Unsurprisingly, many drinkers’ love affairs with wine began with a full-bodied pour of cabernet sauvignon. What’s not to love? Plush flavor-packed and fruit-driven, these mouth-coating wines send the palate straight into sensory overload in the best possible way. However, in the realms of viticulture and vinification, there’s so much more to be discovered beyond this robust variety.
As beloved as cabernet sauvignon is, exploring new grape varieties, regions and vinification styles is one of the greatest joys that comes with drinking wine. We’ve rounded up five grapes to try if you love cabernet sauvignon but are looking to expand your range. Powerhouse red wine lovers, this one’s for you.
If tempranillo is your Spanish cabernet alternative, then aglianico is its Italian counterpart. The Barolo of the South is known for making complex full-bodied reds that, when vinified well, can withstand the test of time in the cellar. Aglianico is predominantly grown in the Basilicata and Campania regions of Italy, though it’s also beginning to find its footing in parts of Australia and California. Aglianico-based wines are known for their dusty flavors of dark fruits smoked meat, figs, leather and dried fruit. Think Northern Rhone syrah meets Napa cabernet.
Bottles to try:
Cantine Madonna delle Grazie Messer Oto Aglianico del Vulture (Campania, Italy; $22)
Igni Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy; $33)
Known as mourvèdre, mataro or monastrell, depending on where in the world you’re drinking it, this robust grape variety is regarded for both its single-varietal expressions and its major role in viticulture’s famed GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre) blends. In their youth, mourvèdre-based wines are extremely tannic, which, when made well, means that their cellar-worthy potential is out of this world. Mourvèdre is most commonly grown in France’s Rhone and Provence regions, as well as South Australia, South Africa, California and Valencia, Spain. These high-ABV wines are known for their gamey flavors of red fruits, underbrush, cassis, sweet spice and black pepper.
Cab drinkers, listen up: If you have yet to taste syrah, this grape needs to get on your radar. The versatile dark-skinned grape variety known as shiraz in Australia and syrah just about everywhere else is cultivated all over the world and makes medium- to full-bodied wines with high levels of tannins and natural acidity. When cultivated in cooler climates, such as the Rhone Valley or Washington State, syrah-based wines tend to show flavors of dark fruits, olives and black pepper. In warmer climates, its flavors tend to be more fruit-driven and jammy. The best way to get to know this grape? Snag a bottle from two opposing regions and taste them both side-by-side.
Think of tempranillo as your Spanish cabernet sauvignon alternative: The wines are full-bodied, muscular and generally aged with good amounts of new oak. Best known for its major role in the wines of Rioja, tempranillo is the fourth-most-widely planted wine grape in the world. Tempranillo is often blended with other red grape varieties and/or aged in barrels, as its relatively neutral flavor profile benefits from some added oomph. Notes of red and black fruits, plums, cassis, tobacco and vanilla are most commonly found in these wines.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Although originally from Croatia, this black-skinned grape variety has become synonymous with jammy fruit-driven wines from California’s Lodi region. (It’s worth noting that it bears no resemblance flavor-wise to the sweet, pink “white zinfandel” you may remember from the ’90s.) Generally speaking, zinfandel-based reds are known for their flavors of raspberry jam, blackberries and pepper. Don’t let the fruit-driven flavors fool you, though: These wines can pack a serious punch, often clocking in at ABVs of 15% or more. Because of their relatively low-to-moderate levels of tannins, coupled with their overall fruit-forwardness, these juicy reds are wonderfully versatile for serving with a variety of foods.
Bottles to try:
Bedrock Wine Co. Old Vine (Sonoma, California; $25)
Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Zinfandel-Dominant Blend (Sonoma, California; $50)
Turley Estate (Napa, California; $45)