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Cabernet Franc vs Merlot

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Similarities of Cabernet Franc & Merlot

Cabernet Franc and Merlot are both important Bordeaux varietals and could be described as lying on the “mellower” end of the red wine spectrum. Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Merlot (the other being an obscure grape known as Madeleine), so the two wines have a lot in common. Both grapes have a reputation for producing medium-bodied wines with moderate tannins and relatively high acidity.

Cabernet Franc and Merlot are both quite early ripeners, maturing 1 week and 2 weeks before Cabernet Sauvignon respectively. Both originate from Libournais, on the “Right Bank” of the Gironde river. They are often used as blending grapes in Bordeaux, but when they are allowed to shine in a single-varietal wine, they can be wonderful. 

Differences of Cabernet Franc Versus Merlot

In spite of all of their similarities, Merlot is vastly more popular than Cabernet Franc. Both are robust grapes and are planted all over the world, but Merlot is planted far more frequently. 

This variance may come down to drinkability. Merlot is generally perceived as a soft, easy–drinking red wine, while Cabernet Franc’s defining characteristics are its floral and peppery notes. 

Although both grapes can be traced back to the “Right Bank” of the Gironde river in Bordeaux, which is typically associated with Merlot, smooth tannins and round mouthfeel, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are also important blending grapes on the Cabernet-dominated “Left Bank”. Of course, what is true at home in France may not be abroad. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are grown all over the world and can pick up many surprising nuances depending on where they are grown. 

How To Distinguish Between Cabernet Franc & Merlot

Cabernet Franc and Merlot are both great choices if you enjoy lighter-bodied red wines. Merlot will be much easier to find in smaller stores, but Cabernet Franc is well worth seeking out. 

Cabernet Franc is known for its red fruit and floral flavours such as raspberry, cherry, and violet, while Merlot is known for its darker fruit flavours such as black cherry and plum. Merlot wines tend to have softer tannins and less acidity than Cabernet Franc.

If you happen to be blind-tasting or want to impress some friends, the key is in the mouthfeel. Merlot will feel rounder, softer and more pliable, while Cabernet Franc typically has more obvious acidity and a more structured mouthfeel.

Cabernet Franc vs Merlot Comparison Chart

Characteristic Cabernet Franc Merlot
Sweetness Dry Dry
Acidity Medium-High Medium
Tannins Medium Medium
Body Medium Medium-Full
Tasting Notes Peppery notes and florality, red fruit and floral flavours such as raspberry, cherry, and violet. Blueberry and blackberry aromas, dark fruit flavours such as cherry, plum and chocolate
Popularity 8,100 Monthly Searches 40,500 Monthly Searches
Calories Per Glass 122 calories 122 calories
ABV % 11.5 – 13.5% 13 – 14.5%

Pairing Food With Cabernet Franc & Merlot

Cabernet Franc and Merlot are both classic French grapes. Generally, speaking, they lean towards being medium-bodied and are more refined than their Italian cousins (though you can find Cabernet Franc and Merlot in slightly different styles all over the world). Thanks to these characteristics, they are diverse wines for pairing with food and go well with middle-weight to heavy foods, like turkey, roasted vegetables, a variety of cheeses, pâté, or a reliable steak. 

Cabernet Franc food pairing

Merlot food pairing