Vines in the Cabernet-Merlot family were known to the ancient Romans as Biturca after a tribe in France’s Gironde. It isn’t clear whether they remained in Italy afterwards, but what was known in eighteenth-century Tuscany as Uva Francesca was probably a Cabernet. In the nineteenth century, vines were planted in much of Italy though, after phylloxera, they remained mainly in the northeast where the productive Cabernet Franc was favored.
Today, Cabernet Sauvignon is often preferred in the northeast and other regions for distinctive varietal wines and used in Bordeaux blends with Merlot and Malbec, as well as with native varieties, notably Sangiovese in Tuscany.
“Cabernet” on an Italian wine label usually means that the wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, usually more of the former than the latter.
Cabernet Franc is the most widely planted of the Cabernet family of vines. It dominates the Cabernet plantings in the Tre Venezie; it is also planted in the south as well as in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and in Tuscany. Quite interesting is the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon is a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc!
Cabernet Franc wines tend to be similar in aroma to those made from Cabernet Sauvignon but with a more pronounced herbaceous or bell pepper character. The Franc wines are generally considered softer and rounder.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been less popular in Italy possibly due to its lower yields and the fact that its wines usually require more aging. It is, however, becoming more popular as plantings increase in Tuscany, Piedmont and in other parts of the peninsula.
As in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is frequently blended with Cabernet Franc or Merlot, although it blends well with Sangiovese in Tuscany or added to the region’s Chianti blend.
Cabernet Sauvignon produces deeply colored wines that are often hard and tannic in their youth, requiring time to soften and round out. In aroma these wines frequently offer suggestions of green olives, cassis or black currants, or cedar.
In Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon is planted throughout the northeast as well as in Emilia-Romagna, Toscana and Umbria. Plantings are found throughout the peninsula and in Sicily and Sardinia.