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Malbec vs Cabernet: A Fair Comparison Of Two Well-Reputed Red Wines


Last Updated: May 9, 2024

Red wine can put to shame all of those fancy fizzy drinks daring to partner up with your dinner.

They are a standard for any hearty meal...

But not all red wines are the same and in today’s comparison, we will see which one stands out!

Please note that...

Both of these are well-reputed red wines, created by some of the most talented winemakers across the globe. Both of them have a huge fan following and it would be unfair and incorrect to point out winners and losers.

Instead, in this article, I will show you how they differ from one another, and why it matters.

Main Differences Between Malbec vs Cabernet Sauvignon

Before starting this clash of the ‘liquor titans,’ please allow me to clarify that ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ and ‘Cabernet’ are the same things, and I will be using both names to refer to this exquisite red wine.

Let’s start the round with some major differences between Malbec and Cabernet:

  • Being an all-time favorite, Malbec has seen several variants mix up its taste, there is little uniformity, whereas Cabernet (original) is more or less consistent.
  • Malbec shows a greater versatility when it comes to food pairing, whereas the same is not true for Cabernet which only goes along selected dishes – but does so finely.
  • Malbec is a full-bodied wine, meaning that it feels heavy in the mouth, whereas the Cabernet has a light body, making it different in terms of feeling.
  • While both of these wines are dry, Malbec is considered drier among the two, whereas Cabernet is slightly less dry.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The first contender in this Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Malbec comparison is a reputable red wine that came into being by accident, or perhaps fate.

Sometime in the 17th century, a bunch of Cabernet franc variety grapevines happened to find themselves in a vineyard dedicated to Sauvignon blanc grapevines (or perhaps vice versa). This fateful union gave us a new variety of grapes, small with thick skins.

And it produced such an exquisite wine that it won the hearts of French winemakers and soon enveloped the rest of the world under its magic in the following centuries.

Today, only a fraction of winemakers create the Cabernet Sauvignon completely from its namesake grapevine. Most producers tend to blend it with Malbec to produce a rich and unique taste mixture.

How Does It Taste Like?

The Cabernet offers a berry taste, interspersed with a spicy touch, and this fruity sensation dominates in a fresh wine, created from recently harvested grapes. Of course, as with all other capable wines, the Cabernet also shows a difference in taste when it ages.

As the liquor remains bottled up for years, the fruity taste takes a back-stage seat, allowing other elements of the wine to express themselves. The mature taste is smooth and delicate yet tough at the same time, boasting strong effects of tobacco and assorted ingredients.

In either case, the Cabernet Sauvignon is a delight to feast upon.

How Do Its Versions Compare With Each Other?

The French version, which is the standard, is only 12 percent alcohol, whereas its Californian counterpart is denser and contains a slightly bigger portion of alcohol in it. It is also more acidic in comparison.

And if you do happen to come across this wine, odds are that it won’t be a 100 percent pure Cabernet but instead host a fraction of Malbec in there as well.


Hailing from France but associated more with Argentina in modern times, the other contender of this Malbec vs. Cabernet Sauvignon showdown has its cradle in the vineyards of Bordeaux but found more fame elsewhere.

Featuring a host of regional variants, Malbec has an iconic mix of tastes and aromas, with several unique versions available for an ever-eager pool of buyers.

Where Is It Made?

Today Malbec is associated primarily with Argentina, although things were not always like this, to begin with. The wine, as with many other of its red-colored cousins, found its origins in mainland Europe, France to be exact.

But later on, Argentina became a rival producer because its climatic conditions were very much similar to those of France. Though originally, it was considered a decent ingredient for blends, today it is a reputed wine on its own.

How Does It Taste Like?

Most wine enthusiasts use the term ‘velvety’ to describe the feeling and taste of Malbec. It means that it boasts an adequate level of tannins (polyphenol compounds of organic nature) and offers an elegant end-taste.

The smoky finish, owing to its tobacco elements is also iconic and most people love to have the wine with smoked meat for this reason. It is dry, overall, meaning that the residual sugar content is not all that much, but the berries do give a hint of sweetness to any taster.

Another noticeable quality would be its acidity, which is not overwhelming but does register distinctly (if you have a sense of it).

Comparing Cabernet vs Malbec

a bottle of cabernet

Here’s how the two differ in several aspects:


Any wine enthusiast will point out that both Malbec and Cabernet are dry wines, meaning that their residual sugar content is minimal. However, some people mean to point out the dry feeling that a sip of wine can leave your mouth with when referring to ‘dryness.’

If that is the case with you as well, then the consumer consensus puts Malbec on the drier end between the two. This, of course, is not standard as both wines can be created in several variants, allowing you to relish the type of feeling that suits you the best.


A wine’s body refers to the feeling of heaviness it creates in your mouth. In this respect, Malbec is a full-bodied wine, making it heavier than Cabernet which is a light-bodied wine.

Flavor Comparison

Malbec has seen multiple transformations throughout the ages, its taste cannot be defined with simple adjectives because of the sheer variety available. However, a standard Malbec is best put as a mixture of fruity and spicy with a smoky finish and brief lingering after-taste.

However, the Cabernet has remained more or less uniform, with only slight variations. A mature bottle will not taste as sweet but will instead give off secondary flavors like that of tobacco. Overall, neither wine is ‘sweet’ but only offers a hint of fruity flavors.

Food Pairing Comparison: Malbec VS. Cabernet Sauvignon

Overall, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are both perfect partners for a hearty dinner but Malbec tends to go with a greater assortment of dishes and is hence more versatile in comparison. This is not to say that the Cabernet doesn’t rock in its turf.

Here’s a comparison of food pairings for both Malbec and Cabernet:


Meat-based dishes and Malbec are soul mates.

While this wine goes along fine with Indian, Thai, Mexican, and Italian foods, it is red meat that partners up perfectly with it. The best example, in this case, would be a barbecue which works exceptionally well because the smokiness of the meat complements the smoky finish of Malbec.

Fish entrees are also good to go with a glass of this red wonder, most prominently with salmon and tuna, especially if you’re planning on having the latter as a steak.

The same level of bonding can be developed between Malbec and dishes like sausages, beef, mushroom, lamb, stews, cheeses, poultry, and charcuterie, to name a few.

The list doesn’t end there, you can explore a whole assortment of dishes that can be washed down with a chilled bottle of this fine red wine.


To get the best out of a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is better to let it age a while to bring out a mature taste that goes perfectly with red meat-based diets.

You can expect a fine dining experience by pairing up a Cabernet with lamb, grilled meat, beef, cheeses, dark chocolate, sausages, and burgers.

The list is beyond these few honorable mentions but not as extensive as that of Malbec.


Based on the number of pairings alone, it is easy to see that Malbec has the edge in this arena. That is not to say the experience with Cabernet will be any less impressive, the point is that you can simply use the Malbec on more occasions.

If you happen to shop online for a red wine to go along with your dinner (at home), you'd be safe placing your bet in the Malbec corner. Of course, you could circumvent this painstaking decision and instead opt for a mixture of the two to get the best from both of them.

FAQ Section

If you have some confusion about this Cabernet vs. Malbec comparison, perhaps this section will help clear them up:

Which Is Better -- Malbec Or Cabernet?

It is hard to define ‘better’ when comparing two elegant wines, both hailing from the heart of Europe. If by better, you mean the one that you can get the most use out of then the Malbec will fare better with several dishes.

However, the Cabernet is also a worthwhile drink, one that you are not going to forget so easily. If you can, try to taste them both, usually, things will resolve based on your personal preference. As for the verdict, I don't feel comfortable branding either one 'better' than the other.

Which is Drier?

Usually, the terms 'dry' means different things to different people, but if you're referring to the dry feeling (rather than the residual sugar content), the consensus among consumers suggests that Malbec is drier than Cabernet. Otherwise, both are comparable and can be made in variable forms, making either one drier than the other.

What Similarities Do The Two Share?

To start, both are red wines, based primarily on grapes, and hail from the Gallic lands of mainland Europe. Malbec and Cabernet are both slightly sweet (although not dessert wines) with a hint of acidity, and offer a bewitching mixture of aromas (I used to hate the sniffers until I became one myself). They are oftentimes mixed to offer the best from both.

Bottom Line

When choosing between Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon, it is important to consider what sort of food you wish to pair your wine with. Of course, personal preference will also play its part, and you do have the option to sip on a blend of these two legendary wines.

Generally speaking, you will find that Malbec is more versatile and pairs better with a host of different dishes, especially at formal gatherings. But if you do happen to sip a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, you will understand why there is a hype for this timeless classic.

Red wine is a symbol of elegance, whatever choice you go for, remember to savor the taste and the moment.

Cheers to elegance! 😉

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