Last Updated: October 11, 2022
You’ve probably heard of the very popular red wine Cabernet Sauvignon.
You might not have had much contact with the lighter and more fragrant Cabernet Franc.
Coming from the same variety of wine, these two Cabernets might seem similar on the surface but the small variations in their production have created two very different wines. The resulting tastes are quite distinct.
If you are new to tasting different variations of Cabernet or are an experienced wine taster and just want to know a little more about these wines, read on to find out everything you need to know about Cabernet Sauvignon vs Cabernet Franc.
Main Differences Between Cabernet Franc And Cabernet Sauvignon
The main differences between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are:
- Cabernet Franc has a lower tannin making it lighter, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon has a higher tannin producing a bolder taste
- Cabernet Sauvignon has a more dark and fruity taste with notes of blackberry and oak, whereas Cabernet Franc is perfumier with notes of cherry and violet.
- Cabernet Franc is grown across Europe in countries like France, Romania and Hungary as well as Australia and Argentina, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is more common and can be produced all over the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon Overview
As the world’s most popular wine grape, Cabernet Sauvignon can be found all over the world, particularly in Bordeaux where it was first produced. It is a staple red wine and a favourite among most red wine drinkers, especially those who favour a stronger taste.
Its two parent grapes are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which explains its similarities with Cabernet Franc, but the blend with a white wine grape gives Cabernet Sauvignon quite a unique taste compared to other red wines.
The Sauvignon Blanc influence gives it a fruitier note, making Cabernet Sauvignon very popular as it is a palatable wine for people who don’t usually drink red wine and prefer a white or rose.
However, the thick-skinned grape produces a full-bodied and rich wine with hints of dark berries which can be overpowering for some and perfect for others, depending on your taste.
The high tannins make Cabernet Sauvignon a bold wine which is often enjoyed with foods that pack a lot of flavors to accompany the strong taste of the wine. It pairs well with a variety of foods which also makes it a dinner party or BBQ staple. Especially because it goes so well with peppered or grilled meats.
Another difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is that the acidity is much higher in the Sauvignon making it dry to very dry. The tannins also help Cabernet Sauvignon to age better vs Cabernet Franc. Many experts argue that they are at their best after 10 years and can be aged for up to 20 years.
Cabernet Franc Overview
More commonly used in blends, you won’t often see a Cabernet Franc on the supermarket shelves which is the big difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
As Cabernet Franc grows in cooler climates and ripens quickly (1-2 weeks faster vs Cabernet Sauvignon), it is ideal for blends creating Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Thus, you’ll probably get a hint of Cabernet Franc in all of your favourite reds.
Cabernet Franc grapes are thinner skinned vs Cabernet Sauvignon grapes producing a less tannic wine which is softer and lighter yet at times still fairly acidic as the taste can vary depending on the region it comes from.
It has floral aromas and savoury elements of bell pepper, thanks to the aroma compounds called pyrazines, which compliment a range of foods especially tomato-based dishes like spaghetti Bolognese.
Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t age as well and is at it’s best at 5-10 years. The low tannins mean that you usually won’t find a Cabernet Franc older than this.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as the low tannins mean that this wine is slightly less acidic compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and therefore less dry.
Which Is Better - Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon
As with all wines, which one is better for you will depend entirely on your taste.
If you prefer a full-bodied, bold red wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon will be your best choice. However, if you prefer something lighter and more aromatic, the Cabernet Franc might be your best bet.
The best wine for you can also depend heavily on the occasion and what you are pairing it with. For a formal dinner with rich, tomatoey pasta I would recommend a Cabernet Franc. For a casual BBQ with grilled meats and peppered steak, a Cabernet Sauvignon would work perfectly.
Which Is Sweeter - Cabernet Sauvignon vs Cabernet Franc
One major difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is that the latter is lower in tannin and acidity, therefore, making it a lighter and sweeter option compared to the boldness of the Sauvignon.
Although neither are sweet wines and could both be described as dry, the sweetness of each wine will vary depending on the region it’s from and how long it has been aged.
Taste Test: Here is another topic of interest, especially for newbies -- Choosing Between Syrah vs Cabernet.
The differences between red wines can be vast and considering these two wines are so closely related it’s hard to believe that they can taste so different.
Nevertheless, the process of curating wine is so intricate that the most minor alterations can create spectacular results.
Although I like the bold taste of the Cabernet Sauvignon, personally, I feel that it is better when combined with food whereas the Cabernet Franc can really be enjoyed on its own. Make sure to try several different makes of each wine before deciding on which one you prefer as the quality of the wine depends on the quality of the vineyard.