Malbec vs Cabernet Sauvignon

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Similarities of Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon

Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon originally come from the southwest of France, but both varietals have become ubiquitous in stores worldwide, and have become strongly associated with particular New World locations.

Both of these varietals are also known for producing robust, fruity wines, with plenty of acidity. They are known for being used in Bordeaux blends (while it is originally from Cahors, Malbec is one of the six grapes permitted for a red Bordeaux blend), for being full-bodied, dry and fantastic wines for pairing with meat.

Surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon – Malbec blends are rarely seen within Bordeaux. You’re more likely to find examples of this two-grape blend in Argentina, Chile, Australia, or parts of the United States.    In the vineyard, both of these varietals are fairly thick-skinned (which generally means more tannins in the resulting wine) and require a lot of sunshine to reach full maturity. 

Differences of Malbec Versus Cabernet Sauvignon

Within France, Malbec is most commonly associated with the small wine-making region of Cahors, while Cabernet Sauvignon is famous for coming from Bordeaux and is found more frequently on the Left Bank.

Nowadays, when Malbec is mentioned, people usually immediately think of Argentinean wine. It was introduced to the country in 1868 and has become the most frequently planted red grape there, by a long shot. Meanwhile, Cabernet Sauvignon is adored worldwide, perhaps due to its robustness in the vineyard.

The most famous New World examples are from Napa Valley in California, but it is also grown all across the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and pretty much every New World location that you can think of. It’s fair to say that Cabernet Sauvignon is significantly more popular than Malbec, both in terms of cultivation and consumption.

Malbec is generally more susceptible to disease, frost and pests, which is part of the reason why it has fallen out of favor in Bordeaux and grown to be such a powerhouse in Argentina. Many of Argentina’s vineyards sit at very high altitudes, in tough conditions where pests and diseases struggle to survive. These harsh conditions also make for some delicious, intensely fruity and highly acidic wine.  

How To Distinguish Between Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon

Although both of these varietals make fuller-bodied wines with dark fruit flavors, it is definitely possible to tell the difference between them in a blind tasting.

Cabernet Sauvignon is generally considered to be the bigger wine, with a more aggressive acidic attack, chewy tannins, and an angular mouthfeel overall. Malbec is more likely to exhibit lower levels of tannin and more of a smooth, fruit-forward taste. Sometimes, smoother examples of Malbec can be compared to Merlot. However, it totally depends on the producer – higher altitude wines, such as those made in Uco Valley or Salta, can be extremely potent, aggressively acidic and big in character.

In terms of flavor, you’re more likely to find notes of green pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as some underlying herbal notes of mint or eucalyptus and classic flavors of plum, cherry and blackberry. Malbec is a decidedly jammy wine, with strong notes of cherry, plum and pomegranate, which can sometimes verge on sweetness. 

Malbec vs Cabernet Sauvignon Comparison Chart

Characteristic Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon
Sweetness Dry Dry
Acidity High High
Tannins Medium Medium-High
Body Full Full
Tasting Notes Red and black fruits – ripe cherry, plum and pomegranate. Notes of black pepper, coffee, leather and tobacco. Black fruits – blackcurrants, blackberries and black cherries. Bell pepper, mint, eucalyptus and earthiness.
Popularity 27,100 Monthly Searches 90,500 Monthly Searches
Calories Per Glass 135 Calories 120 Calories
ABV % 13 – 15% 13.5 – 14.5%

Pairing Food With Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are both great wines for pairing with your favorite meat dish. They are fantastic company for steak, lamb and game meat, and can also be paired effectively with roast vegetables or any kind of barbecue food.