Cabernet Franc vs Sauvignon – Which Wine Variety is Best?

Main Differences Between Cabernet Franc vs Sauvignon

The Main Differences Between Cabernet Franc vs Sauvignon are:

  • Cabernet Franc is a wine grape with black skin, whereas Sauvignon grapes ripen slower.
  • Cabernet Franc has flavours of dark spice with herbaceous notes of tobacco, whereas Sauvignon graphite and black cherry flavours.
  • Cabernet Franc it’s most often used in blends, whereas Sauvignon it’s most commonly used in Bordeaux wine blends.
  • Cabernet Franc is slightly on the dry side when it comes to sweetness, whereas Sauvignon can go from dry to very dry.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon? If so, you’re in the right place. Out of the countless varieties of wine, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon may be the most talked about. At the same time, their similar names can bring some confusion.

This article covers everything you need to know about these two wines—how they taste and smell, what their origin is, which foods they pair well with, and much more. You’ll even learn about the history of these popular wines. To top it off, I’ll also share some of my favorite bottles of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to make finding a good bottle of wine effortless.

As you may know, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are both red wines. While red wines can share many of the same characteristics—such as flavors of dark fruit and spice—there are many differences that distinguish one red wine from another.

Though Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon have similar names, they are very different in their characteristics. These characteristics include:

  • Flavors — wines can have distinct flavors of things like spices, herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Smell — red wine can bring to mind scents ranging from floral to herbaceous to fruity or smokey.
  • Sweetness — some wines are on the sweet side, while others have no sweetness—meaning dry.
  • Body — the body of a wine is referring to its thickness (think about the difference between water and whole milk).
  • Tannin — the amount of tannins refers to the compounds that cause dryness in the mouth (think over-steeped black tea), which offers both bitterness and complexity to the wine (not to be confused with “dry” as in describing the amount of sweetness).
  • Acidity — wine with higher acidity may exude hints of crisp green apple or bright citrus.
  • Color — red wines can range in color from pale ruby to dark purple to deep tawny.
  • Alcohol — wine can differ in ABV anywhere between 5% (think Riesling) and 21% (think port).
  • Ageability — while wines can get better as they age, some are best served young—meaning they will likely oxidize and become unpleasant after too much time on the shelf.
  • Pairings — different wines pair well with different foods. For example, a  sauvignon blanc may work well with seafood, while a shiraz often pairs well with barbecue.

One characteristic you may notice right away when comparing a bottle of these two wines next to each other is the difference in color. Cabernet Sauvignon has a deep ruby red color, while Cabernet Franc is much lighter in color. You’ll find the above characteristics used as we compare these two wines.

What is Cabernet Franc?

Cabernet Franc is a wine grape with black skin. Though it’s native to France, you can find Cabernet Franc grapes grown in nearly every wine-producing country in the world—including Italy, Australia, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Croatia, and The United States. It’s best grown in stony or chalky soils.

Cabernet Franc first became popular in 17th century France—specifically in Loire Valley. At the time, it was most commonly called Bouchet. Around this same time, Cabernet Franc became one of the parent grapes which created Cabernet Sauvignon. The close connection between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is why many wonder what the difference is between these wines. In fact, some may confuse a Cabernet Franc with an unripe Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is not the only popular grape that Cabernet Franc is a parent to. It’s also a parent grape to Merlot. Merlot is the world’s second most popular wine grape—right after Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc is most known as a reliable and versatile blending grape—adding flavors of dark spice with herbaceous notes of tobacco. It’s the third ingredient in the highly sought-after Bordeaux blend. Though it’s most often used in blends, Cabernet Franc is also enjoyed as a varietal wine—meaning it’s drunk without mixing other varieties of grapes. Over the past few decades, winemakers have produced some fantastic 100% Cabernet Franc wines, especially in thriving regions such as California, New York, and Washington State.

Characteristics of Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc grapes are known to be robust in a wide variety of climates. Not many grapes share Cabernet Franc’s ability to produce good quality wine just about anywhere. This also hints at its diverse flavors.

There are variances in the taste of Cabernet Franc wines depending on the region that it’s cultivated. For instance, wines showcase tart fruit flavors and a sense of heightened acidity in cool climates such as Ontario and the Loire Valley. In warm climates such as the Sierra Foothills and the Bolgheri region in Tuscany, wines often share more sweet strawberry and preserved fruit flavors.

In general, this wine tends to have delicious dominant flavors of strawberry, raspberry, bell pepper, and red plum. You may also notice hints of chili pepper and crushed gravel (in a pleasant way). The scent of this wine can bring to mind fragrant perfume and fresh herbs.

One of the most interesting flavors and scents you may notice when being introduced to a bottle of Franc is what many describe as bell pepper. Some love it—some hate it. This flavor is brought on by a group of aroma compounds called pyrazines (which also happens to be found in bell pepper). The vines naturally contain these compounds which give it the bell pepper flavor. Wines from warmer climates may even display sweet roasted red pepper and spiced chocolate flavors.

Cabernet Franc is on the dry side when it comes to sweetness, and it has relatively low acidity. You can expect medium tannins and a medium body—not too heavy, not too thin. Like most red wines, this one is best served at or just below room temperature.

You won’t find many Cabernet Francs that are older than ten years. This wine is best when it ages less than 5-10 years. The fact that this wine isn’t highly tannic contribute to its inability to age for a long period of time. It’s best to serve this one young.

Cabernet Franc goes great with tomato or vinegar-based sauces including sweet and smokey BBQ. It also goes well with spaghetti and meatballs, curry chicken, lamb gyros, and roasted red peppers with mushrooms.

Overview of Cabernet Franc

  • Flavors: Raspberry, strawberry, bell pepper, gravel
  • Smell: Perfumy, herbaceous
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Body: Medium
  • Tannin: Medium
  • Acidity: Low-medium
  • Color: Light red
  • Alcohol: 11.5-13.5%
  • Serve: Room temperature
  • Ageability: Best served young (<10 years)
  • Pairings: Tomato or vinegar-based sauces, sweet and smokey BBQ, roasted pork, lamb gyros

Cabernet Francs worth trying

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016

This Cabernet Franc has an intense red color, which makes you want to enjoy it all the more. You may notice elegant scents of red and black fruit and a hint of fresh mint. Overall, this is a fresh and well-balanced Franc with a nice long finish. Decanting this one brings out scents of flowers, cassis, and clove. Be with gamey meat. https://www.wine.com/product/fabre-montmayou-reserva-cabernet-franc-2016/430930

Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvee Terroir 2016

This wine is especially delicious. Complex flavors of bright cherry, tart plum, and juicy blackberry lead the way along with lovely hints of earthy pine. This Cabernet Franc is highly versatile compared to many others. Chances are, it’ll go perfectly with your favorite dish. You can expect nicely structured and supple tannins and vibrant acidity. https://www.wine.com/product/charles-joguet-chinon-cuvee-terroir-2016/524889

What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

In the southwest of 17th century France, a new grape appeared after accidental breeding. That grape is now known as Cabernet Sauvignon, and it happens to be the world’s most popular wine grape today. In fact, there’s a whole day in August dedicated to this wine—Cabernet Sauvignon Day falls on the Thursday before Labor Day.

Cabernet Sauvignon really took off In 1976 after a Cab from Stags’ Leap in the Napa Valley surpassed the top wines in the Judgment of Paris (a wine competition) using a blind taste test. From then on, this wine blew up and began being served in restaurants worldwide.

In 1977, scientists shocked wine connoisseurs everywhere when they discovered that its two parent grapes are Sauvignon Blanc (a white grape) and Cabernet Franc. It’s unexpected that a white grape could create a world-class red—but it did.

Though Cabernet Sauvignon is popular as a single varietal, it’s also sought after for its ability to be a strong base for blends. It’s most commonly used in Bordeaux wine blends along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its ability to pair well with a wide variety of foods—, especially meats. Traditionally, this wine is enjoyed with a meal because many find it too bold and overwhelming to enjoy without food, but this has changed some over the years. Many Cabernet Sauvignons are enjoyable even on their own.

As far as growing goes, Cabernet Franc ripens quicker than Cabernet Sauvignon. On average, you can expect Cabernet Sauvignon to take one week longer to ripen. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are small and have a thick skin which creates a high 1:12 ratio of pip (seed) to a pulp (fruit). Because of the thick skin, there are high levels of tannins which highly influences the flavor and ageability of the wine.

Characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon wine is known for its dark ruby-red color and full body. Right away, you may notice flavors of black cherry, blackcurrants, tobacco, baking spice, and graphite. Much like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon wines from cooler climates tend to display flavors and scents of bell pepper due to the levels of pyrazines. You may also taste hints of vanilla due to aging the wine in oak.

This wine is not sweet to the tongue. You can expect Cabernet Sauvignons to range from dry to very dry. They also are highly tannic—meaning you will certainly feel the dry sensation in your mouth when you take a sip. The acidity is far higher than the Cabernet Franc. This is another reason why it can be too bold to have on its own.

The alcohol content is over 13.5%, with the majority of wines from Chile, Australia, and California being around 14.5% and sometimes even passing 15%. Like the majority of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon is best served at or just below room temperature to enjoy all of the complex flavors.

One reason why wine enthusiasts love Cabernet Sauvignon so much is because of its ability to age for a long time. This is believed to be due to the tannins which act as a preservative. In fact, most sommeliers agree that Cabernet Sauvignons are at their best when they age a minimum of ten years—though many say that they can reach their peak at 13-25 years. Some Cabs can age for several decades while enhancing the intricate flavors.

Though there’s no right or wrong when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon pairings, in general, its best enjoyed with bold-flavored dishes. Otherwise, you may notice that this wine overpowers the meal. Peppery sauces and dishes go great with Cabernet Sauvignon. Grilled meats, stir fry, blue cheese burgers, rich balsamic sauces, and BBQ ribs are also excellent choices. Give it a try with your favorite meal and see if it works.

Overview of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Flavors: Black cherry, tobacco, spices, graphite
  • Smell: Spice, black currant, cedar
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Body: Full
  • Tannin: High
  • Acidity: High
  • Color: Dark red
  • Alcohol: 13.5-15%
  • Serve: Room temperature
  • Ageability: Can be aged due to high tannins (>10 years)
  • Pairings:  Bold-flavored dishes, grilled meat, peppery foods

Cabernet Sauvignons worth trying

DAOU Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

This wine has heady aromatics and a range of complex flavors which affirm that this is a wine for all wine lovers. You may notice upfront flavors of plum, blackberry, and black cherry with accents of tobacco, dark chocolate, cranberries, and menthol. Aromas include hints of thyme, fig, and black olives. This wine brings together the senses for a journey that starts boldly and ends with style and elegance. https://www.wine.com/product/daou-vineyards-cabernet-sauvignon-2017/509848

Vina Robles Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Right away you’ll notice that this Cab has a beautiful dark red garnet color which the subtle blend of Petit Verdot plays a part in. This wine is full-bodied and has flavors of cherry, cassis, and blueberry, along with notes of licorice, cocoa, and fresh-ground coffee. The smell brings to mind cedar, anise, and sweet blueberries. You’ll experience rich and chewy tannins which pleasantly add to the experience.

Final Thoughts on Cabernet Franc vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

When it comes to their core characteristics and flavors, these two wines can be very different and yet in some ways, very similar. For instance, Cabernet Franc has less tannic structure than Cabernet Sauvignon. At the same time, they both share pleasant flavors of bell pepper or fresh mint. You can also expect more acidity, alcohol, body, and tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon.

All in all, what this means is that Cabernet Sauvignon can be much more outgoing with its bold taste and scent. If you’re looking to enjoy a wine on its own, you may be better off trying a Cabernet Franc. If you’re choosing a red wine for a dinner party, you’ll want to pair Cabernet Sauvignon if the food selection is full of bold flavors and Cabernet Franc for subtle flavors. Better yet, try a couple of my suggestions and compare both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon side-by-side.

Cacie Wright

There are few things Cacie loves more than a glass of red wine in the evening (or a few). Cacie has sipped her way through California, France, and Italy trying to learn everything she could about different wines and where they come from. Now, she enjoys filling others in on what she has discovered. One thing she has happily learned is that the best wines aren’t always the most expensive.

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