News reports recently trumpeted that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are now the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success.
Tastes for French grape varieties, notably Cabernet and Merlot, has been growing in popularity as emerging wine regions take root. Nearly 300,000 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon vines were in the ground in 2010. That’s triple the amount cultivated two decades ago.
Merlot also enjoyed significant gains, overtaking Spanish varieties Airen and Grenache (aka Garnacha Tinta) to land in second place overall. Spanish star Tempranillo is also enjoying a rapid rise in popularity.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide performed an extensive vine census across 44 countries to compile their results. Their data collected represents 99% of the world’s wine production.
Growing interest in Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay (which sits happily at No. 5 on the grape vine hit parade) comes at the expensive of workhorse varieties, such as Rkatsiteli from Georgia and Sultaniye from Turkey. Once the world’s second and third most planted grapes respectively, their numbers have dropped as vineyards were pulled out or replanted during the 1990s.
Other indigenous grapes, including Trebbiano Toscano and Mazuelo, are fading into the background. The Adelaide study reports that 35 grape varieties now account for two-thirds of the global vineyard, compared to 59% in 2000. A mere 15 varieties represent half of the world’s plantings.
That’s a startlingly small number given the vast number of varieties available. The authors of the report registered 2,019 varieties to date, namely 1,271 prime varieties and 748 synonyms.
Last year, Jancis Robinson and collaborators released their mammoth book, Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties. The book speaks to the dramatic diversity of vines and shares insights to their origins and flavours. If worldwide wine trends continue apace, the book will serve as an endangered species list.
Anyone who sees their wine glass as being half-empty will bemoan this news as another instance of the forces of globalization making industrial wine utterly devoid of regional identity. The so-called international style of Cabernet, with sweet fruit flavours and generous lashings of oak-derived spice and smoke, certainly has found favour with many new wine lovers.
Those looking at a glass that’s half-full could see the positive in sensitive winemakers who are adopting European vines for their vineyards and adapting them to provide a marketing advantage for their passionately made, regional expressions of global grapes. That’s certainly been the case in Canada, Chile and New Zealand where the success of early plantings of Cabernet, Merlot and other varieties has inspired others to follow suit.
WINES OF THE WEEK
Villa Maria 2012 Private Bin Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon
(Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
MB $16.89 (006686) | ON $16.45 (310300)
This appealing red makes the most of its ripe, bright fruit flavours. There’s a purity and focus to this successful blend that make it approachable and a winning match for simply prepared red meat, poultry or pork entrées.
Louis M. Martini Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
(Sonoma County, California)
BC $19.99 (651679) | MB $18.99 (011584) | ON $15.95 (292151)
Cabernet has long been one of California’s biggest vineyard stars, particularly in Sonoma County where the grape routinely produces ripe, complex and affordable red wines. There’s good complexity and character here, with a slight tannic edge that makes this an ideal match for burgers or grilled red meat.