Is Pinot Noir Sweet or Dry?

One of the most popular wines in the world, Pinot Noir is praised for its finesse and unique flavor combinations.

With bright ruby hues, floral aromas, and a fresh berry taste, it has all the makings of a sweet red wine.

In this article, we’re digging into the truth behind Pinot Noir’s flavors and whether or not it qualifies as one of the truly sweet types.


What is Pinot Noir? | Macy's Wine Shop

What is Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is most associated with the Burgundy region of France. Due to its light-bodied nature, high acidity, and fruity flavor profile, this red wine thrives in cool climates, favoring clay and limestone soils. Other popular growing areas include New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Chile, Germany, and the United States (specifically Sonoma County, California, Oregon, and New York), making Pinot Noir an international varietal. 

The name is derived from the French words “pine” and “black,” referring to the pinecone-shaped grape clusters that gather tightly on the vine. 

Pinot Noir grapes are thin-skinned, which makes the delicate variety susceptible to rot and mildew. 

There’s another aspect the thin skins affect, and that’s the taste. 

What Does Pinot Noir Taste Like?

While most red wines are grippy on the palate due to their higher tannins, Pinot Noir boasts higher acidity as a result of its thin skins. The skins leave the grapes more exposed to the elements, further breaking down their tannin content. 

“Tannins” refer to the somewhat astringent taste associated with tea or dark chocolate. When someone says a wine is tannic, they mean it has a slight bitterness. These microscopic organic compounds are also the reason behind the “red wine headache” some may experience. 

Pinot Noir boasts a light to medium body, depending on whether it’s grown in cooler climates or somewhere slightly warmer. It's an easier sipper than bold reds like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, as this wine tastes like red cherries, cranberries, currants, raspberries, flowers, and sometimes forest floor or light tea. 

Still, one more question remains regarding this type of wine’s taste: is Pinot Noir sweet or dry?

Is Pinot Noir a Sweet Wine?

Despite its fruit-forward flavors, Pinot Noir is undoubtedly a dry red wine.

A wine’s sweetness is determined by the amount of residual sugars left over after fermentation, and Pinot Noir only contains one to three grams of residual sugar per glass, or 3-5% per bottle. 

On the red wine scale, Pinot Noir is far from dessert wines like Port and closer to very dry wines such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Chianti. 

The alcohol content also plays a role in the perception of Pinot Noir’s sweetness, as higher ABV (alcohol by volume) can make a wine taste sweeter than it is. 

Pinot Noir grown in warmer climates like California and Australia are bolder and have a high alcohol content of 13.5-15% ABV, as the weather allows them to ripen fully. The result is a sweeter, more robust wine.

In cooler climate regions like France, Germany, and Oregon, the alcohol content is much lower at around 12-13.5% ABV.

Warm climate Pinot with more alcohol will always taste sweeter, even though it isn’t.

We know how Pinot Noir tastes. Let’s see how it compares to two other equally famous red wines. 

Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

While Pinot Noir is delicate with crisp berry notes and zingy acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon is robust with decadent vanilla, black currant, tobacco, and spice notes due to its affinity for oak aging. 

Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in warm to hot climates, whereas Pinot Noir is better left to ripen in cooler climates due to its thin skins. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is also peppery, packing a punch in every sip due to its high tannins. As discussed earlier, Pinot Noir favors acidity over tannins. 

Merlot vs. Pinot Noir

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is a full-bodied red wine with dark, complex plum, blackberry, cherry, and other red fruit notes.

While it is smoother with more supple tannins than Cabernet, Merlot still carries more tannins than Pinot Noir. 

As a result, Pinot Noir will fare better with lighter meats and vegetarian cuisine, while Merlot thrives when paired with roasted red meats.

Let’s look at some of the best Pinot Noir food pairings.

Pouring a glass of red wine | Macy's Wine Shop

What Pairs With Pinot Noir?

With its mossy forest floor notes, Pinot Noir shines with mushroom and tomato-based dishes, like creamy vegetable risotto.  

It’s also light enough to complement salads like Caesar salad, further enhancing Pinot Noir’s lovely green undertones. 

Pinot Noir is traditionally decadent with beef bourguignon, pork tenderloin, lamb, and duck, brought to life by Pinot Noir’s bright acidity and elegant style.

Lastly, Pinot Noir is an excellent choice alongside salmon, which is fatty enough to balance the wine’s acidity without overpowering its fruity notes.  

How to Serve Pinot Noir

Regarding serving temperature, Pinot Noir is best when tasted at “wine cellar temperatures,” which is around fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit. 

For glasses, did you know that Pinot Noir is best served in a unique glass crafted just for its bright aromas?

These glasses have wide bowls (bases) and narrow openings, allowing more oxygen into the wine’s surface. This helps to bring out more delicate notes like bright cranberry, flowers, and moss. 

Should Pinot Noir be Chilled?

If your wine has been sitting around room temperature for some time, that’s no problem. Simply pop it into the fridge for twenty minutes before serving.

How Long Does Pinot Noir Last?

Like all wines, Pinot Noir begins breaking down when exposed to oxygen. This is why it’s best finished within four to five days after opening. 

If your bottle of Pinot has yet to be opened, it could last up to a few years. 

With the proper storage conditions, which include darkness, 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit, and around 50-70% humidity, a well-crafted, high-quality Pinot Noir can last up to five years or longer. This wine’s higher acidity dramatically aids in its aging potential. 

Discover Pinot Noir

Despite its fruity qualities, Pinot Noir is a dry red wine through and through. However, those made from grapes grown in warmer climates will taste slightly sweeter, as they’ll have higher sugars and alcohol content after ripening fully. 

If you’re eager to taste Pinot Noir from around the world, we’ve got it in spades at The Wine Shop and a full selection of red wines.

If you’d like to learn more about your favorite wines, don’t forget to visit The Wine Shop Blog.