Some of the world’s most popular grape varieties are the product of matchmaking! Whether the love connection was made intentionally or by accident, these famous children of the grape varietal world owe their success to their celebrity parents.
America’s most popular grape was actually a happy accident! DNA evidence shows that Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between two other well-known grape varieties: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. The love birds most likely met in the 17th century when two adjacent vineyards containing the two parent varieties led to an accidental cross-contamination.
According to studies conducted by the University of California, Davis, the Merlot grape is related to Cabernet Franc and Carménère. Thanks to DNA, it is now thought that Merlot is a cross between Cabernet Franc and the obscure grape Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.
The South African grape was an intentional crossing of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was first crossed in South Africa in 1925 when Abraham Perold observed how Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, so he played matchmaker and crossed it with a very productive species: Cinsault (called Hermitage). The first time the name Pinotage appeared on a wine label was in 1961.
There are many theories surrounding the origin of Syrah, also known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa, but DNA testing has proved that the grape is the result of a French love affair. It is the derivative of two esoteric grapes: a white varietal called Mondeuse Blanche, and a red varietal called Dureza.
Petite Sirah (or Durif, the grape’s French name) was created by botanist Francois Durif in Montpellier, France around 1880. The grape is a cross between Syrah and the even more rare varietal, Peloursin. It was imported to America by Charles McIver in the mid-1880s where it got its new name: Petite Sirah.