What’s The Difference Between Cabernet and Malbec?

The Difference Between Cabernet and Malbec

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are two red wine varieties with somewhat similar origins which have nonetheless developed into two distinct wines with their own unique advantages.  The two varieties both trace their origins to the same region of France, and share certain similarities, to include color (both are red wines) and a very high alcohol content.

The actual grapes are similar in structure as well, being small, thick-skinned cultivars.  That being said, the two wines have their differences.

They currently vary a fair amount in price, quantity sold, and geographic distribution, with the Cabernet Sauvignon being higher in all three categories.  In addition, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be “stronger” in many flavor qualities.  Because of this, the two wines differ in which foods they should be paired with.

The more discerning wine enthusiast will delight in appreciating the nuances between these two similar but distinct varieties of wine.

The Origins of Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabernet Sauvignon originated about 300 to 400 years ago in the Bordeaux region of France, when the Cabernet Franc variety of grape cross pollinated with the Sauvignon Blanc variety of grape.  The end result is the Cabernet Sauvignon we know today.

This is a relatively new development in the world of wines, but the Cabernet Sauvignon has outstripped the popularity of both of its predecessor wines.  Although there are several varieties of wine known as “Cabernet”, to include the original Cabernet Franc, as well as various wines derived from both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the most common Cabernet wine in the world is Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Origins of Malbec

Like the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Malbec originally grew in the Bordeaux region of France.  It has a longer history in the region, as it is not a recent hybrid grape like the Cabernet Sauvignon is.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the grapes were brought to Argentina, where they thrived in the local environmental conditions, far outperforming their growth in France.  During the mid 20th century, a frost destroyed much of the Malbec vines in France, with had a permanent negative affect on its presence in the country.  Because of this, the Malbec has essentially become an Argentine wine.

Although it is not among the most widely sold varieties of wine in the world, it has been becoming more and more popular.

Similarities

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are similar in many ways.  They are both red wines originating from the Bordeaux region of France.  They both have similar high alcohol levels and are both mostly dry, full bodied wines.  They both have also spread to other parts of the world, to the point that both wines are just as famous for their international varieties as they are for their original French varieties.

Both grapes are small and thick-skinned.  Although there are obvious differences between the two wines, their similarities should allow them to be enjoyed by a strongly overlapping group of wine enthusiasts.

Differences (Not Taste)

There are a number of key differences between the wines.  Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most widely distributed wines in the world, and recently has become the most widely grown wine grape in the world.

Although the Cabernet Sauvignon originated in France, it is currently a globally grown variety of grape, with no particular region dominating in numbers.  That being said, France’s Cabernet Sauvignon is still respected in the wine drinking world, with Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley also becoming more and more recognized for its quality.

On the other hand, although Malbec is a widely enjoyed wine, it is not as widespread as the Cabernet Sauvignon is, both in locations as well as in numbers.  Although it is originally a French variety, the vast majority of Malbec is currently from Argentina.

Almost all Malbec in the world is currently grown in Argentina and France, with the rest of the world providing only a small volume of the wine in comparison.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are robust, and can grow in a large variety of environments, which partially explains its global growth.  They are also known for being late-ripening grapes.  The Malbec grape is considered a much more delicate grape which is much more susceptible to environmental issues.  It thrives in high altitude, sunny regions, which explains its great success in Argentina.

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is more blue colored, while the Malbec grape is more purple colored.

Despite being so widely grown, Cabernet Sauvignon, especially higher end brands, tend to be more expensive than Malbecs.  This is largely driven by the extremely high demand for Cabernet in the world.

Cabernet Sauvignon has a much longer history of popularity in the wine community (despite being a relatively new type of wine), while Malbec has grown in popularity much more recently.

Food Pairings

Cabernet Sauvignon, being a longer finishing, more intense wine, pairs very well with food higher in fat.  High fat cuts of meat (to include burgers and steaks) and other rich foods pair well with the Cabernet.

On the other hand, Malbec pairs well with leaner meats and is more versatile in food pairing.

Having both bottles of wine handy can allow the wine drinker to have more options available when preparing a meal to have with a glass of wine.

Flavor and other Characteristics

Despite being inherently similar in taste, due to both being red wines originating in the Bordeaux region of France, there are certain differences in the characteristics of the two wines.  Malbec is more medium dry, while Cabernet is a very dry wine.

Malbec is medium-high in acidity, while Cabernet is high in acidity.

The Cabernet has a noticeably longer finish wine than Malbec.  The Cabernet is also a higher tannin wine, while Malbec is a medium to high tannin wine.

The Cabernet tends to be much more consistent, while the Malbec can have more variety in its taste.  Both the Cabernet and Malbec have fruit tones to them, although the specific flavors and notes which come out are slightly different between the two.

Conclusion

The Cabernet and Malbec are two amazing types of wine, each with its own unique strengths and characteristics.  They are remarkably similar in several ways, to include their common geographic origin, many of the fundamentals of their taste, and their somewhat similar grape structure (thick-skinned and small grapes).

However, there are clear differences between the two wines, as there are between any two types of wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon has come to a level of domination in the wine market which the Malbec has not yet reached, with the Cabernet being grown and sold at equal levels all over the wine making world.

Malbec, on the other hand, is a more affordable alternative which is noted for its geographically particular cultivation in Argentina, and to a lesser extent in France.  And despite many similarities in taste, there are enough nuances between the two wines for even amateur wine drinkers to notice an appreciable difference.

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a “bolder” wine across the board, being drier, with higher acidity, more tannin, and a longer finish.  The two wines pair well with different types of food and have different fruit notes to them.

Serious wine connoisseurs may benefit from having both of these wines available in their wine collection, allowing them to take advantage of the strengths and unique idiosyncrasies of both of these wines.