The results are in and you’re clearly into Big, Bold Reds. You gravitate towards red wine over white wine almost regardless of the occasion (or the weather) and you’re not looking for anything delicate. You like your wines to have some umph to them, otherwise what's the point you know? Juicy fruit, velvety tannins, and structured wines are your jam!
We’re gonna take a wild guess here and say you generally gravitate towards Cabernet Sauvignon. And listen, there’s nothing wrong with that. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular and most planted wines in the world, and with good cause. Cabernet is a deliciously rich and structured wine, and while it can vary a good deal based on where it is grown, it is grown in partially every wine producing country around the world.
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon try…
We’re not here to steer you away from Cabernet Sauvignon. But we do want to help you find other wines and other varieties that you might enjoy just as much (if not more!) if you’re a cab lover. Check out our suggestions below and try to mix it up a bit next time you reach for a glass of wine.
Malbec from Argentina
Malbec, like Cabernet Sauvignon, originates in the Bordeaux region of France. Which means they are basically like siblings, so it makes sense that Malbec is a great alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. And while we think Malbec is a great alternative no matter where it is from we wanted to talk specifically about Malbec from Argentina.
Argentina is the leader of the pack, with 75% of all the acres of Malbec planted in the world. In France, Malbec often struggles to ripen and is prone to rotting. However, the vines thrive in Argentina’s hot, high altitude climate. In fact, Malbec is often referred to as the wine of Icarus because of its affinity for high altitudes and sunshine. With Argentina’s warm climate and elevation, the grapes ripen easily, producing high acidy, juicy, long-lasting wines. The grapes' success in the vineyards of Argentina, particularly in the Mendoza region, has elevated Malbec from relative obscurity to international fame.
Malbec is Argentina's big, bold red wine grape that makes a very food-friendly pairing partner with its concentrated black cherry and blackberry fruit components, fig-like flavors, mocha, and mineral notes. Depending on where it is grown, it can have a unique gamey quality that often accompanies smoke, pepper, and tobacco spice.
Plus, Argentinian Malbec is going to be a lot easier on your wallet than most Cabernet Sauvignons you can find. There are a lot of factors that can go into the price of a wine bottle but one thing that is true of wine, as with everything else in our world, is the higher the demand the higher the price. And since Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the top 5 most sold wines in the world, you’re often going to shell out more for a good bottle of Cab than you would for an equal or higher quality wine from our alternatives list.
Monastrell From Spain
So if you’ve never heard of Monastrell that is just the Spanish name for the Mourvèdre grape. And if you’ve never heard of Mourvèdre, well we think you're missing out because if you are a cab lover, Mourvèdre is gonna be your new best friend.
Monastrell originated in Spain, most likely in the Valencia region in the town of Murviedro. In fact, it is the fourth most planted red variety in Spain. And Spain is still home to the majority of vines planted worldwide. However, it has also been planted in Southern France for centuries and while it is still a prominent grape in Spain, it is losing ground in favor of grapes like Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Monastrell began to fall out of favor in Spain because traditionally it had been used to produce a high quantity of wine, instead of high-quality wines. Forcing vines to produce high yields of grapes typically results in fairly weak tasting, uninteresting fruit, and therefore wine. More recently, some producers have begun experimenting with lowering their yields. Additionally, some of the older vines, which inherently have lower yields, are producing some very high-quality fruit in Spain. These wines are full of black fruits, dark spices, fresh herbs, and leathery notes.
Much like Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell is an excellent pairing with rich meats. Anything from red meat to game, to stews and sausages will do the trick. Because peppery and spice notes are a prominent feature of the wines, matching those flavors in the food is always a good call. Nutty cheeses, like Parmesan, are also an excellent match with Monastrell. Rule of thumb with pairing, many strong-flavored foods, that could potentially overwhelm other wines are often a great companion for a well structured Monastrell.
Nero D’Avola from Sicily
For our next suggestion we’re traveling to Italy, or really Sicily in particular because this tiny island is pretty different from the Italian mainland. As you will find with most of Italy the vast majority of the grapes grown in this country are native varieties. So while some, like Sangiovese AKA the grape behind Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, have been able to gain international recognition many others may not be quite as familiar.
But if you’ve never heard of Nero D’Avola we highly encourage you to check it out. Nero D’Avola is arguably the most important and certainly the most planted red grape in Sicily. This grape has been grown on the island of Sicily for centuries, but for most of its life it was used mainly as a blending grape and its name rarely ever appeared on wine labels. But in the early 2000s Sicilian producers started producing single varietal bottles of this wine and they quickly gained popularity.
Nero D’Avola is a full bodied red wine with medium acidity and strong tannins. It is known for its bold fruit flavors that range from black cherry to prune. It is also often aged in oak barrels to add a little more spice to the flavor profile.
In terms of food pairing, if you’re into meat then this is wine to stand up to things like beef stew and bacon burgers. Or if you’re on the veggie train it's time to bust out the mushroom and black lentils for this. But whatever you’re cooking, if you can incorporate spices like anise, sage, cocoa powder or plum sauce this wine will feel right at home.
Carménère from Chile
Carménère from Chile is in a similar boat to Malbec from Argentina in that it is originally a French grape that has found a new home in South America. Carmenere is actually the half sibling of Merlot. And if you want to go down the rabbit hole of grape parentage I actually inadvertently got into that in our Podcast CrushCast on our episode about Gruner Veltliner, episode 3.
Carmenere wines are notably fruity with an unmistakably peppery note to it. In fact this variety is high in Pyrazines, a chemical compound you also find in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot that produces these distinctly green aromas. And like I mentioned before, Carmenere was originally from France but now there are less than 70 acres of the grape planted in France. On the flip side, Carmenere is the 5th most planted grape in Chile.
In fact Carmenre is very similar to Merlot in that it has a similar flavor profile to Cabernet Sauvignon with slightly softer tannins. This gives the wines a slightly smoother finish and makes it not quite as heavy as a Cab, but still incredibly flavorful and rich. So maybe you want to make this your summer sipper?
Plus, those softer tannins make it a little easier to pair with food. It’s still great with meats, but because it’s a little softer you don’t need to focus on steak but instead can pair with things like lamb, pork or even chicken. Plus, use those pyrazines to your advantage because this wine is great with any kind of fresh herbs and pepper notes.
Tempranillo from Spain
And last but not least, we’re going to cap our recommendations off with good old Tempranillo. I like describing Tempranillo as a cross between Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Now that’s not its generic origins, but flavor profile wise I think that’s pretty right on.
Tempranillo and Spain are virtually synonymous. It is the number one grape in the country and the 4th most planted varietal in the world. Tempranillo wines are always a delicate balance of earth and fruit. The dominant flavors are typically cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. Regional differences also play a role in the flavor profile. New world examples of Tempranillo tend to offer more fruit-forward flavors. While old world examples tend to have more earthy notes.
But aging is the real deciding factor in the style and flavor profile of Tempranillo. A strict set of laws govern the aging of Tempranillo in Spain.
Most styles of Tempranillo pair well with red meat. Especially lamb and pork, foods that are not shockingly a big part of Spanish cuisine. Lighter, less oaked styles can also go really well with chicken or less hearty pasta. Interestingly, it is also great with vegetarian entrées or more herbal focused preparations of meat. Because it has such a strong earthy and herbal component it shines next to mint, fennel, or grilled vegetables. Just make sure you avoid highly bitter vegetables as these will make the wine taste harsh and bitter as well.
Tempranillo is also a great pairing with a lot of Mexican dishes, as long as they aren’t too spicy. Its flavors and fruit are rich enough to not get overpowered by the food. And the notes of earth are a great compliment to the cuisine
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