Is Malbec the Same as Cabernet Franc? Malbec vs Cabernet Franc

Characteristics Malbec Cabernet Franc
Hue Deep purple to black Ruby red to deep purple
Color Red to black Red
Aromas Blue fruits, plum, cocoa Red berries, violets, peppery
Tannins Medium to Medium +, smooth Firm, grippy
Acid Moderate Moderate to high
Alcohol (%) 13-15% 12-15%
Body Medium to full Medium to full
Intensity Pronounced Moderate to pronounced
Key Growing Regions Argentina, France France, Italy, United States
Classic Pairings Grilled meats, barbecue Grilled vegetables, lamb
Price Range $10-$40 $15-$50

With so many options for choosing luscious red wines made from different grapes, it can sometimes take a little work to tell them apart. Malbec and Cabernet Franc are two less well-known grapes worthy of your attention.

Distinct red wines, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, hail from France. Malbec originates from Bordeaux, while Cabernet Franc possibly comes from Burgundy. Cabernet Franc boasts robustness with chalky tannins, strawberry, raspberry, and herbal notes. Malbec offers softer tannins with blueberry, blackberry, and red plum flavors. Prefer Cabernet Sauvignon? Try Cabernet Franc. Prefer Merlot? Opt for Malbec.

Malbec and Cabernet Franc make distinctive wines. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s Malbec Wine?

malbec wine profile infographic - malbec vs cabernet franc

Malbec is a medium-bodied red wine that tends to have softer tannins than Cabernet Franc, and a fruit-forward style with juicy red fruit – strawberries and plums – and also a signature blueberry note.

Malbecs have an affinity for oak, meaning it pairs well with the flavors oak barrels contribute to the wine, so expect to find some evidence of oak in your Malbec wines with vanilla, warm baking spice, and mocha or coffee.

Malbec has a deep, inky ruby color thanks to its thick grape skins. 

Tip: What’s up with wine color? Check out this quick post on the darkness of wine color and wine quality.

Where’s Malbec Grown?

Malbec wines come from a red grape from somewhere in France. Grape researchers believe that Malbec may have originated in Northern Burgundy and migrated west to the famous Bordeaux winegrowing region nestled up along the Atlantic coast.

At one point in history, Malbec was widely planted in Bordeaux. 

Unfortunately, in 1956 a horrible frost in Bordeaux killed off 75% of the Bordeaux’s Malbec vines.

Winegrowers made the wise decision not to replant Malbec for fear the vines would die off again in future frosts. Malbec plantings all but disappeared from Bordeaux.

Today, French Malbec thrives in Cahors, located just to the southeast of Bordeaux, France. There, the grape goes by the regional name of Auxerrois or Côt.

If you’ve never heard of French Côt, but know that you like Malbec, then chances are good that you’ve probably had a bottle of Argentinian Malbec.

Argentina makes over 70% of the world’s Malbec; the grape grows widely in Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, and even the high-altitude vineyards of Salta. 

Malbec needs more sunshine than Cabernet Franc or Merlot and is a mid-ripening grape.

The clear skies of Argentina make the country a wonderful host for Malbec.

Argentinian Malbecs have distinctive qualities depending on their growing sites. Higher elevation vineyards will craft higher acid wines with more structured tannins and crunchier fruit. Lower altitude Malbecs from warmer growing sites bring rich, jammy qualities to the wine. 

Quality wine producers blend Malbec fruit from different vineyard sites to bring balance to your glass.

Argentina’s success with Malbec has helped catapult this little grape onto the export market with affordable, approachable, food-friendly wines. If you love Malbec, you’re in good company!

What’s Cabernet Franc Wine?

What-does-cabernet-franc-taste-like.png - malbec vs cabernet franc

Cabernet Franc is a red grape originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Interestingly enough, Cab Franc’s actually a parent grape to both Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Helpful Tip: Go check out this complete post on Cabernet Franc wine if you’re looking for more information on this fabulous red wine.

Cabernet Franc has qualities similar to its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, that you’re probably familiar with – chalky tannins, full body, and minty green notes that can be expressed as bell pepper if underripe.

Cabernet Franc showcases red fruit with raspberry, strawberry, and red plum, as well as some purple floral notes like lavender.

Discover: Shiraz vs. Malbec

Where’s Cabernet Franc Grown?

Cab Franc is grown in France. Cabernet Franc plays a starring role in Bordeaux blends, where it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Just north of Bordeaux, wineries make single varietal Cabernet Franc wines in the Loire.

Chinon AOC is perhaps one of the Loire’s most renowned regions that specializes in Cabernet Franc wines, but you’ll find the grape starring in red and rose wines grown throughout the Anjou and Saumur regions of the Loire.

Outside of France, you’ll find Cabernet Franc grown in Tuscany, where it goes into Super Tuscan blends (i.e., Bordeaux-style wines). This makes sense and harkens back to the grape’s use as a blending varietal in Cabernet-based wines in Bordeaux.

You’ll also find Cabernet Franc grown in California, Washington, the eastern U.S. (e.g., Virginia), and Canada.

Interestingly, it’s in Canada that you’ll find Cabernet Franc used not only for dry red table wines but also Canada’s signature sweet dessert ice wine.

How are Cabernet Franc and Malbec Similar?

how are cabernet franc and malbec the same? - malbec vs cabernet franc
Are Cabernet Franc and Malbec the Same?

Cabernet Franc and Malbec are both red wines with their origins in France. Cab Franc and Malbec share a red fruit profile, like red plum and raspberry.

They are both food wines that work well with savory dishes like BBQ, roasted meats, and ragus. Both wines should be served at room temperature.

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Do Malbec and Cabernet Franc Taste the Same?

Malbec and Cabernet Franc have similar body weights, alcohol, and acid levels. But if you compare Cabernet Franc vs. Malbec, the two wines have distinctive profiles.

Cabernet Franc has more structure and body than Malbec, with noticeable tannins.

If you are drinking a Cabernet Franc from a cool growing site or a cooler vintage, then your Cabernet Franc may a have noticeable green bell pepper and stemmy taste to it in addition to the raspberry and strawberry notes.

Malbec expresses itself well whether the grapes come from a  warm or cool vineyard site, and the best wineries will mix the grapes from both locations together to help craft balanced wines, combining ripe tannins, and both crunchy and jammy red fruits.

Malbec’s signature flavors, blueberry and plum, bring richness to these wines.

Tasting Tip: Check out this helpful post I wrote about how to taste red wine tannins.

Which Wine to Buy: Cabernet Franc or Malbec?

Wine shelf - malbec vs cabernet franc

If you’re a new wine drinker or don’t like heavy tannins in your wine, Malbec will likely be a more approachable red wine style. If you cannot stand green notes, like green bell pepper, then choose Malbec.

But if you love Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy wines with a bold structure in your mouth, then Cabernet Franc offers a unique experience worthy of your corkscrew.

Don’t be shy about pairing Cabernet Franc or Malbec with food. Both wines will pair well with bold dishes of roasted meat, hearty stews, and robust pasta. 

Helpful Tip: If you’re just getting started out with wine, I put together this helpful overview of food with wine pairing to get you started. Side note – I spend just as much time thinking about food with wine pairing as I do deciding what I’m going to eat every night. Utter hedonism. What can I say?

Final Thoughts – Malbec and Cabernet Franc Are Two Different Wines

Ultimately, while Cabernet Franc and Malbec may share a lineage, they will deliver distinctive experiences in your glass.

If you’re up for a fun experiment, look for a red Chinon AOC wine (it will be Cabernet Franc) and an Argentinian Malbec from Mendoza.

Do a side-by-side tasting of these two wines and the differences between Cab Franc and Malbec will become obvious.

Of course, make sure that you have a substantial dinner ready to enjoy with your open bottles. You’re in for a treat!

Check Out:
Syrah vs Malbec
Cabernet Franc vs Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignong vs Malbec

Thirsty for More?

Check out this post that goes into extensive detail on Malbec wine.

And here’s the link to that helpful 30-second tasting tip on how to taste wine tannins, which is super important (and relatively simple to do) when trying to figure out the differences between Malbec vs. Cabernet Franc.

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