WINE 101: How did that wine get its name?

How did that wine grape get its name?

Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinor Noir … these are all wines that we mention frequently, but where did these wines get their names? In America, wines are frequently named for their grape varietal if the wine is not a blend or its predominant varietal if it is a blend. As you may be able to guess, most wine names are French in origin, but here is what is thought to be the meaning behind some popular wine names. You can use this list to satisfy your curiosity and impress your friends at parties!

Cabernet

It is though that the word cabernet might be derived from the word ‘carbonet’ (charcoal), which describes the dark color of the wine produced with the grape. Although the word’s origin is not completely clear, it is the best guess of the origin of the word. Cabernet Franc (meaning French Cabernet), is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon’s other parent is Sauvignon Blanc. “Sauvignon” means wild, so these varietals were most likely cultivated from wild grapes. “Blanc” means white, as Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is named after the town in France where the grapes are thought to have originated. It means “thistle covered.” Obviously, thistles could be found in this town as well.

Merlot

It is derived from an old French word meaning “little blackbird.” It is thought to have gotten its name from either the blue-black color of the grapes or because the grape was a preferred food of blackbirds.

Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Pinot means “pine” in French. Both varieties are named because their grapes form in small, tight clusters in a cone shape, like a pine cone. The ‘noir’, meaning black, refers to the dark, nearly black, color of red grapes. The ‘gris’, meaning grey, refers to the grey-blue color of the white wine grape Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio in Italian).

Syrah/Shiraz

It is thought that the French Syrah grape may have originated in the city of Shiraz in Persia, from where the grapes may have originated. The word Shiraz ended up being “francified” to Syrah, but Shiraz has always been a synonym for the grape. The Australians re-popularized the use of Shiraz as the name for this grape, which is also sometimes called Hermitage there.

Riesling

Riesling is a wine of German origin. It is rumored to have gotten its name from a small stream and a small vineyard both called Ritzling in Wachu, Austria. The residents of this area are adamant that it is the origin of the name, but there has been no evidence to support this claim.

Gew├╝rtztraminer

This spicy and perfumed German grape is translated to “spiced triminer” or “perfumed trainer”. This grape is thought to be descended from the Traminer grape, an ancient variety which got its name from Tramin, a German-speaking town in northern Italy. It is thought that the Traminer grape was originally Sauvignon Blanc, which acquired differences over time, and that the Gew├╝rtztraminer was a mutation of that grape. 

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