What is the difference between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Answered by Jesse Garza

Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are two distinct grape varieties that are often compared due to their similarities in name and characteristics. While they both belong to the same family of grapes, Vitis vinifera, and share some common traits, they also have notable differences that set them apart.

1. Flavor Profile:
– Cabernet Franc: When young, Cabernet Franc tends to have a more pronounced herbaceous flavor compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. It can exhibit notes of green bell pepper, tobacco, and sometimes even a hint of floral or violet aromas. This herbaceousness is often described as wild or untamed, giving the a unique character.
– Cabernet Sauvignon: In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its bold and intense flavors. It typically offers a rich combination of black fruit flavors like blackberry, black currant, and plum. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known for its notes of cedar, vanilla, and sometimes even a touch of mint or eucalyptus.

2. Tannins and Structure:
– Cabernet Franc: Cabernet Franc generally has softer tannins compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, making it more approachable at a younger age. However, it still possesses enough structure to age well and develop more complexity over time.
– Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its firm and grippy tannins, which contribute to its age-worthiness. These tannins give the wine a robust structure and a potential for long-term aging. Young Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be quite tannic and may require some time to soften.

3. Body and Weight:
– Cabernet Franc: Despite its herbaceousness, Cabernet Franc often surprises with its full-bodied nature. It has a generous mouthfeel and can offer a velvety texture. While it may not have the same intensity as Cabernet Sauvignon, it still showcases a significant presence on the palate.
– Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is renowned for its full-bodied character and substantial weight. It fills the mouth with its rich flavors and has a powerful presence. The wine's structure and high tannins contribute to its overall weight and mouth-coating sensation.

4. Aging Potential:
– Cabernet Franc: Although Cabernet Franc can age gracefully, it is generally more approachable at a younger age compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. It can show its best qualities within the first 5-10 years of aging, depending on the winemaking style and vintage.
– Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its exceptional aging potential. The combination of its robust tannins, acidity, and concentrated flavors allows it to develop complexity and evolve over several decades. Some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines can continue to improve for 20-30 years or even longer.

While both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon share similarities as red grape varieties, there are distinct differences in their flavor profiles, tannin levels, body, and aging potential. Cabernet Franc exhibits a wilder and more herbaceous character, with a full-bodied nature, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon offers intense flavors, firm tannins, and substantial weight, with exceptional aging potential. Exploring wines made from both grape varieties can provide a fascinating journey into the world of red wines.