Would you like to learn more about wine but fear you could be stuck in a wine rut? You may have your favourite wines that you know and love but how often do you pick up an unfamiliar wine? You may love a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc as they are household names and you know what you are getting. Both of these are single varietal wines, i.e. ones made from a single grape variety, not a blend. But how about trying some alternative varieties you may have passed by. Give it a go and you may find something you like even more than your firm favourites. Allow us to give your palate a nudge in the right direction with our list of 10 common grape varieties with alternatives we think you’ll love.
If you like Merlot, try Nero d’Avola
Merlot is a classic for a reason. Smooth, easy-drinking and with bags of plummy fruit flavours, Merlot is an every day favourite. If you’re looking for something equally easy-drinking try one of our favourite grape varieties from Italy, Nero d’Avola. A bottle of Cento Cavalli Nero d’Avola, 2016, Sicily is a terrific introduction to Sicily’s top red wine. The dark colour, hint of liquorice, plummy flavours and a hint of chocolate all combine to make a very moreish wine.
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try Sangiovese
Fabulous Cabernet is the world’s most planted red wine grape and tends to be packed with flavour. It makes some of the world’s best wines that really improve with time spent in bottle. Cabernets tend to be full-bodied with a lot of black fruit character (black currants, cherries), spice and woody notes such as cedar. If you fancy trying something in the same vein, go for a gutsy Sangiovese such as The Hedonist Sangiovese, 2015, McLaren Vale, Australia. This has oodles of dark, juicy cherry fruit along with earthy notes and is grown biodynamically just south of Adelaide giving it the highest of planet-friendly credentials.
If you like Shiraz, try Negroamaro
Shiraz, as it’s known in the New World, is a perennial favourite and known for being Australia’s main red wine export. In European regions or the Old Wine world, the same grape is known as Syrah and it’s one of the essential grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in France. It’s a pretty big wine wherever it’s made, with powerful flavours and aromas from dark fruit through to chocolate, tobacco and spice. If you’re looking for something equally as hefty, try a heavyweight wine such as a Negroamaro made in Puglia in Southern Italy’s ‘heel’. Pao Leo’s wine could be Italy’s answer to Shiraz. This is richly-flavoured, full-bodied and perfect with a host of dishes from pizza to barbeques.
If you like Pinot Noir, try Cabernet Franc
A delicate, thin-skinned grape, Pinot Noir hails from the ancient winemaking region of Burgundy in France. Winemakers the world over have tried to emulate this complex style with varying degrees of success. If you’re looking for a light, ephemeral wine, try another thin-skinned variety (hence producing wines light in body and tannin) like Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France. Produced organically in the relatively cool climate of the Loire, Marchessau Organic Chinon Ampoule, 2017 is an eminently drinkable red both with food or without. Refreshing with blackcurrant and mineral notes, if you like light-bodied, elegant, silky wines you’re sure to love this.
If you like Tempranillo (Rioja), try Nebbiolo
With Rioja, and we’re talking about the reds here, the flavour very much depends on how long the wine has been aged for. Young wines (Rioja Joven) can be fresh and bright whereas Crianzas can be big, oaky wines which are more of an acquired taste. If you are partial to a Red Rioja, the main ingredient being the Tempranillo grape with its red stone fruit, figs, woody and herbal notes, may we suggest a Nebbiolo wine? This grape comes from the Piedmont region of Italy where great Barolo wines are made, well-known for being full-bodied, fruit-forward and very age-worthy. Our Australian version of Nebbiolo, Casa Freschi Ragazzi Nebbiolo 2015 from Langhorne Creek ticks all the right boxes with its complex flavours of cherries and herbs and a lovely floral and mineral finish.
If you like Malbec, try Monastrell (also known as Mourvedre in France)
Malbec, and particularly Argentinian Malbec is known for being rich, dark and full-bodied with red fruit flavours, woody notes and even a hint of chocolate. If this style is for you, try another grape, known as Monastrell in Spain. Bodegas Castano Hecula Monastrell 2015 Yecla, Spain will give you the richness and tannin you are after to replace your beloved Malbec. It also has smooth black fruit with vanilla spice from six months ageing in a mixture of old and new oak barrels. This is a Southern Spanish gem from a family-run wine estate that won’t disappoint Malbec-lovers.
If you like Chardonnay, try Viognier
Chardonnay fans will know that this grape can produce some incredibly diverse styles of wine. Much depends on whether the wine is ‘oaked’ or ‘unoaked’. The term oaked means it has either been fermented or aged in oak barrels or both. Some winemakers also add oak staves or chips to Chardonnay wines. Contact with oak gives the wine body and adds vanilla, butter, toffee and toasty notes. The oaked style encompasses many Australian Chardonnays as well as the majority of white Burgundies (Chardonnay from the Burgundy region in France). Chablis is an unoaked style and tends to be dry, flinty and have green fruit character. It’s truly a matter of personal taste where your preference lies.
But if you are a fan of the riper flavours of Chardonnay which appear when Chardonnay is oaked and/or grown in warmer climates, you may like the Viognier grape, a Rhone variety which tends to have ripe peachy and apricot flavours.
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier, Orange NSW is an unoaked Viognier from high altitude vineyards so grapes have a long cool ripening season allowing them to retain flavour and acidity. The result is a well-made, light and balanced wine with hints of citrus, apricot and spice.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Garganega
Sauvignon Blanc, the main white grape of the Loire Valley in France, has been exported around the world as far as New Zealand where it makes some very aromatic, herbal, grassy, gooseberry-flavoured wines.
If you love a punchy Sauvignon but are suspecting that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, try another highly-scented little number from Italy. If you’ve tried Soave, you’ll have tried the Garganega grape, but ramp it up a notch and you’ll find Gambellara, which has been described as ‘Soave on steroids’. Our Gambellara Classico, 2017, Veneto is dry, herbal, aromatic and elegant, and is most definitely a contender for your new favourite white wine.
If you like Semillon, try Arinto
Semillon is a popular white grape grown in Australia and is also a main component of white Bordeaux, both dry and sweet. It often has a slightly oily texture, lemony flavours, chamomile aromas and a hint of beeswax, sometimes with a slightly salty tang.
We love Arinto a grape with a similar flavour and aroma profile to Semillon, often with a nutty character and a hint of beeswax. Paxis Arinto White, 2017 Lisboa, Portugal grown in the Lisboa region along the coast North of the Portuguese capital Lisbon. Made by Jose Neiva Correia, one of Portugal’s top winemakers who is on a mission to put indigenous Portuguese varieties on the map.
If you like Pinot Grigio, try Arneis
Some might say Pinot Grigio is a victim of its own popularity, with many people now experiencing Pinot fatigue. One of the appeals of Pinot Grigio is its lack of any specific fruit character which makes it very inoffensive and hard to dislike.
If you are on the lookout for a fresh, new alternative, take a hop over to the vineyards of Italy where there are a plethora of indigenous grape varieties to choose from. Produced just South West of the town of Asti in Piedmont, Roero Arneis, 2016, Piedmont, Italy has a mineral salts character, an apple tang and juicy, easy-drinking appeal which is not a million miles from a crisp, dry Pinot but with that all important extra personality. Try this with creamy pasta, grilled chicken and toasted almonds.
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