Blind tasting guide to Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet - one of the most popular grape varieties and wine styles in the world. The wine presents itself on a global stage in various guises. The Cabernet family houses a range of varieties that are all closely related: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Blanc, Cabernet Dorsa, Cabernet "Whatever" - the list is practically endless. The two main Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc, are similar yet differ in viticulture and regional expressions in many ways.

Two varieties, two styles. (Photo: DallE)

What you need to know about Cabernet Franc

The red grape variety, Cabernet Franc, is often considered the lighter, more aromatic parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. It thrives in cooler climates, where it can best showcase its herbaceous, floral, and red fruit characteristics.

Cabernet Franc plays a pivotal role in the blends of Bordeaux, especially on the Right Bank. The finest red wines of the Loire Valley also come from Cabernet Franc. There, it produces varietal wines known for their elegance and finesse. Look out for labels from Bourgueil or Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil.


What you need to know about Cabernet Sauvignon

On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon prefers warmer climates, which help it achieve full ripeness. This results in wines with higher tannin levels, deeper colors, and more pronounced black fruit flavors than Cabernet Franc.

A key variety in the Left Bank Bordeaux blends, from where it spread its wings to the globe. Today it has also gained fame in regions like Napa Valley, Australia, and South Africa, where it produces powerful, age-worthy wines. In contrast, its Chilean counterparts are brighter with a herbaceous note.


Both grapes are adaptable but express themselves distinctly according to the terroir, highlighting the diversity of wine styles from classic regions like Bordeaux and the Loire to new world areas like Napa, Barossa Valley, and Stellenbosch.

Sparkling Cab?

Traditionally, both are also blending partners for the sparkling wine from Bordeaux, the so-called “Crémant.” Generally, as a rule of thumb, these wines undergo a second fermentation in the bottle and require at least 9 months of lees aging. This contributes to a softer and creamier mouthfeel.

Most famously, the Crémant de Bordeaux uses Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. These wines offer a beautiful complexity, combining the robust characteristics of the grapes with the freshness of sparkling wine.

In recent years, they have gained international popularity and traction. In particular, Rosé has found a new following, which both varieties can offer. Who says Bordeaux is always about heavy reds?


Winemakers in California, South Africa, and Australia are experimenting with these varietals for sparkling wine production. These wines might be less traditional but can offer innovative and unique expressions of the grapes.

How to Detect the Cabernets in a Blind Tasting

As we have discussed, they are similar yet distinct. To make things simpler, we will focus on two classic styles: Bordeaux Left Bank and Loire, where both expressions meet their pristine character. Let's break down the individual attributes:


Both wines display a ruby red color with purple reflexes. However, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to maintain its color better with age.


Both grapes offer notes of cassis, red and dark cherry, and can develop tobacco and graphite notes. In contrast, Cabernet Franc tends to have a more leafy presence, with green flavors.


The palate mirrors the scent. Cabernet Franc is usually lighter-bodied compared to Cabernet Sauvignon.


Both varieties possess high, grippy tannins. Yet, Cabernet Franc's tannins tend to be more rustic, compared to the more elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. Both have the potential to age and develop a mellow structure over time.


Both wines tend to offer a moderate to high acidity, depending on their origin. Usually, Cabernet Franc's acidity is more pronounced.


Initially, it may not be easy to differentiate them. However, by practicing lateral tastings, you can better distinguish and evaluate their characteristics.

Check out our articles, “How to Become a Wine Expert” Part 1 and Part 2, for more insights.

Relationship with Other Varieties

Both varieties are commonly blended with Merlot and Petit Verdot. The Cabernets have a lighter mid-palate, which Merlot can enrich. In addition, Merlot contributes a more ruby red color and soft, velvety tannins. Conversely, Petit Verdot is typically blended in small percentages (1-5%), known for its high tannins, adding the “oomph” we wine lovers seek.

Peter Douglas

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