History and origins
For many years, the origin of Cabernet Sauvignon was not clearly understood and many myths and conjectures surrounded it. 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. Until recently the grape was rumored to have ancient origins, perhaps even being the Biturica grape used to make ancient Roman wine and referenced by Pliny the Elder. This belief was widely held in the 18th century, when the grape was also known as Petite Vidure or Bidure, apparently a corruption of Biturica. There was also belief that Vidure was a reference to the hard wood (French vigne dure) of the vine, with a possible relationship to Carménère which was once known as Grand Vidure. Another theory was that the grapevine originated in the Rioja region of Spain.
While the period when the name Cabernet Sauvignon became more prevalent over Petite Vidure is not certain, records indicate that the grape was a popular Bordeaux planting in the 18th century Médoc region. The first estates known to have actively grown the variety (and the likely source of Cabernet vines for other estates) were Château Mouton and Château d'Armailhac in Pauillac.
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 blackcurrant and pencil box aromas of Cabernet franc and the grassiness of Sauvignon blanc. In 2016 scientists at the UC Davis announced they had sequenced a draft of the whole genome of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, the first genome of a commercial wine-producing grape to be sequenced.
Offspring and White Cabernet
While not as prolific in mutating as Pinot noir, nor as widely used in production of offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon has been linked to other grape varieties. In 1961, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache produced the French wine grape Marselan. Cygne blanc is a white-berried seedling of Cabernet Sauvignon that was discovered in 1989 growing in a garden in Swan Valley, Western Australia. Cabernet blanc is a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and an unknown hybrid grape variety that was discovered in Switzerland in the late 20th century.
In 1977 a vine producing 'bronze' grapes was found in the vineyards of Cleggett Wines in Australia. They propagated this mutant, registered it under the name of Malian, and sold pale red wines under that name. In 1991 one of the Bronze Cabernet vines started producing white grapes. Cleggett registered this "White Cabernet" under the name of Shalistin. Compared to its Cabernet parent, Malian appears to lack anthocyanins in the subepidermal cells but retains them in the epidermis, whereas Shalistin has no anthocyanins in either layer. The team that went on to discover the VvMYBA1 and VvMYBA2 genes that control grape color have suggested that a gene involved in anthocyanin production has been deleted in the subepidermis of Malian, and then subepidermal cells invaded the epidermis to produce Shalistin.
During a series of trials between 1924 and 1930, the pollen of Cabernet Sauvignon was used to fertilize Glera vines (the white wine grape used to make the sparkling wine Prosecco) to create the red Italian wine grape Incrocio Manzoni 2.15.
In 1983, Cabernet Sauvignon was crossed with the white German wine grape Bronner to create the white wine grape Souvignier gris.