Both of European origin, these red wines have various similarities, since they are dry wines of great intensity and complexity that are available on the market at a very affordable price (although there are also some very expensive examples).
Chianti is an Italian wine, produced from Sangiovese grapes in a specific area of Tuscany. Its production is therefore geographically limited, while Cabernet Sauvignon is an international wine produced almost everywhere in the world.
In this article, we will analyze their characteristics and compare Chianti vs Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chianti vs Cabernet Sauvignon
Comparing Cabernet vs Chianti is quite complicated because these wines do not have a single personality, but many different facets, and it is, therefore, necessary to consider similarities and differences accurately.
Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon are dry red wines, with well-balanced acidity, a medium-full body, and medium-high alcohol content.
Overall, they display similar flavors but with subtle differences, which are related to the intrinsic characteristics of the grape varieties.
Both are of European origin and they both pair very well with food. They are versatile, but are considered carnivorous wines par excellence, given their predilection for red meats.
Despite the great similarities, the comparison between Chianti wine and Cabernet Sauvignon reveals some key differences.
The first one is about production areas. Cabernet is an international grape variety; it was born in France but is grown almost everywhere in the world. Chianti, on the other hand, is a Sangiovese-based red wine produced only in a specific area of Tuscany.
Looking at the taste of the two wines in a very meticulous way, some minor differences can be noticed. Chianti is slightly less alcoholic and has slightly softer tannins. Cabernet is more exuberant, often more powerful, and has less pronounced acidity. Furthermore, it does not have the typical hints of violets found in Chianti.
Comparison chart between Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon
|Cherry, plum, violet, tomato leaf, and rustic earthy notes. Lively acidity, good body and velvety tannins.
|Exhuberant and powerful. Full and deep with notes of forest red fruits, herbs, tobacco, olives, earthy and balsamic aromas.
|Medium to full
|Medium to high
|Medium to high
|Medium to high
|Medium to high
|up to 15 years
|5 to 30 years
|$9 to $100 or more
|$8 to $1000 or more
|Pasta with tomato and meat sauce. Mushrooms, grilled meat
|Red meat, especially grilled and with peppery sauces. Flavorful and rich vegetarian dishes.
|15-20°C / 60–68°F
|15-20°C / 60–68°F
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Taste and flavor
Chianti is characterized by an intense ruby red color tending towards garnet with aging. On the nose, the wine reveals floral and fruity aromas, with intense notes of violet, blackberry, and cherry. If aged in wood, spicy hints can be perceived, such as cinnamon, vanilla, and tobacco.
It is a wine with a harmonious and persistent taste and a medium-bodied structure. Chianti is always a dry wine, with lively acidity. The young versions have a more exuberant and fresh character, but with time, the wine becomes more velvety.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine with an exuberant personality. The aromatic profile is complex and recalls the scents of the forest: blueberries, currants, blackberries, and then traces of undergrowth, earthy notes, plums, eucalyptus, tobacco, and olives.
On the palate, it is rich, full, and powerful, with firm tannins and a remarkable structure. With aging, Cabernet comes at its best as it loses some of its vigor to become incredibly fine, balsamic, and full of spicy tertiary aromas while maintaining a solid and compact structure.
Origin and history
Chianti has a very ancient history that dates back to the time of the Etruscans when vines were already cultivated in Tuscany.
But the first documents in which the name Chianti identifies a wine production areadate back to the 13th century and refer to the Chianti League set up in Florence to regulate administrative relations with the Radda districts, Gaiole and Castellina, producers of a Sangiovese-based red wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon originates from the Bordeaux wine region, in France and more precisely it has been cultivated extensively and intensively in the Medoc area since the end of the 18th century. It is believed to come from a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Where are they produced and in which styles?
Chianti is a wine produced exclusively in Tuscany, from Sangiovese grapes (for a minimum of 70%) with the possibility of adding other local vines.
Even if the wine-growing boundaries of Chianti are constantly re-discussed, the more than 20 km wide hilly area of the three provinces of Siena, Florence, and Arezzo has always remained unchanged. The area called Chianti is relatively vast and is divided into sub-zones, the first of which is that of Chianti Classico, which is extremely limited.
It is important to understand that Chianti and Chianti Classico are two types of DOCG, the determination of which is based on very different regulations, on demarcated production areas and consortia established for the preservation and safeguarding of the product. Chianti Classico wines can be recognized by the black rooster symbol on the label.
There are also the Riserva and Gran Selezione types. The Riserva must be aged in wooden barrels and appears as a wine with more complex characteristics, a fine but intense bouquet, with spices and earthy returns that intertwine with evolved fruit.
The Gran Selezione comes from the most suitable wine-growing areas, where wines of extreme finesse and great adherence to the territory are produced.
The best Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines in the world come from the Bordeaux region, in particular the Médoc area (Haut-Médoc), on the left bank of the Garonne river, where this grape variety finds ideal conditions for perfect ripening.
Cabernet Sauvignon is also very popular in the rest of the world.
In California, it is especially common in Napa and Sonoma Country, where the mixed clayey soils rich in minerals and the hot, dry climate give rise to fruity and full-bodied Cabernets, with different characteristics depending on the sub-areas.
In Chile, the Maipo Valley, characterized by a Mediterranean climate and by a difference in altitude of the vineyards from 500 to 1000 m, is the home of tsome of the best Cabernet Sauvignon of South America.
In Australia, it is present in the Barossa Valley at the southern end of the country where it produces intense and full-bodied wines.
It is also popular in Spain, South Africa, Argentina (Mendoza), and New Zealand (Hawkes's Bay).
Chianti and Cabernet are two dry wines, also characterized by a good acid vein.
Alcohol content comparison
When it comes to alcohol content, Cabernet is second to only a few wines. It is a rather warm red wine. Despite coming from the sunny Tuscan hills and having a medium-high alcohol content, Chianti is usually less alcoholic than Cabernet.
Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon adapt to food with great versatility. Both are considered wines suitable for red meat, but Chianti usually has a less powerful structure, which therefore requires slightly less structured dishes.
Chianti is a very food-friendly wine. Its soft tannins and freshness make it ideal with grilled meat because the wine can enhance the juiciness of the meat, maintaining a strong gustatory balance. It works deliciously with tomato sauces, so it can be paired with pasta bolognese or lasagna dishes.
According to tradition, it also goes very well with soups and those typical dishes of the Tuscan territory like Ribollita. Younger wines can also be paired with fish dishes with tomato sauce.
Reserve wines are sapid, not very tannic, and require more complex flavors, like game and rich meat that can balance the acidic vein and the tannins. The aging in wood evokes spicy aromas of vanilla, black pepper, and licorice which perfectly accompany the flavor of cheeses and cured meats.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful, substantial wine with character, and vigorous tannins. It is a wine often defined as ‘carnivorous’ due to its flavors and intense personality and in any case suitable for pairing with hearty dishes with a marked fat tendency.
Perfect with grilled or barbecued pork and red meats, and with rich dishes such as roasts, braised meats, game, and flavored meats accompanied by various sauces and aged soft or hard cheeses.
Its aromas also make it excellent with truffles and mushrooms (especially those stuffed) and with hearty vegetarian dishes such as vegetarian chili, eggplant parmesan, Mac & Cheese, and vegetarian burgers.
Wines to try under $50
The best (and most pleasant) way to better understand the characteristics of Chianti Cabernet wines and analyze their comparison is, quite simply, to taste many of them!! Here is a small selection of labels that we recommend you try.
Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico
Fattoria di Basciano Chianti Rufina Riserva
Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico
Montenidoli Chianti Colli Senesi Il Garrulo
Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
Penfolds Max's Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia
Vina Ventisquero Grey Single Block Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
Lamadrid Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Argentina
Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon, USA
Petra Potenti, Italy