Know Your Grapes: Cabernet Franc

Know Your Grapes: Cabernet Franc

South Africa has been making waves in the wine world with its unique flavors and blending techniques. Here, the Cabernet Franc varietal is finding its feet. South African Cabernet Francs boast vibrant, rich flavors of berries, cherries, and chocolate, with a subtle hint of green bell pepper. Unlike other Cabernet Francs from France or California, South African wine varieties are characterized by bright acidity and a distinctly jammy mouthfeel.

As in our “Know Your Grapes” series of articles, we will cover the characteristics of the grape, how it compares to other varieties, how it is used in wine making, and how to enjoy it with food!

Whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or just starting out, this primer is designed to help you navigate the world of Cabernet Franc.


Cabernet Franc is a black-skinned French wine grape variety that is grown in most wine-producing nations. This versatile varietal displays a wide range of flavors depending on its growing conditions.

In cooler climates, Cabernet Franc tends to produce lighter-bodied wines with more pronounced acidity, taking on flavors of raspberries, blackcurrants, violets, and graphite.

In warmer regions, it can produce fuller-bodied wines with richer fruit flavors, often exhibiting notes of ripe dark berries and plums, sometimes accompanied by herbaceous undertones.

One of the key distinguishing characteristics of Cabernet Franc is its often pronounced herbal, leafy green flavors, which can range from bell pepper to leafy tobacco.

With its medium body, moderate tannins, and bright acidity, Cabernet Franc has the ability to produce balanced, elegant wines that can be enjoyed young yet also possess the potential for aging.


Cabernet Franc is a wine varietal that seems to fly under the radar. It’s a grape that is often overshadowed by its more famous relative, Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is making a name for itself in the wine world. Cabernet Franc has a lot of unique characteristics that make it worth exploring as a grape.

Here’s something interesting about the Cabernet Franc varietal that totally blew our minds;

  • It has a parent-sibling relationship with Cabernet Franc. DNA profiling at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology has confirmed that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are the parent varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon. This genetic connection was a surprising discovery made in the late 20th century. While Cabernet Sauvignon has gained more international acclaim and is often seen as the superior variety, its parent, Cabernet Franc, continues to hold its own with a complex profile and versatility in blending
  • Another surprising Cabernet Franc parent-sibling relationship we discovered in our research of Cab Franc?? That’s with the Merlot varietal! Just as it's one parent to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is a parent to Merlot as well. This revelation, like the former, surfaced through DNA profiling conducted at UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. This genetic linkage underscores some of the shared characteristics between Cabernet Franc and Merlot, such as their adaptability to different climates and their capability to produce wines with a range of flavor profiles.

That being said, each brings a distinct personality to the tasting table. Read on to understand how Cabernet Franc compares to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other varietals.

Cabernet Franc grapes have a thinner skin than Cabernet Sauvignon, making its tannins smoother and more delicate. With an expressive blend of aromas such as strawberry, cherry, and violet, Cabernet Franc offers a softer and more subtle taste than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also has a unique scent of green bell pepper, which many wine aficionados identify as the varietal's signature characteristic.

While Cabernet Franc is often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon due to their genetic connection, it also draws comparison with Merlot and Pinot Noir. Merlot shares the soft tannin structure and fruit-forward profile of Cabernet Franc, although it typically exhibits a plusher mouthfeel and notes of plum and chocolate. On the other hand, Pinot Noir is lighter in body with higher acidity, much like Cabernet Franc. It expresses similar hints of red fruits and floral notes, but with an added earthiness that sets it apart. 


In wine blends, Cabernet Franc serves as a complementary grape, offering softer aromas than Cabernet Sauvignon. In a classic Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Franc's contribution is to add a floral, spicy & slightly perfumed aroma that gives the blend an added freshness. In most cases, Cabernet Franc offers more fragrance than Cabernet Sauvignon and as a result, you’ll find it in red blends with grapes like Merlot, Petit verdot, and Malbec.


When pairing Cabernet Franc with food, it is important to balance its flavours and aromas. Because of its softness and lower tannins, Cabernet Franc pairs well with a variety of dishes like pasta with red sauce, grilled vegetables, or roasted poultry dishes. Cabernet Franc's herbaceousness and fruit-forward flavour also pair well with grilled foods, such as vegetables and leaner meats like venison, duck, and lamb.


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