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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Alternative wine varieties

Tired of the same ol' Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot?

Just because these three are the most popular wines in America doesn't mean other, lesser known wines, won't work for you. There are thousands of wine grape varieties in the world, but realistically there are a few dozen that you can find in the store. These alternatives are semi-easy to find.

Chardonnay is the top-selling wine in the U.S. Try a white that's originally from the Rhone area of France and now grown in many parts of the world.
A Rhone-style blend

Viognier (vee-ohg-nyay) can be similar to Chardonnay in body and flavors, but tends to be aromatic and can have more complex flavors.  Other similar whites are Marsanne and Roussanne. These three can also be blended together to make a nice white wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most popular wine in the country. You may not be in the mood for a big, heavy Cab so try one of these.

Tannat is grown in France and is very popular in South America.  There are a few American ones available. Often you'll find Tannat used in a blend, maybe with Cabernet.
Tempranillo is a full-bodied Spanish red wine also found in California, Texas, and South America.
Cabernet Franc
An alternative to either Cab or Merlot

Look for a Bordeaux-type blends where Cabernet isn't the primary grape. These blends are generally softer and easier drinking than a "straight" Cabernet and often have more more interesting aromas and flavors. The other grapes usually found in the blend are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Also, you can find Cab/Syrah blends. Merlot and Malbec, of course, are well-known varietals in their own right.
If you are in the mood for a heavy-duty wine, but don't want Cabernet, then try a Petite Sirah -- it will stand up to pretty much any meal you can throw at it!

Merlot is the third most popular wine in the U.S. Lots of people are tired of the mediocre Merlots for sale and have gone to Malbec already. Instead try to find one of these.

Carignane (cah-reeg-nahn) has Spanish/French/Italian  heritage. There once was a fair amount planted in California, but not so much anymore except in jug wine blends. That's too bad.
Barbera and Sangiovese are of Italian origin and are made for food.
Carignane, Barbera and Sangiovese and can also sub in for a Zinfandel.
A Grenache / Syrah blend
Image from

Grenache (gren-aash) is actually one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, but is just recently gaining popularity in the U.S. Grenache can be seen as a varietal on its own or in blends, such as with Syrah. It's a nice lighter-style red that can also sub for Pinot Noir at the dinner table.

Have fun exploring!