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Cabernet Sauvignon versus Cabernet Franc

We often refer to ‘Cabernet’ in conversation, but what does that mean? Cabernet Sauvignon? Cabernet France? What about Cabernet Merlot and Cabernet Shiraz?

Firstly, ‘Cabernet’ on its own refers to a single varietal wine, which could be Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sav) or Cabernet Franc (Cab Franc). More often than not, this is Cab Sav, simply because it’s more often produced as a single varietal. When Merlot, Shiraz or another varietal is tacked onto Cabernet, this means you’re talking about a blend.

Now, let’s look at the two unique varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and get some clarity around their similarities and differences.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Though Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are both unique varietals, the two are very closely related. In fact, Cab Sav was originally derived from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Cab Sav is a widely recognised red wine; it is the most commonly planted grape around the world, and is particularly esteemed in Bordeaux
  • Cab Sav ripens slowly so does well in warmer climates (i.e. the Napa Valley); in cooler climates, it often calls for blending with other varietals (see Cab Franc below) to help round out the final product
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is a the thick-skinned grape that produces dark coloured and highly tannic wines, full in body and rich in dark berries – the wines can age very well, which is why they are widely planted, highly respected and often quite pricey

Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are the parent grapes to Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Franc

  • Cabernet Franc is not traditionally recognised as producing strong single varietal wines,  though this perception is shifting (fortunately, because there are some lovely ones out there!); more commonly it is used in blends
  • Cab Franc is well-suited to grow in cooler climates; it ripens quickly, making it ideal for this blending with other varietals, such as Cab Sav, Shiraz and Merlot, a practice which is notably done in Bordeaux, to help round out harsher varietals that may not ripen as quickly (especially in cool climates)
  • The parent to Cab Sav, Cab Francs are still pretty rich in colour, but the grapes are thinner-skinned and produce a slightly lighter, softer, less tannic wine
  • Cabernet Franc is usually grown alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, as they are often blended together, but it is planted less widely, mainly in France (Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in particular, the latter of which is producing some great single varietals), Italy, eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and the US
  • Some say Cab Franc is flat and lacks character, but really, its softer profile (compared to aged Cab Sav) is just appropriate for different occasions – Cab Franc is lower in tannins but still fairly acidic, with savoury elements of bell pepper; it is quite fragrant, with floral and herbal aromas on the nose, rather than smoke, spice and tar
  • Cabernet Franc is well worth exploring as a single varietal – it should be enjoyed young, and is easily complimented by a range of foods

Thin-skinned Cabernet Franc grapes produce a soft, dry, low-tannin wine that is rich in colour and floral aromas 

Check out our blog to learn more about some of our other favourite varietals.

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Jill Haapaniemi

Jill Haapaniemi

Jill is a lover of all things food and wine. As a food blogger and recipe developer, she is passionate about sharing meals with others, never without a bottle of something to enhance the experience. She spends her free time at her partner’s family winery just outside of Melbourne, and can usually be found drinking Oregon Pinot, wines from the Rhône Valley or Victorian Shiraz.
Jill Haapaniemi

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