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Origin of grape names revealed !

· Wine Culture

Understanding the name of a grape variety is understand its history. Today, we go back in time to understand the names of the main grape varieties from France !

However, written proofs of the origins of grapes' names are very rare, therefore the explanations we give today are only hypothetical and are the results of the investigations of French linguists.


The world's most widely planted white grape could have taken its name from « chardon », the French for « thistle », the latter being derived from the latin term « cardonnacum », which means « place of thistles ». In fact, this might be how a Roman landlord named a small area in Saône-et-Loire in the heart of Burgundy during the end of the Roman period, due to its dry limestone soil where thistles can easily thrive, and so can Chardonnay.

Sauvignon blanc

This white grape is one of the parents of Cabernet sauvignon (the other parent being Cabernet franc), to which it gave its surname. As for the origin of the word « sauvignon », it appears to be coming from the contraction of old French words « servagnin » and « sarvinien », which were names for various kinds of grapes.


The famous white grape from Bordeaux which enters the composition of Sauternes might take its name from the old South-West France dialect saying « semilhoun », meaning « semence » in French (« seed » in English), a reference to the fact that Sémillon is a highly productive variety. Another version suggests that the word « sémillon » is a contraction of « Saint-Emilion », sub-region of Bordeaux where it could be originating.

Chenin blanc

One of the flagship grape varieties of the Loire Valley, where it has been cultivated for 1300 years. Its name might either be derived from the latin « caninus », « de chien » in French (translates into « with a dog’s nature »), alluding to the wild nature of this grape. Another version lets the grape being named after Mont Chenin, a hill in Loire Valley’s sub-region Touraine.

Cabernet sauvignon

The world’s most popular black grape variety’s name seems to be derived from its parent family’s name, the « carmenet » family, reminiscing the carmine color of its skin. The word « cabernet » might also be a word from the ancient Médoc dialect, derived from the latin « caput », designating a black grape variety.


This equally important black grape from Bordeaux probably takes its name from the South-West France dialect term « merlau », which is a word to call a small blackbird. This could be a reference either to the black color of the skin of Merlot, or to the fact that blackbirds have a strong appetite for this grape, which they like to eat before the harvest.

Pinot noir

Burgundy’s flagship black grape variety takes its name from « pin », the French for « pine tree », as its small grapes are very close to each other, forming a cluster reminding the shape of a pine cone. Pinot blanc and Pinot gris are both color mutations from Pinot noir.


This is one of the grape varieties that constantly brings up speculation over its origin. Some say it comes from the Middle-East, others say it was born on the French Mediterranean coast. A few studies have in fact found that its name could be derived from « serine », another old name for Syrah in the Northern Rhône valley.


The name of this grape has an Eastern France origin, somehow close to the Provençal language. It is unsure how to define this word, however it is possible that the grape was named after the small village of Gamay, located in Saint-Aubin (Côte d'Or).


This black grape from South West France is more locally known as « côt », which could be a distortion of « Cahors », the probable city of origin of Malbec. Why is it called « Malbec » then ? Most likely because « côt » has beenspread out in the regionby a grape grower named « Malbeck ».

Petit verdot

This black grape is often found as a small component in the red wines of Bordeaux. Its name comes from the French « petit vert » (« small green »), due to the fact that it matures late in the season, with its grapes keeping their green color longer than other grapes.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as we enjoyed writing it ! Now it’s your turn to impress your friends at your next dinner party. Cheers !

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