Curious how cabernet franc vs cabernet sauvignon compare? These two red wine grapes have a very different following among wine drinkers. Many are passionate about Cabernet Sauvignon, but far fewer people get excited about Cabernet Franc. In reality, both of these grape varieties make elegant wines. Use this beginner-friendly guide to discover these grape varieties’ main differences, similarities, and tastes.
How Do Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon Taste?
Most wine drinkers focus on fruity flavors first in their wines, so we’ll start there.
Cabernet Sauvignon (“Cab Sauv”) wines are usually defined by blackberry fruits such as black cherry, blackberry, and black currant. You’ll often notice green bell pepper and other herbal notes. When the wine is aged in wooden barrels like oak, you’ll also notice spice, tobacco, and vanilla notes.
Cabernet Franc is about red fruit flavors such as raspberry, cherry, and strawberry. In common with Cabernet Sauvignon, this red wine variety also has bell pepper notes. Many wine drinkers also enjoy the savory elements of Cab Franc.
Cabernet Sauvignon Vs Cabernet Franc: Detailed Comparison
There are a few key points of comparison to fully understand these wine grape varieties and deepen your wine tasting experience. By understanding the interplay of acidity, tannin content, and other factors, you find more exciting wines at home and while dining out.
Cabernet Franc wine typically has a medium-high acidity level, while Cabernet Sauvignon is typically considered a lower acid wine. The difference in acidity impacts wine pairing choices and the range of foods that work with each wine.
It is tough to generalize alcohol percentages because winemakers and climate significantly impact alcohol. As a general rule of thumb, Cabernet Franc tends to have a medium level of alcohol (i.e., 11.5-13.5% ABV). In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon wine can have an average alcohol level up to 15-16% in some cases.
Since these wines are grown in various climates, it is easy to find affordable wines made of both grapes. For example, California wine country offers entry-level Cab Sauv wines under $50 and collection-worthy wines that cost well over $1.000. In my experience, Cabernet Franc wines tend to be the leader in affordable wines because this variety is not as well known.
Tip: Finding a wine bargain is easier when you’re open to trying wines from less well-known regions like British Columbia or South Africa. There are quality wines made worldwide – it is up to you to discover them!
Role in Blends
Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are both prominently featured in Bordeaux-style blends. Outside of France, these grape varieties are commonly used by winemakers in the Napa Valley, South Africa, Washington State, Ontario, and many other places. In particular, it is widespread to see winemakers blend a bottle of wine, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cabernet Franc.
In the USA and Canada, many wine drinkers tend to focus on a single varietal (i.e., “I like Merlot wine” or “I prefer Shiraz wine.”). Wine blends also have a great deal to offer, so make sure you give them a chance – especially Bordeaux-style red blends, which have been developed to perfection.
Berry Size and Color
A single wine grape is often described as a berry in the wine trade. Differences in color, grape skin thickness and related factors affect what you taste in your wine glass. Cabernet France wine berries tend to be minor, thin-skinned, and lighter in color. Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes tend to be small, but these grapes have thicker skin. Finally, Cabernet Sauvignon wineberries are known for their compatibility with wine barrel aging.
By the way, did you know that “Sauvignon” means savage? That description isn’t just a wine term. It reflects wine realities – Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes are remarkable in their ability to thrive in many different areas.
Most red wines have long been described as ‘tannic wine,’ but what does that mean exactly? As your resident wine expert, tannic wine means a wine where tannin content is significant. Tannin is a naturally occurring substance found in wine grapes, tea, pomegranate, chickpeas, and other foods. In wine terms, tannin content adds some bitter flavor to the wine. Don’t let that worry you – winemakers know how to balance tannin content with other factors to make a good bottle of wine.
In general, Cabernet Sauvignon has a very high tannin content, so this wine grape is commonly blended with other grapes. In comparison, Cabernet Franc is a medium-low in terms of tannin content. Wine lovers who strongly dislike tannin content should focus on white wines or low tannin red wines like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.
For those looking for a milder tannin experience, look for wine reviews that use phrases like ‘soft tannins.’ The phrase ‘soft tannins’ signals that the tannin content will be relatively low compared to the other elements in the glass.
Taking a few moments to appreciate the aromas of wine is one of the easiest ways to deepen your wine tasting experience. After all, your sense of smell and taste have a close relationship. Start by focusing your attention on the fruity aromas since those tend to be the easiest to detect.
Cabernet Sauvignon wine typically offers rich aromas of dark fruits, including plum, cherry, and blackberry. If the wine has been aged in oak, you might also detect hints of spice and vanilla. In terms of floral aromas, Cabernet Sauvignon typically smells of violets.
When you pour a glass of Cabernet Franc, the aroma compounds typically signal different fruits like cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. You may also notice herbaceous notes. In terms of floral aromas, Cab Franc is associated with violets.
Identifying a wine solely based on aromas, even if they are rich, can be very difficult for wine drinkers for a simple reason. Cabernet Franc wine is very commonly blended with other varieties. Therefore, finding a ‘pure 100%’ Cabernet Franc wine can take some effort. If you are interested in finding a bottle of wine made from a single grape variety, it helps to know the phrase ‘varietal wines.’ The phrase varietal wines refer to a wine made from a single grape variety rather than a blend of several wine varieties.
Dry Wine Vs. Sweet Wine
There’s not much difference in terms of Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon on this front. Most Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines are made in a dry wine style today. Other differences like the climate of the wine region are much more significant. However, there is one exception – ice wine, which is typically made in a sweet wine style.
Both of these red wine varieties are grown worldwide, especially since the 20th century as more wine regions took off. While both of these wine grapes are thought to have originated in France, they are widely grown in North America today. Once you know your way around these wine regions, you’ll be able to browse Wine Spectator’s wine recommendations easily or shop in wine country easily.
Let’s start our tour by looking at the cooler wine regions of North America. Surprisingly, you can find cooler climates like the Columbia Valley of Washington State, which grow these varieties. For example, Chinook Winery in Washington State is known for its Cab Franc. You can also find Cabernet Franc grown in Canadian wine country regions like Pelee Island and Lake Erie.
Warmer climates offer plenty of options for wine drinkers as well. You might think that Malbec defines Argentine wine. However, Argentine wine has so much more to offer in its wine scene. According to some estimates, Cabernet Sauvignon is the third most popular grape grown in Argentina today. For a taste of something different, pick up a wine from the Maipú for a Cabernet Sauvignon that blends black fruits and spice notes.
The best way to discover the differences between warm climate and cool-climate wines is to organize a wine tasting at home. For example, pick up a Cabernet Sauvignon from a warm climate like Napa Valley and one from a cool climate like Washington State. After a few sips, you’ll easily see the differences in flavor, alcohol percentage and more.
Effect of Wooden Barrels
Since the 17th century or even earlier, wooden barrels have been used to store and age the wine. Developing wine in wooden barrels has a significant impact on the wine’s taste. For example, some wine drinkers prefer American oak barrels or French oak barrels. In addition to those popular choices, some wine producers have started to use Hungarian oak barrels. Aging wine in Hungarian oak barrels tends to add notes of coconut and vanilla.
What if you are unsure if a given wine is aged in wooden barrels? Searching for the winery can yield answers, but the winery might operate in a language you don’t speak. In that case, asking an independent wine consultant can be helpful.
Cab Sauv vs Cab Franc: Food Pairings
As red wine grapes, you might assume that these wine varieties match the same foods. To some degree, this is true! These wines can pair wonderfully with rich meat dishes like burgers and steak. Unlike lighter-bodied wines, these two red wine varieties generally do not pair well with most fish dishes.
Cheese pairings are another point of commonality between these two types of wine. Cabernet Sauvignon wine typically pairs well with hard cheeses like my long-time favorite aged cheddar (but also gouda and gorgonzola). Cabernet Franc, in comparison, goes wonderfully with brie, feta, and goat cheese.
As your meal comes close, you might wonder which wine works best with your dessert course. Neither of these wines pairs well with standard dessert fare like dark chocolate. Fortunately, several wines pair wonderfully with dark chocolate and other sweets. Discover more in my wine chocolate pairing guide.
How Are Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon Related?
Ready to become the resident wine expert in your area? We’re about to dive deep into the origins of these famous wine varieties. You need to know three key points about these two grape varieties.
Cabernet Franc is considered the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly, the other parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon is the noted white wine grape Sauvignon Blanc. Few people realized this connection in the wine scene until advances in the 20th century made the link easy to understand.
France is credited with developing these great wine grapes like so many wine developments. According to Wine Folly, Cabernet Franc is thought to originate from southwest France (i.e., the region bordering Spain). Likewise, Cabernet Sauvignon also comes from France – specifically the Bordeaux region. Over time, Cabernet Sauvignon has become a key grape in the best Bordeaux wine.
Today, you can find these grapes made in cool and warm climates. Cool climates yield a wine with lower alcohol and higher acidity. In comparison, warm climates tend to have lower acidity and higher levels of alcohol and sugars. Over time, climate change may blur the traditional distinctions between different wine climates.
France remains the number one global producer of Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc’s other major wine-producing countries are the US, Italy, Argentina, and South Africa. Further, France is also the dominant producer of Cabernet Sauvignon. These red wine grapes are commonly used in Bordeaux-style red wines (also known as claret wine).
While both of these red wine grape varieties come from France, they are now grown worldwide. You’ll find these grapes in Napa Valley, the Loire Valley, Washington State, and the Niagara Peninsula. Winemakers worldwide have found ways to craft a memorable wine tasting experience from both of these grapes. Over time, there have been sizable plantings of both wine grapes in many different wine regions.
Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon Final Thoughts
Discovering the differences between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc takes some practice. You’ve found out that both of these grapes have different fruity aromas. Despite those differences, both wine varieties are commonly used in Bordeaux-style blends. In terms of quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon probably has a better-established reputation, but there are plenty of great wines made from Cab Franc.