Do you know the family tree of Bordeaux varietals?

Sommelier, wine judge and educator Chris Sawyer details the lineage.|

Pinot and Chardonnay Paradise Tasting

What: Pinot and Chardonnay Paradise Tasting

Where: Gravenstein Grill, 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol

When: 5 - 7 p.m. Oct. 25

Tickets: $45 in advance, $55 at the door, tinyurl.com/he6cfem2

Participating wineries: Dutton-Goldfield, Emeritus Vineyards, Bacigalupi, Hartford Family Winery, Keller Estate, Martinelli, Porter Creek Vineyards, Three Sticks, Chateau St Jean, Dehlinger Winery, Lombardi and more

Chris Sawyer is the ancestry.com of wine. He can explain the backstory of how certain varietals came to be, which wines are the forefathers of those we know so well today like merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Merlot and cabernet sauvignon are descendants of a grape rooted in France, the lesser known cabernet franc.

While it has primarily been used as a blending grape, cabernet franc is being produced by some bold vintners in Sonoma County today as a lone varietal.

In cooler regions cabernet franc tastes of tart red fruit, while in warmer climates it offers dried fruit flavors. It typically also has notes of tobacco, leather and earth.

Merlot and cabernet sauvignon are descendants of a grape rooted in France, the lesser known cabernet franc.

Sawyer held a recent tasting at his Gravenstein Grill restaurant in Sebastopol to showcase cabernet franc and other Bordeaux varietals and to give wine lovers in Sonoma County an idea of how these varietals are related.

“Cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are three amazing grape varietals, and they’re all related to each other, with cab franc being the father,” he explained at the

Trifecta of Cabernet tasting.

“Most people don’t know the lineage of the Bordeaux varietals,” Sawyer said. “They don’t know the wonderful character of cabernet franc as the original in the Bordeaux variety.”

Cabernet franc is somewhat under the radar among wine drinkers because it’s typically used as a blending grape with Bordeaux reds, Sawyer said.

Originally from France’s Loire Valley, cabernet franc later took root in Bordeaux. And because cabernet sauvignon and merlot are the offspring of cabernet franc, their ancestry also comes from the Loire Valley, Sawyer said.

The parents of cabernet sauvignon are cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. Merlot, meanwhile, is the offspring of cabernet sauvignon and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.

The first cuttings of this less familiar grape — Magdeleine Noire des Charentes — were found in Brittany, in northwest France.

Sawyer used the word “trifecta” — a group of three desirable things — to emphasize how this trio of varietals grows well in Northern California and makes striking wines.

“I wanted to showcase how these three grapes thrive in Sonoma County and Napa Valley and offer a diversity of flavors,” Sawyer said at the tasting.

The wine educator has another tasting set for Oct. 25 at Gravenstein Grill that will focus on pinot and chardonnay (see factbox).

“Sips and knowledge,” Sawyer said, “always generate smiles.”

What follows are some of the wines that were poured at Sawyer’s Trifecta of Cabernet tasting and their descriptors.

Sbragia, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Mountain District, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma County, 14.8%, $64. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, cassis and dried herbs. Firm tannins. Balanced and well-crafted.

Pride Mountain Vineyards, 2021 Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County, Napa County, 14.2%, $82. Aromas of cherry, strawberry and a hint of white pepper follow through to the palate. Lingering finish.

Flambeaux, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Flambeaux Vineyard, 14.1%, $75. A tasty cabernet sauvignon with firm tannins and a supple texture. Notes of black cherry, cassis and toasty oak. Impressive.

L’Autre Cote, 2019 Cabernet Franc, Livermore Valley, 13.4%, $98. Lovely notes of black cherry, plum and dried herbs. Nice length.

Alexander Valley Vineyards, 2020 Merlot, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, 14.9%, $24. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, cassis and blackberry with a kiss of vanilla.

Laurel Glen Vineyard, 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain Estate, Sonoma County, 14.5%, $110. A striking cabernet with pitch-perfect balance. Notes of black cherry and dried herbs; buoyed with crisp acid.

Lang & Reed, 2021 Cabernet Franc, North Coast, $45. Layered, with notes of cranberry, black cherry and dried herbs in the mix. Nice length.

You can reach wine writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pegmelnik.

Pinot and Chardonnay Paradise Tasting

What: Pinot and Chardonnay Paradise Tasting

Where: Gravenstein Grill, 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol

When: 5 - 7 p.m. Oct. 25

Tickets: $45 in advance, $55 at the door, tinyurl.com/he6cfem2

Participating wineries: Dutton-Goldfield, Emeritus Vineyards, Bacigalupi, Hartford Family Winery, Keller Estate, Martinelli, Porter Creek Vineyards, Three Sticks, Chateau St Jean, Dehlinger Winery, Lombardi and more

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