Nearly every red wine lover has a special place in their heart for classic Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, it’s so well-loved, it just recently became the world’s most planted wine grape variety. Despite how well distributed Cabernet Sauvignon is, it’s surprisingly difficult (and expensive) to find a decent bottle. So to expand your palate (and preserve your wallet), let’s take a look at some lessor-known wine grapes that are great alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fruit-forward Alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine Keywords: Supple, black fruit, opulent, round, velvet, mocha, plum… If these words sing to your wine drinking sensibilities check out the following alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon.
1. Hillside estate/high elevation Merlot
Merlot can be just as rich and full-bodied as Cabernet Sauvignon, you just need to get the right one. Keep your eyes peeled for Merlot that has moderate alcohol (above 13.5%) and about 16 to 24 months of oak aging. Higher alcohol and oak aging are the basic indications of a Merlot wine with a full-bodied flavor. Also, a great place to find richer styled Merlot wine is from hillside estates. Higher elevation vineyards tend to produce smaller grapes making more intensely-colored and higher-tannin wines. Some examples of higher elevation vineyards include the hills around Napa and Sonoma Valley (such as Diamond Mountain AVA, Howell Mountain, Clear Lake AVA). You might also check out Walla Walla in Washington State and Mendoza, Argentina.
2. Nero D’Avola from Sicily
Sicily’s great wine red grape Nero D’Avola has so much potential and, for the price, you’ll find it’s worth checking out. The grape often has black fruit characteristics and chalky tannins. Nero D’Avola will frequently be blended with other grapes such as Syrah, or the other local red Frappato, which makes the wine taste lighter but have a longer finish.
3. Touriga Nacional from Portugal
Portuguese dry red wines are becoming more and more available. Touriga Nacional is a black grape that’s traditionally used in making Port but when produced in a dry style it takes on flavors very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the best Portuguese dry reds include Touriga Nacional mixed with several of the other local varieties. By producing blends, the flavor profiles are extended and taste more complex. Check out a dry red wine from the Douro Valley.
4. Malbec-Cabernet from Argentina
Malbec is a grape variety that puts out all its power within the first 5 seconds of tasting it. However, when you pair its explosive front-loaded personality with a little bit of actual Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine will sing. Since Argentina is home to about 90% of the world’s Malbec, you’ll find many great examples there