When you’re new to drinking wine, it can feel a bit overwhelming to be handed a wine list at a nice restaurant. The world of wine is wonderful, but it is extremely vast, and can leave you feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing, or where to even begin! One of the most confusing things when it comes to wine is how to differentiate between wines that have the same word in the title. Probably the most common word you’ll see on a wine list is Cabernet, but when it’s paired with such a variety of wines (Sauvignon, Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, to name a few), it can leave your head spinning before you’ve even indulged in your first glass! We’re here to make life a little easier for you and to make you look like a pro the next time you order a glass! This week, let’s take a look at the word “Cabernet”.

When a wine begins with the word “Cabernet”, it’s a single varietal wine (meaning that it’s made from a single grape variety). The most common single variety Cabernets are Sauvignon and Franc, whereas if Merlot, Shiraz, or another varietal is listed alongside Cabernet, it’s referring to a blend. Because Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are the more unique varietals, and are so closely related, let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon (which we will refer to as Cab Sauv from here on out) is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc (Cab Franc) and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the most commonly planted grape in the world, and is a thick-skinned grape that produces a darker, more tannic and full-bodied wine. Cab Sauv ages very well, often making it a pricier option.

Cab Franc's grapes, on the other hand, have thinner skin, leaving it with a softer profile, lower tannins and is fairly acidic and fragrant. Because of this, it’s not seen as often as a single varietal wine and is more commonly used in blends (i.e. Bordeaux blends), but when enjoyed young it pairs quite nicely with a wide range of foods!

To break it down and keep it simple, when faced between the option of ordering Cab Sauv or Cab Franc, here’s what you really need to know:

Cab Sauv is going to be much more full-bodied and tannic, with primary flavors of black cherry, black currant, cedar, and spices, while a Cab Franc is going to be medium-bodied and more acidic, with primary flavors of strawberry, raspberry, bell pepper, and chili pepper. To make it even easier on you, if you’re ordering a rich grilled meat, anything with a peppery sauce, or really any food that is super flavorful, go with a Cab Sauv! If you’re ordering a tomato-based dish or anything with a vinegar-based sauce (like BBQ), go with a Cab Franc.

Let us know which other varietals you’d like to read about!