Why is the name “Sauvignon” attached to both red Cabernet Sauvignon and white Sauvignon Blanc?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why is the name “Sauvignon” attached to both red Cabernet Sauvignon and white Sauvignon Blanc?

—Jodi, Gibsonia, Pa.

Dear Jodi,

Curiously, the name “Sauvignon” is shared by two of the world’s most popular red (Cabernet Sauvignon) and white (Sauvignon Blanc) grapes. In the 1990s, it was discovered through DNA testing that Cabernet Sauvignon is a genetic cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, but it seems pretty unlikely that anyone knew that when the names for these grapes were being handed out hundreds of years ago.

You’ll no doubt have also noticed that two other very popular wines of the red (Pinot Noir) and white (Pinot Grigio) varieties share a common name in “Pinot.” That one is a little easier to explain, as the name “pinot” is derived from the word for “pine”—the grapes’ names are believed to reflect that their grape clusters resemble the shapes of pine cones.

We’re less certain about “Sauvignon.” It may be a derivation of now-obscure centuries-old French grape names like Servagnin or Sarvinien, and it may be descended from Savagnin, which is among the oldest known grape varieties. Some people also believe that all of those names are derived from the French term “sauvage,” or “wild.”

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Red Wines White Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc

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