Grenache vs Cabernet Sauvignon grapes makes some of the best French wines today. Most wine lovers already know a lot about Cabernet Sauvignon, but far fewer know their way around Grenache.
Grenache vs Cabernet Sauvignon: Detailed Comparison
These two red wine grapes are made in a wide range of styles. Wine producers constantly keep evolving their variety of styles to appeal to your taste buds. Given these realities, generalizing about varietal wines is difficult. However, each red grape variety does have certain tendencies that reliably influence the finished wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache wine both have medium acidity. As a result, blending these wine grapes does not significantly change the acidity level of the finished wine.
Similar Alcohol Levels
Cabernet Sauvignon typically has a higher alcohol content of 13% or higher. In warmer climates, alcohol levels can reach 15% to 16% with Cabernet Sauvignon. The average alcohol levels in Grenache wines vary between 13.5 to 16%. If you prefer a low alcohol wine, you might want to try white wines such as Riesling instead.
Differences In Affordability
Generally speaking, Grenache wines can become quite costly. The best French wine made from this grape can cost $500 or even $1000 per bottle. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon prices are all over the map. You can find budget wine producers that offer Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20 per bottle and elite wine producers selling high-end bottles for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Differences In Taste and Aroma
Aroma is one of the most significant differences between Grenache vs. Cabernet Sauvignon. Grenache-based wines have a distinct set of aromas such as plum, raspberry, tobacco, and orange rinds. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon wines typically have dark fruit aromas like black cherry, blackberry, and plum. When Cab Sauv is aged in oaked barrels, you may also notice spice, licorice, and vanilla.
Differences In Wine Body
In wine, body refers to the sense of weight and richness of the liquid in your mouth. In general, Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its full body. In contrast, Grenache has a medium body. Higher body is also commonly associated with a high level of alcohol.
Dry Wine Vs Sweet Wine
Residual sugar ultimately defines whether a wine should be classified in the dry wines category or the sweet wines category. Most winemaking techniques focus on making Cabernet Sauvignon into a dry wine. In other cases, Grenache is typically made in a dry wine style. It is a versatile wine grape that is sometimes made to emphasize fruity flavors.
Less experienced wine drinkers sometimes equate intense fruit flavors with sugar levels. However, fruity flavors do not disqualify the wine from being called a dry wine.
Before you explore nuances like whether a wine has supple tannins or firm tannins, there is a more fundamental question: what is the level of tannin content? In general, Cabernet Sauvignon has a high level of tannin content while Grenache has a medium level of tannin content.
As you continue to explore the world of Cabernet Sauvignon vs Grenache wines, you will see a variety of styles. The prevailing climates in different wine regions are a crucial reason the same grape tastes differently. For simplicity, wine production is often divided into warm climate wines and cool climate wines.
When you pour a glass of wine made in a warm climate, your taste buds will likely notice two points. The bright fruit flavors in the wine will be front and center. Also, you will typically have a higher level of alcohol content. If you are trying to enjoy wine in moderation, switching to a low alcohol content wine from cooler climates is worth trying.
The best known warm climates for winemaking include California, Argentina, Australia (e.g., Barossa Valley), and the Mediterranean region (e.g., southern Italy, southern France, and Spain).
Cooler regions tend to produce different types of wine. Cooler climates tend to have lower sugar content and lower alcohol as well. As Wine Enthusiast points out, Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape that develops differently based on climate. The noted wine publication summarizes the difference elegantly with the following comparison:
“For example, Cab Sauv from cool-climate Bordeaux often shows herbal, savory, and gravely mineral character with drier tannins. It loses the herbal notes from warmer Napa, also known as pyrazines, and takes on ripe blackberry fruit with voluptuous softer tannins.”
Grenache vs Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Pairing
Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon might become your favorite wines when you discover the right food pairing (find out more about Grenache in the following comparison: Grenache Vs Pinot Noir). Sometimes, you can find food pairing tips on wine labels like what cheese with Chardonnay works. True wine lovers trust their taste buds and classic pairing tips. With the right food pairing, you may be inclined to slow down and enjoy your meal more mindfully. By eating and drinking more slowly, you may eat less, which could have health benefits.
Meat Wine Pairing
Grenache-based wines go well with many meat dishes, including chicken, beef, and game. This type of red wine can also pair well with moderately spicy food. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best pairings for meat dishes, including steak – for more tips, check out this guide to the best wine with steak.
Cheese Wine Pairing
Cabernet Sauvignon combines several popular kinds of cheese, including cheddar, camembert, gorgonzola, gouda and parmigiano-reggiano. Grenache wine also pairs smoothly with cheeses such as cheddar, Chèvre, feta, and muenster.Prefer enjoying goat cheese with your wine? In that case, Cabernet Franc may be a better wine pick. Since fewer people know about Cabernet Franc, check out this Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon guide.
Vegetarian Wine Pairing
Red wines and red meat might be the classic pairing, but don’t worry – there are vegetarian options—Grenache wine pairs well with grilled vegetables, spicy dishes, and vegetable stews. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon works well with rich mushrooms and cheeses as well. JJ Buckley also recommends trying ratatouille with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dessert Wine Pairing
Finishing a meal with a glass of wine can be pretty incredible. If you plan a meal or a wine tasting at home, some desserts are likely to work better than others. With Grenache wines, I would probably suggest a light cheese course. Heavier plates emphasizing chocolate or cream are likely to overwhelm the wine. For Cabernet Sauvignon, you have a few more dessert options in the chocolate arena. Try chocolate torte, truffles, or cupcakes with your next glass of wine. For even more ideas about bringing together chocolate and wine, see my detailed guide to wine chocolate pairing.
GSM Wine – Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre
As you get into the world of Grenache wine, you will soon discover the abbreviation “GSM.” The abbreviation GSM refers to a popular red wine blend that includes Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre grapes. In France, this blend is common in the Rhône Valley. Rhône-style wines are popular with some collectors due to their aging potential.
Grenache vs Cabernet Sauvignon: In Summary
Understanding Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Grenache matters if you care about red wine appreciation. These two wines have similar acidity and alcohol levels, so some novices can’t quickly tell them apart. Significant differences emerge when you consider taste and aroma. Cabernet Sauvignon wines, especially the full-boded French wine version, usually have a robust black fruit flavor, while Grenache wines taste like plum and raspberry.