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Sauvignon - What's In A Name?

  • If there is such a thing as a mythology in wine, then cabernet would occupy an exalted position on Olympus. The name cabernet is irrevocably linked with Bordeaux, its home, and claret, the wine which in the Anglo-Saxon world conjures up images of sophistication and good living.

    -Sebastian Payne

Andi Healey

Web Manager


For many years, the origin of Cabernet Sauvignon was not clearly understood and many myths and conjectures surrounded it. The word "Sauvignon" is believed to be derived from the French sauvage meaning "wild" and to refer to the grape being a wild (Vitis vinifera) vine native to France. Until quite recently, the grape was rumored to have ancient origins, perhaps even being the Biturica grape used to make ancient Roman wine and referenced by Pliny the Elder. 

Sauvignon Blanc

So, it may come as a surprise that one of the world’s most revered black grapes originated via a chance crossing of another black grape, Cabernet Franc, and a white grape, Sauvignon Blanc. This is believed to have happened in South-West France some time during the 17th century. Whilst miles apart in colour, you can though find some aromatic and flavour compounds which link these two together – most notably the herbaceous and chopped green bell pepper bouquet and taste – particularly in cooler climate examples. And Cabernet Franc come across more like a restrained, unplugged, or “acoustic” version, of its mighty and tannic son, Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Riedel Performance Cabernet (Pair) - Stemware

Riedel Performance Cabernet (Pair)

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Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glasses (Pair) - Stemware

Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glasses (Pair)

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In 1996, Professor Carole Meredith, from the University of California at Davis, was searching for the origins of Zinfandel when she discovered that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are Cabernet Sauvignon's parents. Professor Meredith also established Cabernet Sauvignon to be less than 600 years old, a relative newcomer in the wine grape world. The oldest recorded reference to Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the 18th Century and Chateau Mouton. 


Baron de Brane ripped up the white varieties and planted a red variety called Vidure. Vidure comes from the French words Vigne Dure or hardy vine in reference to the tough nature of Cabernet Sauvignon. The name's still used today in some parts of the Bordeaux region, where over 50% of the Medoc and Graves districts are planted with it. The massive spread of Cabernet Sauvignon came in the 1800's when it was used to replant the phylloxera ravaged vineyards of Europe. 

Riedel Veritas Champagne Glasses (Pair) - Stemware

Riedel Veritas Champagne Glasses (Pair)

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Riedel Veritas Pinot Noir (Old World) Glasses (Pair) -

Riedel Veritas Pinot Noir (Old World) Glasses (Pair)

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One and the same?

So, are Cab Sav and Bordeaux the same thing? In a word, no! Cabernet Sauvignon is an important player in Bordeaux, especially on the Left Bank. Most wines coming out of Bordeaux are blends. Left Bank blends are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and Cab Franc playing secondary roles. On the Right Bank, Merlot is king (generally speaking), with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc playing second fiddle. 

For most of the 20th century, it was the world's most widely planted premium red wine grape, until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 1990s. However, by 2015, Cabernet Sauvignon had once again become the most widely planted wine grape, with a total of 341,000 hectares (3,410 km2) worldwide. 


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