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Cabernet Franc


Cabernet Franc is an international red grape variety from which very great wines can be made. Known mostly in blends with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux blends, it is capable of yielding very elegant and long-lived wines even when vinified alone. Its name indicates what is its most valuable characteristic: a “franc wine” is a wine that has in its bouquet a distinct scent that stands out from all others and makes it immediately recognizable.


Its wide distribution in the Gironde and Loire regions has long led to the assumption that the grape variety originated in France. However, some DNA analyses have shown a parent-child relationship with Morenoa and Hondarrabi Beltza, two vines from the Basque Country: it is therefore very likely that it arrived in southwestern France from Gipuzkoa or Navarre, in the northern Pyrenees, perhaps thanks to pilgrims returning from Santiago del Compostela.

Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley is thought to have landed around 1630 when Cardinal Richelieu sent some vine shoots to Abbot Breton, who was responsible for planting them in Chinon and Bourgueil. Then in 1997 it was discovered, again through DNA testing, that it was from the crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that Cabernet Sauvignon was born.


Cabernet Franc has come to occupy 45,000 hectares of vineyard area worldwide, of which 36,000 are in France. Here, it reaches its highest levels in the Libournais, where it is produced both in the Bordeaux blend and in purity, and in the Loire Valley, where tradition sees its use mainly as a single varietal.

Cabernet Franc is also grown in Italy, although to a lesser extent than previously believed: in fact, it has been discovered that many of the vines grown are actually Carmenère, a grape variety very similar to Cabernet Franc. Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto are the regions with the largest area under vine.

Tuscany, then, has distinguished itself by producing excellent wines made from both pure Cabernet Franc and blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grape variety is also grown in Sicily and Apulia, where it has adapted very well to the warmer climate. Worldwide, Cabernet Franc is found in Canada, California, Washington, Virginia, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Spain.

Cabernet Franc has even reached China, where it is grown between 2,220 and 2,600 meters above sea level on the slopes of the Himalayas.


Cabernet Franc is a vigorous grape variety that adapts well to many soils and climates. It withstands winter frosts and harsh climates well, so much so that it is also used as a base for making Ice Wines, but it also gives excellent results in warmer climates. It performs best in clay-limestone soils but also grows well in sandy and loose soils as long as they are well drained because it is sensitive to water stress.

Medium-late ripening usually occurs a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it is a vigorous vine, its productivity is not high, hovering around 30-40 hl/ha and exceptionally reaching 80 hl/ha in Languedoc. It has good resistance to pests and cryptogams but shows fair susceptibility to botrytis, esca, leafhopper and eutipiosis.

Ampelographic characteristics

The various clones show some homogeneity although production potential can be quite different. The Cabernet Franc leaf is bright light green, medium-sized, pentagonal, three- to five-lobed.

The cluster is medium, cylindrical or conical, fairly compact and sometimes winged. The deep blue tending to black berries are medium to small, spheroidal, with thick, very pruinose skin. The pulp is juicy and has a more or less intense herbaceous flavor.

The wine – Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is used both in blends and in purity, for the production of red, rosé, white and Ice Wines. Red wines vinified in purity have a brilliant ruby red color that tends to garnet with aging. Its aroma is unmistakable, with smoky and bell pepper notes, given by the high amount of pyrazines in its grapes.

If picked unripe, the vegetal bell pepper note may be prevalent making the wine harsh. Harvested when ripe, the herbaceous notes will give way to smoky ones and hints of violet, raspberry, strawberry, ivy leaves and, after aging, licorice, graphite, cocoa, menthol notes.

The taste of Cabernet Franc wine is round, broad and pleasantly fresh. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is less rich in tannins and therefore ages more quickly and can be enjoyed in less time.


This red wine made from pure Cabernet Franc can be paired with the entire meal. Because of its herbaceous and smoky notes, it goes well with pasta dishes with meat sauce, game, grilled meats, stews, and roasts. It also goes well with semi-mature and aged cheeses.

Cabernet Franc VS Cabernet Sauvignon

From an ampelographic point of view, the two grape varieties are very similar, but Cabernet Franc buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also has fewer tannins-so aging can be faster-and fewer polyphenols and anthocyanins, which is why the color is less intense. On the palate, Cabernet Franc tends to have more herbaceous notes.

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An international red grape variety of French origin, Merlot is one of the most famous and widely grown wines in the world.


The grape variety seems to have originated in the Bordeaux area, but the first mention dates “only” to 1784, when an official named Faurveau listed Merlot among the best wines of the Libournais.

In 1789 it appears as Merlot or Bigney Rouge in the varietal collection of the Luxembourg gardens, while in 1857 Victor Rendu, Inspector General of Agriculture, gives a botanical description of it in his “French Ampelography.”

Nine years later, in 1868, the agronomist and botanist Auguste Petit-Lafitte suggests how the name Merlot may derive from “blackbird” either in reference to its blue-black color with violet hues or because of the predilection these birds have for its sweet berries.

As early as the late 1990s, some DNA studies attributed Merlot’s paternity to Cabernet Franc, but it was not until 2009 that, thanks to the fortuitous discovery of some vines in Saint-Suliac in Brittany, it was discovered that the mother was a vine called Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.


Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, it is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, occupying an area of more than 250,000 hectares.

In France it covers 14% of the area planted with vines and is widely planted not only in Bordeaux-its homeland where it is used both on its own and in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (Bordeaux blend)-but also in Languedoc-Roussillon and Bergerac. Its use is also provided for in many controlled appellations of origin from Provence to the Loire, from Savoy to Charente.

In Italy, the Merlot grape variety arrived in 1880, first in Friuli Venezia Giulia and then in Alto Adige and Veneto, where it found the best climatic conditions for its cultivation. Over time it spread to other regions, including the southernmost regions where it has adapted perfectly to warmer climates, resulting in rich, complex wines of great elegance.

In the rest of Europe, Merlot is grown in Switzerland’s Canton Ticino, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Moldova, and to some extent in Austria and Germany. The grape variety is also found in California although the hot climate makes it difficult to grow in some areas. For this reason, except in rare cases, it is mainly used in blends with other wines.

The more favorable climate, on the other hand, has made its expansion possible in Washington State, New York state, Virginia and Canada. In Chile, where for years it was confused with Carmenère, Merlot vines are concentrated in the central regions while in Argentina it is grown in the Mendoza hills. Merlot has also found a place in other important viticultural areas such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.


Although Merlot is a fairly vigorous and hardy vine, it is susceptible to spring frost because of its early sprouting and can be damaged by downy mildew, botrytis and flavescence dorée. It is an early varietal and is usually harvested a couple of weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Optimal ripening occurs in soils that can remain cool even in summer, moist, and rich in clay and limestone. Soil composition determines the style of Merlot wine: clay gives structure while limestone enhances elegance and aromas.

Ampelographic notes

Merlot has light green, medium, pentagonal, pentalobed leaves. Clusters tend to be medium, pyramidal, winged but care must be taken because there are differences between biotypes. Berries are blue-purple, medium, spherical, with pruinose skin. Their juice is colorless, the pulp soft with a neutral, sweet, low acid, slightly herbaceous flavor.

The wine

Merlot tends to be blended with other wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in what is called a “Bordeaux blend“: the Merlot, with its softness derived from the high sugar concentration of its grapes, counterbalances the tannic impetuosity and acidity of the other two. It is, however, also vinified in purity, resulting in some cases in sublime wines.

Merlot wines can differ significantly because the soils and climates in which it is grown are varied. In addition to these two factors, yield also greatly influences the quality of the wine: Merlot is a rather productive grape variety, but the best results are obtained where yields are rather low.

Wine from Merlot grapes has a deep ruby red color that turns to garnet with time. The aromas are of red and black fruits such as cherry, plum, blackberry, cassis, which tend to evolve into spicy and jammy notes with age. The palate is round, full-bodied, with soft tannins and moderate acidity. It can be drunk young, but some great wines can age for years before reaching their full potential.

Because the Merlot grape has a high concentration of sugar, in places where the climate is particularly warm there is a risk that the wine will become too full-bodied and the taste will flatten due to an excess of softness at the expense of acidity.


A young Merlot can be paired with cured meats, white meats and meaty pasta dishes. An aged, well-structured Merlot goes well with roasted, grilled red meats, roasted game, and aged or blue cheeses. Full-bodied Merlots can also be enjoyed on their own as meditation wines.

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Sauvignon “Blanc”


Sauvignon Blanc is a white-wine grape from western France, now successfully grown in emerging and established wine regions all over the world. The variety produces lightly colored, aromatic dry white wines with fresh acidity.


Origin stories for Sauvignon Blanc abound although more recent theories put the variety as a cross between Traminer and Chenin Blanc, likely in the Loire Valley.

Along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc is also the parent of Bordeaux stalwart, the dark-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon. They are both vigorous growers that produce generous yields and are inclined to produce overly dense canopies in cooler climates.

Both parent and offspring have now become two of the most widely planted vine varieties in the world.


There is still discussion as to Sauvignon Blanc’s actual origins, with both Bordeaux and the Loire claiming to be the grape’s homeland. The grape’s versatility means its regions and styles are remarkably diverse, both within France and internationally.

The Upper Loire regions of Sancerre and neighboring Pouilly-Fumé are, arguably, the iconic appellations for Sauvignon Blanc both in France and for wine lovers worldwide. While Bordeaux also claims the variety, it is (in keeping with the winemaking of the region) often made as part of a blended wine.

In the white wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, however, the grape appears alone, often seeing little to no oak, although top examples can undergo some oak aging. Here the wines are mineral, citrusy, steely, bright and reasonably long-lived. Pouilly-Fumé wines get their name from the characteristic smokey, gunflint aromas associated with the wines of the area – “Pouilly Fumé” means “smoked Pouilly”. This flinty aspect of the Sauvignon Blanc aroma is often found in Sancerre wines too and the struck flint aroma reportedly derives from the presence of high levels of chert (silica) in the local limestone soils.

Bordeaux vies with the Loire in claiming to be Sauvignon’s homeland (its hallmark variety Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, for example) however, it is relatively rare to find Bordeaux white wines that are 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

In most cases, however, the prestigious white wines of Bordeaux are produced from blends of Sauvignon and Semillon (sometimes with a little Muscadelle), most readily associated with the Pessac-Leognan and wider Graves appellations south of Bordeaux city. These wines are made with varying proportions of the two grapes and are generally fermented and/or aged in oak barriques, giving a signature texture and a mix of herbal and tropical fruit aromas.

While the Loire and Bordeaux fight over the claim to Sauvignon Blanc’s roots, New Zealand (and, in particular, the Marlborough region) has completely redefined the global standing of the variety. The rapid development of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, from its infancy in the 1980s to global recognition within a decade or so, is one of the most dramatic events in the world of wine.

Producing highly vertical, unique yet readily identifiable wines with aromes of gooseberries, grapefruit, blackberry leaf and passionfruit, Sauvignon Blanc has captured a vast market around the globe, from the United States and Canada to the UK and northern Europe, Australia and Japan.

The success of varietally produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in export markets worldwide has led many countries and regions to mirror the no-oak, high acid, pungent aromatics of Marlborough. Chile (particularly the Casablanca and San Antonio valleys) and South Africa produce noted examples.

Even in Australia the variety can thrive in the cooler coastal areas of the south while in Europe, more commercially-minded regions have adopted the New Zealand model. Aping a more Bordeaux style of barrel fermented dry white wines, the pairing of Sauvignon and Semillon has become the staple white blend in Australia’s Margaret River region.

In Europe, the cool, sunny sub-alpine slopes of Alto Adige, Friuli and Emilia in northern Italy produce high quality Sauvignon Blanc, which is used in blends with native varieties like Friulano or on its own. In Spain, the variety is sometimes encountered in the white wines of Rueda, as the variety has remarkably similar qualities to the local Verdejo.


A relatively robust, vigorous vine, Sauvignon Blanc adapts readily to all kinds of growing environments. Because it ripens early, it can be grown in relatively cool climates – its Loire homeland being the most obvious example – while its naturally high acidity allows it to retain a level of freshness even in warmer areas.

However, to achieve the true, forward zing that best characterizes Sauvignon Blanc wine, a cooler terroir is needed, ideally with persistent bright sunshine and a dry harvest period.

Ampelographic notes

Sauvignon Blanc leaves are small to medium-sized, circular and pentalobed. Clusters are medium-small, cylindrical-pyramidal, oblong, averagely compact and with an obvious wing. Its berries are greenish in color, medium-small of ellipsoid shape. The flesh is quite fleshy with a slightly herbaceous hint.

The wine – Sauvignon blanc

Classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas range from grass, nettles and asparagus to green apples and gooseberries, and to more esoteric notes such as blackcurrant leaf and gunflint. In New World regions and warmer climates, aromas can push into more tropical areas, and include grapefruit, mango and star fruit. Thiols (such as 4-methyl-4-mercaptopentan-2-one, or 4-MMP) and methoxpyrazines (associated with green, bell pepper notes) are generally credited with giving Sauvignon Blanc its somewhat unique green, grassy, aromas, especially in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Palate profile

Sauvignon Blanc produces wines with a light to medium body and high acid levels with moderate alcohol. It is generally held that producers wishing to increase complexity will need to do work in the vineyard to restrict yields and, alongside this, lees stirring (bâttonage) may give additional body to the wines. In more commercial, early-release examples, the high, lingering acidity is often counterbalanced by low to moderate levels of residual sugar.


Crisp and aromatic, with grassy notes, and plenty of citrus flavors, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most food-friendly, white wines. It pairs well with seafood, chicken, green vegetables and even asparagus, and herb-forward sauces like pesto, chimichurri, and mojo sauce.

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Chardonnay is an international white grape variety that has enjoyed great success around the world because of its ability to adapt to many different climates and soils.


Chardonnay most likely originated in Burgundy, where it is still used to produce some of the world’s best white wines, and its name comes from the village of the same name located in the Haut-Mâconnais.

In the past very often confused with Pinot Blanc, it is actually the result of a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, a now-extinct white grape variety that appears to be the ancestor of as many as 80 European grape varieties. What is interesting is that Gouais is such a mediocre grape variety that during the Middle Ages, there were even attempts to ban its cultivation in Europe. Gouais, moreover, comes from the adjective “gou,” a term of derision in Old French, which would indicate precisely the poor quality of the grapes.

But, to no one’s surprise, it is precisely the great genetic diversity between the noble Pinot Noir and the humble Gouais that may be the cause of the development of the excellent quality of Chardonnay grapes.


Chardonnay’s extreme adaptability has led it to be one of the most widely grown grape varieties in the world, with an area planted to around 210,000 hectares.

In France, its homeland, it is grown mainly in Burgundy and particularly in Côte d’Or, Côte de Beaune and Chablis where, on the famous clay known as “Kimmeridge,” Chardonnay finds some of its best growing soil. It is also found in Champagne where, especially in the Côte des Blancs area, it gives wonderful, elegant and fine wines. Here exceptional Blanc de Blancs are produced from Chardonnay vinified in purity.

Around the world, the grape variety has found its place in all the major wine-growing regions. In Italy it is cultivated almost everywhere: the most widespread is in Sicily followed by Trentino where it seems to have arrived as early as 1800 and where it is used for the production of classic method sparkling wines.

The same use is made of it in Franciacorta and the Langhe, where it is blended with Pinot Noir and other grape varieties. Moving down the peninsula, Chardonnay is found in almost all regions where it is used to make many DOC and DOCG wines.

In the United States, the most famous wines come from Sonoma, a district north of San Francisco, and Napa Valley, but Chardonnay is also grown in Oregon and New York state. The grape variety is also widely planted in Canada, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.


Chardonnay is a fairly vigorous and fairly productive grape variety. However, it tends to sprout early, which exposes it to spring frosts. It has good resistance to diseases and pests although it is quite susceptible to flavescence dorée, esca disease, powdery mildew and botrytis.

During heavy rainfall and major temperature changes during the flowering period, it may show partial or total run-off and, in some cases, millerandage. Although it is adapted to a myriad of different soils, it gives its best results in calcareous or calcium, carbonate or sulfate-rich soils.

Ampelographic notes

Chardonnay leaves are medium, orbicular, entire or hinting at five lobes, dark green in color; the cluster is medium, cylindrical-conical, compact and with two wings; the berry, small and spherical with a thin, pruinose skin, is green-yellow but tinged with a wonderful golden color as it approaches ripeness.

The wine – Chardonnay

Very different wines can be made from Chardonnay grapes, and not only because it can be produced in different types (still, sparkling, passito) but also because its aromatic makeup is profoundly influenced by the climate, the soil in which it grows, and the winemaking and aging techniques that are used. For this reason, making a generic description of wine made from Chardonnay grapes becomes a rather complex undertaking.

It tends to be straw yellow in color with greenish hues when young and golden yellow for wines aged and aged in wood.

In warm climates, its grapes yield rich wines with good flavor persistence and hints of ripe, tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, banana and melon. In countries with cooler climates, the wines are fresher and more mineral, with floral aromas of white (acacia) and yellow (broom) flowers and fruity aromas of apple, lemon, pear and grapefruit. A temperate climate makes it possible to produce full-bodied, smooth wines with aromas of white fruits such as peach and citrus.

The high concentration of sugars in the grapes accompanied by high acidity makes Chardonnay a wine suitable for aging, and its neutral aromatic complement goes well with aging in wooden barrels or barriques thanks to which it acquires hints of honey, butter, toasted hazelnuts, caramel and vanilla.

Food Pairings

Being very diverse, wines made from Chardonnay grapes can be paired with numerous dishes. Widely used for aperitifs, they go well with all fish, shellfish, stuffed pastas, vegetable risottos and lean white meats. Their good acidity makes them perfect with fatty dishes such as salmon or greasy ones such as mixed fried fish. Again, thanks to their acidity, they go well with savory dishes such as cured meats and cheeses but also with sweet-tending foods such as shellfish.

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