Let’s begin this comparison with the obvious; Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine grape. Its success has been celebrated in many parts of the world, most notably in France’s Bordeaux region and California’s Napa Valley, where it is blended with other grapes to make stately red wines. Most Cabernet Sauvignons are full-bodied, bold reds.
On the other hand, Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape used in the production of terrific white wines, particularly from parts of New Zealand, California and parts of France. In France, Sauvignon Blanc regions include the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre appellations, as well as Bordeaux, where it’s blended with Sémillon to make both elegant dry whites and the region’s revered botrytized dessert wines.
Sauvignon Blancs can be made in many different styles, but tend to stand out for their zingy acidity and mineral or herbal notes.
About 20 years ago a DNA test showed that Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Vine breeding wasn’t well understood or very successful when Cabernet Sauvignon first appeared in the 17 century. Therefore it is highly unlikely that its development was intentional.
Sauvignon Blanc is a pale lemon colour. It tends to fare better in cooler climates. When fully ripened, it has a fresh, crisp smell, is high in acidity and tends to taste of lemon, lime, peach, gooseberry and/or passion fruit. It tends not to age well so is usually at its best a year or two after bottling. It tends to be fermented and stored in stainless steel, temperature-controlled vats to retain its fruit characteristics, and is best served chilled.
Even though Sauvignon Blanc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, they are very different.
Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied, with flavours of black fruit, black pepper and sometimes mint andeucalyptus. The grapes have thick skins so need a warmer climate to ripen fully. The skins make Cabernet Sauvignon wines very high in tannin. Cabernet Sauvignon is also high in acidity but, unlike Sauvignon Blanc, they are fermented and aged in oak barrels, which soften the astringent tannins and give flavours such as toast and vanilla to the wine. They can develop and benefit greatly from ageing. This is why some Cabernet Sauvignons are very expensive, especially if they are from a good vintage. They are best enjoyed slightly cooler than room temperature.
From a food pairing perspective, Cabernet sauvignon goes well with red meats, including game, stews or casseroles, hearty pastas, and strong-flavored cheese. Protein can help soften astringent tannins; fat protects your palate against a too-assertive wine.
Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand pairs well with sushi, goat cheese, spicy Asian food, grilled shrimp, or a fruit salad. A fuller-bodied Sauvignon Blanc will pair well with richer foods, such as chowder and fried calamari.
Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc produce excellent wines despite being so totally different. Both are very enjoyable under different circumstances.