned and produces highly elegant wines that are widely appreciated by wine connoisseurs for its finesse and smooth flavor.

Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet wines are vastly different, even though they are both red wines and also originate from the benchmark for excellent wines globally: France.

So, how do these grapes measure against each other? This is what you will find out by the time you read this article to the end. At least, you will be able to silence the “Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Wine” war that is always raging in your head anytime you step into a wine shop to pick up a bottle or two of red wines.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has been described by many vintners as one of the most challenging grapes to cultivate as well as to deal with in the winery. One of the reasons why it is still used to make wine is the fact that fans are passionate about this grape as it makes one of the sweetest, lovely wines in the market today.

Pinot Noir is an old grape variety to be grown for making wine. Ancient Romans had another name for Pinot Noir: Helvenacia Minor. It was vinified as early as the first century AD.

Pinot Noir is recognized globally as one of the most exceptional wine grapes and even holds several different aliases in different countries. It is grown in the following countries:

  • England
  • France
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Croatia (Burgundac)
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Algeria
  • Australia
  • Austria (Spätburgunder or Blauburgunder)
  • Hungary
  • Italy (Pinot Nero)
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Germany (Spätburgunder)
  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Switzerland (Clevner, but sometimes labeled “Dole” since it is often blended with Gamay Noir), etc.

How Pinot Noir Earned its Reputation

Pinot Noir became widely popular in the wine universe owing to the wines produced in Burgundy, i.e., Bourgogne, France. Even though the first time Pinot Noir was mentioned was in 1375, the vine had already been cultivated here for several centuries beforehand. This is the only region – which is a thirty-mile-long, two-mile-wide range of hills known as the “Slope of Gold” translated from Côte d’Or – which has consistently and successfully grown Pinot Noir.

Bourgogne was a high-quality product, and this is attributed to several factors. The first one is that its vineyard slopes down to the East, thus providing the vine with lots of exposure to the sun without exposing them to the intense afternoon heat.

The soil is also incredibly calcareous, i.e., chalky, composed of or containing a good amount of calcium carbonate, which gives room for excellent drainage. Soils that are well-drained usually have a somewhat higher average temperature, which is perfect as it aids the ripening process. Pinot Noir also appears to reflect the flavor of the soil much more than other varieties of black grapes which is why the site selection of the vineyard is a highly critical factor that must not be taken with levity.

There are lots of challenges that Pinot Noir encounter at every stage, right from the period it is propagated to its bottle-aging period. It is a vine that is so genetically unstable that the parent vine sometimes produces offspring which bear different fruits that are unrelated to it, especially in shape, size, cluster, and even aromas.

There are presently forty-six recognized genetic variants or clones of Pinot Noir in France today.

Pinot Noir is also very difficult to ferment, and this is partially due to the presence of about eighteen amino acids, all of which are balanced naturally in this variety of grapes. Pinot Noir is known to ferment violently, in most cases, even boiling up out of its container, thereby speeding the fermenting process beyond control.

The retention of color is another challenge for berries with thin skins, of which Pinot Noir is one. This grape is highly susceptible to acetification, and this weakness makes it lose that promising flavors and aromas – that wine lovers have come to cherish and appreciate – through fermentation as well as aging, immediately it is bottled.

Pinot Noir is naturally rich in one particular component, even much more than other varieties of grapes used for making wines. This component – i.e., resveratrol – is usually present in copious amounts when Pinot Noir is cultivated in more humid and colder climates. This, of course, does not affect the sensory enjoyment of Pinot Noir wine, but it must be mentioned nonetheless for the sake of health-conscious individuals.

Pinot Noir produces red wines that are very light in color, acidity, tannin, and flavor. An excellent example of Pinot Noir wine comes with a velvety-smooth tannic structure as well as a well-balanced tangy acidity which offers a small quantity of bitterness to the finish. Typical flavors include rich and juicy black cherry fruit as well as raspberry. And as the Pinot Noir ages, they usually develop agreeable pungent meaty notes.

Pinot Noir creates a long-lasting impression on both the palate and in the memory. The red wine’s aroma is, in most cases, the most complex when compared to other varietals, and can be very intense with a black cherry or ripe-grape aroma. This is often accented by a marked spiciness that suggests hints of mint, cinnamon as well as sassafras.

Pinot Noir is full-bodied and rich, but not too heavy or high in alcohol. It is also not tannic or acidic, and its substantial flavor is somewhat surprising despite its delicacy.

Cabernet

Cabernet belongs to the class of red wine grapes that are widely recognized across the world. Cabernet Wine became known internationally as a result of its prominence in Bordeaux (which is where it is cultivated) wines where it is frequently blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Cabernet was discovered in the 17th century, which was when Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Franc were crossed. It is a thick-skinned but small grape, and this gives it a high percentage of tannic seed as well as skin to sweet flesh. It is often used in blends, varietals such as Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot.

Cabernet Sauvignon forms complex, fruit-forward, full-bodied, and dry wines when vinified exceptionally well. These wines taste of heavy, black, and red fruit that is backed by detectable tannic content.

Cultivating Cabernet

Vintners and wine drinkers love Cabernet due to its taste profile and remarkable ease to produce. The vines are extremely hardy and can grow in a variety of climates and terrains. The grapes have thick skins which are incredibly resistant to severe weather like hail and frost.

Yields are, in most cases, very high, which is a massive positive for winemakers since Cabernet is one of the most in demand and sought-after red wines globally.

Cabernet has not been around all that long, especially if you take a trip down the annals of history to when humans first attempted to start making wine. It was discovered by accident sometime in the 17th century in Southwestern France. This was where Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc were mixed to create a new variety of grape. This is a recent discovery – in 1996 to be precise – in which DNA testing was conducted at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Many centuries of wine production pushed Cabernet to limelight and prominence in Bordeaux as well as regions like Napa Valley which further brought the grape new fame recently as a single varietal red wine. Many winemakers in Bordeaux are known for blending Cabernet with other varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Cabernet Sauvignon Taste

The climate Cabernet is cultivated in has a substantial effect on its taste. When it is grown in a cold climate, Cabernet tends to produce or yield dark-fruit forward wine. But if it is grown in warmer climates, Cabernet tends to produce more evidence of red fruit and acidity. Some winegrowers may prune the canopy leaves of Cabernet in order to increase sun exposure to the grapes.

Body and Structure

Depending on where and how Cabernet wine is produced, the structure of these alcoholic beverages can vary. Cabernet Sauvignon is produced, for the most part, to be a rich, full-bodied, dry wine.

Variations that were produced in Napa Valley – referred to as the “New World” – appear to be more fruit-forward while those produced in Bordeaux, i.e. the “Old World” showcase more earthy complexities – i.e. more like floral/herbal flavors of violets, tobacco, and violets – and also less aggressive fruit flavors.

When you smell a Bordeaux, your senses will be flooded with hints of licorice and black cherries along with its pronounced earthiness. But New World Cabernet exhibit flavors of black pepper, licorice, and black cherry all cloaked with a dash of vanilla. New World Cabernet wines contain less acidity and tannins but are loaded with more alcohol.

Sometimes, you may or may not taste some of these hints or flavors, and that is because Cabernet wine is usually processed in stainless steel vats. An organic compound group known as “pyrazines” which give off a green bell pepper aroma, is associated with Cabernet.

The high tannin structure – thanks to its thick skin and size of the berries – and complexity of Cabernet wine make it an excellent choice for any meat or poultry dish. The dark fruit, in combination with the robust spiciness of the wine, balances out a piece of braised pork ribs, lamb or filet mignon perfectly and easily. More food pairing with Cabernet will be discussed later on in this article.

Cabernet also ages gracefully, thanks to its chemical compounds or phenolics. Aged Cabernet – from eight to twelve years – have exhibit mellower tannins.

Flavor

According to some researchers in Canada, wines that are produced from vineyards, which are overrun with Asian ladybugs affect its taste significantly. Ladybug taint occurs when beetles are unknowingly added to into the fermenting wine.

Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Wine: Food Pairing

In this section, the best food pairings for both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Wine will be highlighted. This is to let you know how to combine your food with the best of either wine so that you can derive maximum pleasure and benefits when you eat your tasty meals.

Without further ado, let’s dive in right away.

The Best Food Pairings for Pinot Noir

As stated earlier, Pinot Noir is a versatile red wine that can be paired with some foods for maximum pleasure. They’re excellent options in a restaurant, especially when your date is eating fish and you are eating meat.

There are several ingredients that will pair excellently well with nearly all Pinot Noir – such as mushrooms, ducks, etc. – while others, especially tuna or salmon will depend significantly on how they have been cooked as well as the particular style of Pinot Noir you are drinking.

Here are some of the excellent food pairings for different styles of Pinot Noir, most of which should be served chilled (except for the mature Pinots):

Light, Fresh Pinot Noir

Fresh, light Pinot Noir such as Alsace Pinot Noir, red burgundy, etc. can be paired perfectly with ham, charcuterie as well as other cold meats. They will also go well with classic French dishes accompanied by creamy sauces such as kidneys or rabbit with a mustard sauce.

Pinots also pair well with grilled asparagus, goat cheese, patés, and terrines as well as spring vegetables like peas, etc.

Sweet-fruited Pinot Noir

Sweetly fruited Pinot Noir such as the varieties that hail from New Zealand, California, and Chile – with bright berry fruit – pair remarkably well with dishes prepared with a touch of spice such as grilled quail, crispy duck pancakes char siu for, seared tuna, and salmon.

You can also enjoy your Pinots with barbecues as well as a roasted – or other – well-cooked beetroot dishes. Dishes that also include figs or cherries such as a combination of duck and figs at Kooyong in Mornington Peninsula is worth a try with your lovely red wine.

Elegant Pinot Noir

Elegant, silky Pinot Noir – such as the top red burgundy as well as other Burgundian-style pinots – can be matched with guineafowl or roast chicken (loaded with lots of garlic) and pigeon. Your pinot can also be served whenever you are eating a rack of lamb that is served pink and even with fillet steak (rare) and carpaccio.

Pinot Noir pair well with roast pork accompanied by fennel and herbs. Beef Wellington, turkey or chicken sausages, sweetbreads, and Calves liver can be taken with this variety of Pinot Noir.

You can also enjoy mushroom risotto, grilled or roast lobster along with morels or other wild mushrooms with a chilled bottle of Pinot Noir.

Rich or Full-bodied Pinot Noir

Full-bodied Pinot Noir from Central Otago or a hot vintage pairs well with the following:

Chargrilled steak, butterflied lamb, venison along with dishes such as duck or cassoulet with rustic olives. Hare Royale, roast goose, and glazed ham also go well with Pinot Noir.

You can also have roast turkey with milder blue cheese (Gorgonzola dolce), brie cheese, etc. paired off with Pinot Noir. Coq au vin where its sauce is prepared with Pinot Noir is another excellent choice.

Truffley Pinot Noir

Truffley, mature Pinots from old vintages of Burgundy can be paired with cold game pie as well as with feathered game such as pheasant, grouse, and partridge.

These are just a few of the best food pairings for Pinot Noir. You can also experiment with other dishes for versatility and to enhance your creativity as well.

The Best Food Pairings for Cabernet Wine

If you are looking for the perfect food pairing for Cabernet wine, you do not have to try so hard or look very far. Virtually any red meat, especially one that is served rare, is more than enough to do the trick.

Of course, there are different styles of Cabernet out there – new world Cabernets from places like Australia, Chile, and California. These come with profound flavored cassis fruit. Other varieties of Cabernet are more restrained and elegant such as Cabernets from Bordeaux which is, in most cases, blended with cabernet franc and merlot.

To get the best of young Cabernets, it will help immensely to have elements of spice or charring to make up for the tannins and sweetness. But with older and mellower Cabernet which are subtly sauced or braced, classic European dishes is the best to pair with.

Some seasonings – such as rosemary, garlic, porcini (dried mushrooms), and mint usually tend to flatter Cabernet immensely. Combinations of cheese and meat, as well as dishes cooked in red wine, are successful as well.

Here are some of the best food pairings for Cabernet:

Steak, i.e., Sirloin, Ribeye, or other fattier Steaks served medium-rare or rare

The burger is virtually chopped steak, though the other ingredients also play a significant role in the success or failure of the food pairing.

Napa Valley Cabernet with Bozzi Burger topped with smoky barbecue sauce, aged gouda, and crispy fried onions. For maximum enjoyment, go for new world Cabernet rather than Bordeaux, which is somewhat on the light side.

Beef short Ribs along with other Braise Beef Dishes

Venison – or slow-braised beef – is also a good one, especially when it is prepared in red wine. Another great pairing is fashionable, ox cheek dishes.

Grilled or Roast Lamb

A lamb steak or butterflied leg of lamb – with rosemary – will always win the heart of any wine and food lover, especially with a Cabernet such as red Bordeaux. If you want to be in clover, you can add a small grain of dauphinoise on the side.

Cheese

Cabernet is a great and versatile red wine when paired with hard cheeses such as gouda or aged cheddar.

Blue cheeses – e.g., Gorgonzola – work exceptionally well when taken in combination with a burger or steak. You can also show off a good Cabernet by adding a side of cheesy polenta.

Mushroom, especially Portabello

This is for vegetarians or people who don’t like eating meat. In that case, one or two juicy grilled Portabello mushroom – with garlic and butter – make an excellent pairing. The intense flavor of porcini mushrooms (dried) also help to make the Cabernet shine.

On a final note, bitter-edged veggies such as grilled radicchio, roasted Brussel sprouts, and broccoli rabe are the actual winners. More pungent and piney herbs like thyme and rosemary basil work outstandingly well to pull out the eucalyptus or cedar elements hidden in Cabernet wines.

Health Benefits of Drinking Pinot Noir Wine

The debate of whether or not it is healthy to drink wine is an everlasting one. However, how beneficial red wine is to your overall health depends significantly on how much or how little you consume from time to time as well as the type of red wine you choose. Of course, many wine lovers out there know that drinking red wine is much healthier than consuming its white or sparkling counterpart. It is also much healthier than drinking beer, no thanks to loads of carbs that beer contains.

Nevertheless, not all reds are created precisely the same, which is what any sommelier worth his salt will tell you. Different cultivars of grapes portray different nutrients, and wines are also prepared in several ways. This implies that some red wines may have more sugar than others, etc.

Red wine, especially Pinot Noir, in particular, is loaded with antioxidants that help to enhance the quality of life of consumers. Pinot Noir contains the highest concentration of resveratrol, which has been associated with reducing the risks of heart disease, stroke, and even combating cancer.

But resveratrol is not the only potent antioxidant present in Pinot Noir over other varieties of red wine. However, Pinot Noir has an extremely low level of sugar before it undergoes fermentation, thereby resulting in a wine that contains less alcohol as well as fewer calories than the average Cabernet.

Moreover, the amount of tannins in Pinot Noir is incredibly low, and though tannins also have some health benefiting attributes to share at all times, they are not exactly suitable for people who are prone to heartburn.

Here are some of the few health benefits of drinking a glass or two of Pinot Noir every day:

Enhanced Levels of Cholesterol

Alcohol – especially when present in moderately-consumed red wine – has beneficial properties or effect on the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which, according to medical researchers, is the “good” kind of cholesterol.

According to a study which was published in the 2015 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine which involved some individuals who ingested different types of fluid over a specific period. Each participant drank five ounces of per day of dry white wine, mineral water, dry red wine which includes Pinot Noir and also consumed a Mediterranean diet.

At the end of the test period, it was discovered that those who drank Pinot Noir had an increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels compared to those who drank mineral water and white wine.

Prevention of Cancer and Treatment

The resveratrol in Pinot Noir has been proven to be effective in the prevention as well as treatment of a variety of cancers, according to an article that was published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Here are some of the crucial aspects of this remarkable benefit:

  • Resveratrol in red wine can prevent cancerous tumors from starting to develop or grow
  • It can protect against the severe damages caused by carcinogens
  • Resveratrol can also prevent the mutation of cancer cells in the human body, which may eventually be resistant to chemotherapy.
  • It can slow down the spread of cancer cells throughout the human body and also suppress the growth of existing ones.

Improved Mental Health

According to several well-researched notes published in Nutrition and Aging in 2016, light to moderate consumption of Pinot Noir significantly minimizes the risk of having dementia. The study also indicates that the antioxidants – i.e., resveratrol, quercetin, and catechin – are primarily responsible for this neuroprotective effect.

Another study, published this time around in the PLOS One journal detailed the intense observation of the impact of resveratrol on cognitive function in mice. The researchers concluded that this flavonoid deserves even more research to determine its overall impact on cognitive aging.

Reduced Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

The Annals of Internal Medicine also showcased a study which revealed that red wine drinkers would see a considerable decrease in the components that instigate metabolic syndrome in the human body. Metabolic syndrome can bring about a variety of health conditions that increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Another in-depth study which was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2015 highlighted some analysis of the effects of drinking Pinot Noir on the risk of metabolic syndrome. The researchers concluded that moderate consumption of red wine, e.g., Pinot Noir is linked with a low prevalence of metabolic syndrome, especially in women younger than seventy years of age as well as those who are former or current smokers.

Increased Lifespan

Do you know that regular – and controlled – consumption of red wine like Pinot Noir slows aging and significantly increase lifespan? Well, now you know, thanks to several studies that have been performed on this particular topic over the years.

As stated in a review of the literature that was published in Heart Failure Reviews, a number of studies proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the resveratrol that is present in Pinot Noir could work on some specific genes that have to do with longevity.

This powerful flavonoid can also minimize some of the damages that occur as a result of natural aging processes, especially where it has to do with the heart. But then, when this hypothesis was applied to mice, there was no indication that it prolonged their lives.

This implies that more research is required in this regard, even though it has been observed that longer lifespan is a privilege that is enjoyed in select regions in France where red wine is consumed regularly.

Reduced Inflammation

Red wine – Pinot Noir in particular – has been shown to reduce inflammation in the human body, though several implications may occur when this happens.

A study which was published in the American Journal of Biomedical Sciences showed that regular consumption of red wine helps to protect patients from the inflammatory responses that are linked with a number of severe infections. This could potentially minimize long-term damage from elevated immune responses in the human body.

Prevention of Tooth Decay

Red wine can contribute to the prevention of tooth decay, according to the Current Opinion in Biotechnology journal. Several beverages and foods have been shown to bring down the incidence of cavities or caries in people that consume them, and Pinot Noir has been shown to be one of them.

Reduced Blood Clotting

Remember that review of the literature showcased in the Journal of Medical Biochemistry? Well, the same study also demonstrated that several substances in red wine help in reducing the risk of blood clots. As you know – or may not know – blood clots are one of the primary causes of the health condition known as “stroke.”

Prevention of Diabetes

A review of the literature that was published in the Journal of Medical Biochemistry revealed that the moderate and regular consumption of Pinot Noir or red wine contributed to the prevention of diabetes. This research, however, is still ongoing to find out how and why the alcohol in red wine has that type of effect as well as to see if there is any effect on persons already diagnosed with the deadly disease.

Moreover, it has been discovered that this effect is not peculiar to red wine only.

How Much Red Wine Should You Drink?

And now comes the question of how Pinot Noir you should drink, given the numerous health benefits associated with red wine. Scientists have gone on to reveal that drinking too much red wine could have adverse effects which would negate the impact of the health benefits you ought to experience.

So, how can you accurately gauge the amount of red wine you should consume in order to enjoy the numerous health benefits it contains?

According to YNHH (Yale-New Haven Hospital), the amount of red wine you consume depends significantly on your gender.

Males metabolize alcohol much more quickly and within a short time frame than females, and for that reason, they can drink one to two 4-to-5-ounce glasses of Pinot Noir every day. Females, on the other hand, should severely limit their consumption of red wine to one 4-ounce serving per day.

It is highly vital for you to check with your physician so that any health problems can be ruled out in order not to exacerbate any health condition you may have should you start drinking red wine.

Yale-New Haven Hospital also pointed out that individuals who do not drink alcohol should not be compelled to start consuming Pinot Noir because they want to enhance their overall health and enjoy the benefits of red wine.

Benefits in Drinking Pinot Noir Moderately

There is no iota of doubt that drinking red wine, especially Pinot Noir, has lots of health benefits you should take advantage of for free. But the only way these health benefits can apply to your overall health is if you drink red wine in moderation.

You need to fully understand the potential health benefits you will enjoy when you drink red wine moderately as this will enable you to make smart decisions, especially whether or not you should include regular consumption of Pinot Noir in your healthy diet.

Take note that if you go ahead and consume more than the recommended glass – or glasses as the case may be – you will be putting yourself at considerable risk of getting heart disease as well as a variety of cancers.

Too much consumption of alcoholic beverages can also severely damage your liver as well as disrupt your regular sleep cycle.

But if you are already given to drinking alcohol all the time, you should consider getting lots of folates as well. Folate is a B vitamin that is essential for cell growth and reproduction, and it is usually found in bread, legumes, and pasta. This B vitamin helps to slow down the absorption of alcohol, thereby mitigating its effect on the human body effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to know if a wine can be stored?

One of the easiest ways to know if a wine can be stored is by its level of alcohol. When a wine is kept on a cellar, it slowly starts losing its level of alcohol due to evaporation. The higher the level of alcohol, the longer it will be preserved while stored. One high alcohol leveled wine is fortified or dessert wines.

Can I mix wines?

Yes! It might sound weird, but it is even recommended to mix wines ones in a while so you can experiment with new flavors. There are even some blend varieties of red and white wine that mixed different kinds of grapes and wines to create a new wine experience.

Can I eat dessert with Cabernet?

Cabernet is considered a rich red wines, and like any other rich red wine, any deep flavor is a good match. You might want to avoid mixing it with a citric dessert such as lemon pie or a very bitter dark chocolate, but dark fruits such as plum and blueberries can be a good pairing.

Conclusion

Pinot Noir and Cabernet Wine are red wines and also hail from virtually the same region, i.e., France. But they have different tastes, aromas, and offer health benefits in one way or the other, though Pinot Noir appears to be loaded with more antioxidants and nutrients than its counterpart.

Pinot Noir is difficult to cultivate and can only flourish in select areas, but Cabernet is incredibly hardy and can thrive in a variety of climates or locations. Our personal favorite between the two is Pinot Noir. We love it for its light and inviting essence. When paired with a nice meal, the right pinot can be undeniably delicious.

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Ben Holt

Ben practiced as a "Wine connoisseur" in the restaurant industry for over 2 years. He suggested, tested and educated diners on which wine would best fit their meal. Ben is also a freelance writer with over 4 years of experience. He now shares his insights on wine and wine accessories for those looking to take their love of this amazing beverage to the next level!

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