The Wine Cabinet — Origins of the Names of Wine

The Wine CabinetI have been curious about the origin of wines and their names since I began writing about wine in 1988, so I decided to start researching the information. Here is the first look, along with some tasting notes, so be prepared for more in the future.

Cabernet Sauvignon

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. The meaning of the word cabernet is unknown.

The grape’s true origins were discovered in 1996 with the use of DNA typing at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology by a team led by Dr. Carole Meredith. The DNA evidence determined that cabernet sauvignon was the offspring of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc and was most likely a chance crossing that occurred in the 17th century.

Prior to this discovery, this origin had been suspected from the similarity of the grapes’ names and the fact that cabernet sauvignon shares similar aromas with both grapes — such as the black currant and pencil box aromas of cabernet franc and the grassiness of sauvignon blanc.

Some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wines:

  • Dry Creek Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (Healdsburg, Calif.) $25. Blend: 83 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot, 4 percent malbec, 2 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent petit verdot. Style: dry red. Dark red color. Aromas: raspberry, sage and dried flowers. Flavors: black cherry, plum and cocoa. Well-balanced palate with superior tannins. Full body; lingering finish with fine tannins that are elegant and structured (alc. by volume 13.5 percent).
  • Frisson Winery, Russian River Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (Napa, Calif.) $65. Style: dry red. Dark red color. Aromas: black currant, blackberry and dark chocolate with cardamom spice and mocha oak; flavors: dark cherry and coffee. Palate finishes with a harmonious tannin balance. Medium body (alc. by volume 13.9 percent).
  • Woodward Canyon, Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (Place of origin Lowden, Wash.) $44. Blend: 90 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent petite verdot, 5 percent syrah. Style: dry red. Dark purple color. Aromas: earth, spice, black fruits, leather and mocha; flavors: black fruits and cassis, exotic spice of new oak. Palate: soft texture with beautifully integrated tannins. Full body; rich, lingering finish (alc. by volume 13.5 percent).


The earliest recorded mention of merlot (under the synonym of merlau) was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the area’s best. In 1824, the word merlot itself appeared in an article on Médoc wine that said that the grape was named after the local black bird (called merlau in the local Occitan language) that liked eating the ripe grapes on the vine.

Other descriptions of the grape from the 19th century called the variety lou seme doù flube (meaning “the seedling from the river”), with the grape thought to have originated on one of the islands found along the Garonne River.

In the late 1990s, researchers at University of California Davis showed that merlot is an offspring of cabernet franc and is a half-sibling of carménère, malbec and cabernet sauvignon. The identity of the second parent of merlot wouldn’t be discovered until the late 2000s when an obscure and unnamed variety, first sampled in 1996 from vines growing in an abandoned vineyard in Saint-Suliac in Brittany, was shown by DNA analysis to be the mother of merlot.

Some great Merlot wines:

  • Woodward Canyon Winery, Merlot, 2011 (Lowden, Wash.) $44. Blend: 96 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc. Style: dry red. Dark red color. Aromas and flavors: rich black cherry fruit, spiced oak, leather and earth. Palate: elegant, high-toned fruit, very nice acidity and overall proportion and the complexity and structure to age well for six to eight years. Medium body; balanced finish (alc. by volume 14.3 percent).
  • Columbia Crest, Merlot, Grand Estates, 2012 (Patterson, Wash.) $12. Blend: 96 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon. Style: dry red. Dark red color. Rich aromas of dark cherries and chocolate; complex flavors of fruit, mocha and caramel. Medium body; smooth, velvety finish (alc. by volume 13.5 percent).

Pinot Noir

The name is derived from the French words for pine and black; the pine alluding to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot noir is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. Pinot noir’s home is France’s Burgundy region, particularly in Côte-d’Or. It is now planted in many countries around the world, including the United States (California and Oregon).

Some excellent Pinot Noirs:

  • Domaine Serene, Pinot Noir, Yamhill Cuvee, 2009 (Salem, Ore.) $50. Style: dry red. Dark red color with purple hues. Aromas: floral aromas of cherry blossom and strawberry, with a touch of spring earth; flavors: jammy crushed cherry, plum and white pepper. Medium body; long, intense finish earth and rose pedal notes. Food pairing: grilled sea bass with herbed butter (alc. by volume 14.3 percent).
  • Paul Dolan Vineyards, Pinot Noir, 2012 (Ukiah, Calif.) $30 (organically grown grapes). Style: dry red. Dark red color. Aromas: leather and sweet cocoa dust; flavors: bright strawberry-rhubarb. Medium body; balanced finish (alc. by volume 13.5 percent).
  • Elouan, Oregon, Pinot Noir, 2013 (St. Helena, Calif.) $25. Style: dry red. Dark red color. Aromas: rose petal and sweet red fruit core; flavors: cherry, rhubarb and fresh tiled earth. Palate: firm acidity; medium body; balanced finish (alc. by volume 13.5 percent).



Site for wineries on Bainbridge Island:

Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery
8989 Day Road E., Bainbridge Island
Tastings Friday–Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check website for current schedule.

Eagle Harbor Wine Co. & Tasting Room
278 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island
Call 206-227-4310 for wine tastings

Eleven Winery
12976 Roe Road, Bainbridge Island
Winslow Tasting Room: 287 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island
Poulsbo Tasting Room: 18827 Front Street, Poulsbo
Tasting Room Hours: Thursday–Friday 1 to 7 p.m., Saturday noon to 7 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Open 7 days a week, call for hours

Fletcher Bay Winery
Battle Point Drive NE., Bainbridge Island
Visit website for tasting schedule

Mosquito Fleet Winery
NE 21 Old Belfair Hwy., Belfair

Olalla Valley Vineyard & Winery
13176 Ollala Valley Road, Olalla
Open Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tastings and regular events

Perennial Vintners
8840 Lovgren Road E., Bainbridge Island
Tastings by appointment only, second and last Saturday of the month, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Check schedule for public events.

Rolling Bay Winery
Open by appointment only
Email for details,

Trillium Creek Winery
17812 18th Street, Key Peninsula at Lakebay
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday
Low-sulfite wines available

Wine Shops

Blend Wine Shop
8914 Key Peninsula Hwy N, Lakebay
Wine & beer tastings: Fridays, 4 p.m. to closing

Cameo Boutique & Wine Shop
6871 E State Route 106, Union
Open every day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free tastings Saturday/Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

d’Vine Wines and d’Lectables
25960 Central Avenue S. NE, Kingston (At Cleo’s Landing) Wednesday — Sunday
Tastings Saturday and Sunday

Harbor Square Wine Shop & Tasting Room
756 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island
206-780-1626, call ahead for information

High Spirits/ChocMo
19880 7th Avenue, Poulsbo
Monday–Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday–Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight

Old Town Bistro Martini and Wine Bar
3388 NW Byron, Silverdale

Olympic Wine Shop
19740 7th Avenue NE, Ste. G, Poulsbo
Tuesday–Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday noon to 4 p.m., monthly wine tastings

Sogno di Vino
18830 Front Street, Poulsbo

That’s-A-Some Wine Shop
18881 Front Street, Poulsbo
Daily 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday until 9 p.m.

The Wine Studio
3123 56th Street NW, Gig Harbor
Tuesday–Saturday, regular tastings and events

The Keeping Room
Gig Harbor Wine & Gift Shop
7811 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor
Tuesday–Sunday, wine tastings every day from noon to close

Top of the Cork Wine Shop
18351 E. State Route 3 Allyn, next door to George Kenny’s Chainsaw School
Wednesday–Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tastings all day Friday–Sunday
360-275-5657 •