Wine Q&A: Cab vs Cab Franc and an intro to Tannins

Q: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – what is the difference?

A: The difference is notable, with Cabernet Sauvignon making heavier, richer and more flavorful wines due to its heavier skins and lower skin to juice ratio.  The more skin to pulp, the more flavor can be extracted.  This has made it one of the most popular red wines made in the world today, especially in classic regions like Bordeaux and in the new world, like California and most of South America.  Cabernet Franc, due to its ripening earlier in the growing season, is more suited to cooler climates like the Loire Valley of France, the right bank of Bordeaux, and parts of New York State in the US.  It is still among the 20 most planted varietals in the world however, mainly because Cabernet Franc is used in blending to add balance and complexity to many red wines.  Interestingly, Cab Franc is one of the genetic parent grapes for two of its common blending partners: Cabernet Sauvignon (crossed with Sauvignon Blanc), and also Merlot (crossed with the all but forgotten Magdeleine Noire des Charentes).  Cabernet Sauvignon has flavors of Black Currants, Cassis, Cherry as well as Cedar, Graphite, and Baking spices, while Cabernet franc tends towards Cassis, currants, tobacco, raspberry and violets.

Q: What are Tannins in Wine?

A:  Tannins are often mentioned when discussing red wine, they are rarely a factor in whites, and give a wine structure and texture, and contribute to red wines ability to age and improve.  They come from the skins of the grape when the wine is being made and the grapes impart their color to the wine.   Thicker skinned grapes, Cabernet, Syrah/Shiraz, and Malbec have more, and softer reds like Pinot Noir and Merlot, have less.  Tannins are naturally occurring compounds, also found in coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tea.

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