Skip to main content
newsletter

For more wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more, sign up to receive our Good Taste newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday.

If you’re a fan of cabernet sauvignon, you’re not alone. The grape responsible for some of the most famous wines on the planet is also the most widely planted grape variety.

As interest in wine boomed, plantings of cabernet sauvignon spread through the world. Emerging regions looked to established wine grapes to help build a consumer audience and cabernet sauvignon benefited greatly – an estimated 5 per cent of the world’s vineyards are planted with cabernet sauvignon vines – with the result being an abundance of underripe “green” expressions of cabernet as well as overripe “jammy” ones.

Suggesting an alternative to such a popular variety is a challenge for several reasons. There’s a question about which style of cabernet we are looking to replace? In California, wines labelled as cabernet sauvignon can include up to 25 per cent of other grape varieties, which can really transform the aroma and flavour profile. Other parts of the world, including Canada, require 85 per cent of the grape variety listed on the label in the blend.

Which quality level of cabernet sauvignon is also an important consideration? Are you looking for a good-value, easy-to-appreciate red to enjoy with pizza or a firm, full-bodied wine for steak night?

Here are three alternatives that are ready to be discovered by cabernet lovers.

Tempranillo: If you’re a fan of more serious and structured cabernets, look to Rioja where the tempranillo grape is blended with other grapes to build complexity and aged in barrel and bottle prior to release to ensure complexity and character. Similar to cabernet-based blends from Bordeaux, Rioja offers bright acidity and firm tannins that make it a terrific food wine. Fans of ripe and polished cabernets from Napa, Sonoma or Coonawarra can look to Ribera del Duero where richer red wines are made exclusively from tempranillo.

Carmenère: If you’re taste runs toward more powerful and ripe expressions of cabernet, try carmenère from Chile. The grape variety contains higher levels of pyrazines, compounds that contribute bell pepper, peppercorn and eucalyptus/mint notes to cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, giving you some of that lifted fragrance in the finished wine. Affordable carmenères often have plush texture with vibrant blackberry and blueberry notes. More premium examples tend to have more red fruit notes along with some of that minty and bell pepper aroma.

Nero d’Avola: A grape that’s native to Sicily, nero d’avola is becoming more recognized with consumers thanks to the exceptional quality and value for money release from wineries like Planeta, COS and Donnafugata. Its robust style, with bold dark fruit flavours and firm tannins, is sure to resonate with cabernet fans. More affordable examples are typically made without any oak aging, which results in a brighter and fruitier red with some herbal notes. Reserve and single vineyard wines are more concentrated and heartier in nature.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to The Globe. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Good Taste newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.