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    The Difference Between Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon

    Malbec Versus Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

    There’s nothing better than ending the week sitting on the sofa with a glass of red wine in hand. Because of the deliciously smooth tannins you get with red wines they make just as good glasses for comfort as they do for celebration.

    But sometimes those tannins can make it hard to dictate the taste of a wine and it’s a common problem for drinkers that a lot of red wines can taste the same at first sip.

    Let’s take Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, two very popular red wines, as an example here.

    • What is the difference between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon?
    • What makes Malbec different from Cabernet Sauvignon and what factors can help you to differentiate one over the other?

    Well let's dive in and look at the differences between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

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    Key Differences between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    Malbec compared to Cab Sav

    They may both make delicious red wines, but what are the actual differences between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon?

    By putting the two wines side by side and comparing their origins, locations and qualities we can start to get an idea of how Malbec differs from Cabernet Sauvignon:

    • In terms of tannins, Cabernet Sauvignons tend to have a higher level of tannins in comparison to Malbec.
    • Both Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon make dry red wines, so it’s helpful to know that Malbec tends to taste drier than Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon is said to be at its best in the Bordeaux region of France whereas Malbec has a reputation for making great wines in the Mendoza region of Argentina. These different regions will produce wines with different taste profiles.
    • When noticing the acidity of the two, Malbec has a medium-low level of acidity whereas Cabernet Sauvignon has a medium acidity.

    So how does this help us compare Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon?

    How Do Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon Compare

    Both Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are red grape varieties that grow predominantly in France so it can be hard to distinguish between the two.

    Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to tell the difference, most sommeliers take years and years to master this art.

    It’s useful to know that some key factors in comparing Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon include their tannin and acidity levels.

    So these are things to watch out for.

    Cabernet Sauvignons tend to have slightly higher levels of acidity and tannins than Malbec which is a low acid wine and this can help you compare the two wines.

    In order to really compare Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon it's a good idea to take a look at the individual details of each variety.

    Becoming familiar with each grape will help you to tell it apart from other red wines.

    So what are some key details about Malbec?

    Key Information About Malbec

    Malbec Wines

    First things first, what are some key wine facts about Malbec.

    Although Malbec originates from France it has come to be one of the most important varieties in the wine growing regions of Argentina.

    Malbec from Argentina, especially from the region of Mendoza, has a reputation for being some of the best Malbec in the world.

    You see, the Malbec grape has very thick skin and needs lots of sun to help it ripen, which is why it does so well in sunny Argentina.

    In colder regions Malbec would taste unbalanced and the tannins wouldn’t have their signature smooth nature.

    A good way to distinguish Malbec from other varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, is to take a look at the colour of the wine when poured into a glass.

    Malbec is known for its opaque purple colour and bright magenta rim and you can see this for yourself by holding your next glass of Malbec against a white backdrop, or piece of paper.

    Whilst knowing the colour of a Malbec is a good place to start, what about Malbec’s tasting notes?

    What Does Malbec Taste Like?

    Tasting Notes of Malbec

    Malbecs are also known for their rich, smooth, fruit flavours and chocolate like finish.

    They may be big wines, but made well they’re never abrasive and this comes across in their tasting notes.

    In order to help tell the difference between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon it is helpful to know what a Malbec typically tastes like. And there’s only one way to really achieve that, by drinking a lot of Malbec.

    Whilst the taste of a Malbec can vary depending on where it is grown, Malbec wines are known for their dark fruit flavours.

    Typically Malbecs have tasting notes of:

    • Black cherry
    • Plum
    • Raspberry
    • Blackberry
    • Dark chocolate
    • Vanilla
    • Oak
    • Tobacco

    Think scoops of Cherry Garcia, Black Forest Gateau or thick plum and damson jam.

    So how do all of these factors compare against Cabernet Sauvignon?

    Key Information About Cabernet Sauvignon

    Cabernet Sauv Wines

    Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps most famous for growing in the Bordeaux region of France.

    In fact Bordeaux wines have such a fierce reputation that the style is copied in wine regions all over the world.

    Cabernet Sauvignon has high tannins and gives its wines lots of ageing potential, which makes this a very popular grape amongst wine collectors and is great news for Bordeaux.

    If you have any bottles of Bordeaux and want some more information on storing your wine long term click here.

    In the family tree of grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon is the child of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

    This explains:

    a) the name Cabernet Sauvignon and

    b) results in the variety having lots of green flavours.

    But what does green mean in a wine?

    What does Cabernet Sauvignon typically taste like?

    What Does Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?

    So what does Cabernet Sauvignon taste like?

    And how does Cabernet Sauvignon taste different to Malbec?

    Cabernet Sauvignon grows all over the world and as a result the tasting notes of the grape can vary. Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry red wine.

    But because it’s used in Bordeaux blends, a style with a global popularity, a lot of makers try to make their Cabernet Sauvignons in a similar, oaked style.

    So it’s always useful to know that some flavours commonly associated with Cabernet Sauvignon include:

    • Green peppercorn
    • Dark chocolate,
    • Graphite
    • and Green Bell Pepper.

    Lots of greener elements here, which can help to differentiate a Cabernet Sauvignon from the more black and berry fruit tasting notes of Malbec.

    Why not pour yourself a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon side by side at your next dinner party and see if you and your guests can taste the difference between the two?

    A fun party game if ever we heard one!

    Before You Go... 

    Cab Sauv Vineyard

    We hope this provides you all the information you may need on telling the difference between Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, or email us at

    If you want to learn more about other types, consider our related blog posts:

    Wine Types

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    philip thompson Author: Philip Thompson
    Philip is the General Manager at Expert Wine Storage, and is very knowledgable about all things relating to wine and wine storage, including wine fridges. He is regularly featured in media outlets sharing his knowledge on wine. Connect on Linkedin