Taste: Black Cherry, Black Currant, Baking Spices and Cedar (from oak)
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red grape first heavily planted in the Bordeaux region. Today, it’s the most popular wine variety in the world. Wines are full-bodied with bold tannins and a long persistent finish driven mostly by the higher levels of alcohol and tannin that often accompany these wines.
Food Pairing: Lamb, beef, smoked meats, French, American, firm cheeses like aged cheddar and hard cheeses like Pecorino
Cabernet Sauvignon Alternatives
- Merlot: Middleweight, lower in tannins (smoother), with a more red-fruited flavour profile
- Cabernet Franc: Light to middleweight, with higher acid and more savoury flavours, one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parent grapes.
- Carménère: Usually from Chile, very similar to Merlot in body, but with the aggressive savoury flavours of Cabernet Franc
- Sangiovese: The noble grape of Tuscany. Similar in body, acid, and tannin to Cabernet Sauvignon, but more red-fruited and elegant
“Sear-ah” (aka Shiraz)
Taste: Blueberry, plum, tobacco, meat, black pepper, violet
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) is a full-bodied red wine that’s heavily planted in the Rhône Valley in France and Australia. The wines have intense fruit flavours and middleweight tannins. Syrah is commonly blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the red Rhône blend. The wine often has an aggressively meaty (beef broth, jerky) quality.
Food Pairing: Lamb, beef, smoked meats; Mediterranean, French, and American firm cheeses like white cheddar, and hard cheeses like Manchego
- Malbec: (Argentina) More black-fruited, often with more aggressive oak usage, less meaty, but with more coffee and chocolate flavours
- Petit Sirah: (United States) This grape has no genetic relation to Syrah, but has even more aggressive tannin, acid, and fuller body
- Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre): More broad texture, with similar meaty notes, but more of a mixture of red and black fruits
- Pinotage: (South Africa) Similar in terms of body, with even more intense, smokey notes.
Taste: Very red fruited (cherry, cranberry) and red floral (rose), often with appealing vegetal notes of beet, rhubarb, or mushroom
Style: Lighter-bodied Red Wine with higher acid and soft tannin
Description: Pinot Noir is a dry light-bodied first widely planted in France. The wines always lead with higher acid and soft tannins.
Food Pairing: Chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meat, French, German, cream sauces, soft cheeses, nutty medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
Pinot Noir Alternatives
- Gamay (aka Beaujolais): (France) Lighter, juicier, more floral, generally less complex
Taste: Yellow citrus (Meyer lemon), yellow pomaceous fruits (yellow pear and apple), and tropical fruits (banana, pineapple), often cinnamon, butterscotch, and toasted caramel notes (from oak)
Style: Medium to full-bodied white wine
Description: Chardonnay is a dry full-bodied white wine that was planted in large quantities for the first time in France. When oak-aged, Chardonnay will have spicy, bourbon-y notes. Unoaked wines are lighter and zesty with apple and citrus flavors. Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy.
Food Pairing: lobster, crab, shrimp, chicken, pork, mushroom, French, cream sauces, soft cheeses such as triple cream brie, medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
- Sémillon: More middle weight, although often with oak as well, more citrus-driven and herbal aromatics
- Viognier: Richer in body, with lots of perfumed, floral-driven aromatics, often oaked as well
Taste: Aggressively-citrus-driven (grapefruit pith), with some exotic fruits (honeydew melon, passion fruit, kiwi) and always an herbaceous quality (grass, mint, green pepper)
Style: Light-bodied to medium-bodied white wine
Description: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white grape first widely planted in France. Wines are tart, typically with herbal green fruit flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food Pairing: fish, chicken, pork, veal, Mexican, Vietnamese, French, herb-crusted goat cheese, nutty cheeses such as Gruyère
Sauvignon Blanc Alternatives
- Vermentino: from Italy is less herbacious, but with more appealing, bitter flavors (bitter almond)
- Verdejo: from Spain is almost identical, although sometimes fuller in body
- Grüner Veltliner: from Austria has more savory vegetable notes (arugula, turnip, white pepper)
“Pee-no Gree” (aka Pinot Grigio)
Taste: Delicate citrus (lime water, orange zest) and pomaceous fruits (apple skin, pear sauce), white floral notes, and cheese rind
Style: Light-bodied White Wine
Description: Pinot Gris is a dry light-bodied white grape that is planted heavily in Italy, but also in France and Germany. Wines are light to middle-weight and easy drinking, often with some bitter flavour on the palate (bitter almond, quinine)
Food Pairing: Salad, delicate poached fish, light and mild cheeses
Pinot Gris Alternatives
- Albariño: from Spain is similar but has more acid and more citrus-driven aromatics (tangerine, orange juice) and floral aromatics
- Soave: The grape is Garganega, but often more bruised and oxidised appley character, still relatively bitter
- Muscadet: The grape is Melon de Bourgogne, and the wine is from France. It’s much higher in acid, but still with heavy lees use and relatively neutral flavour
Taste: Citrus (kefir lime, lemon juice) and stone-fruit (white peach, nectarine) always feature prominently, although there are also usually floral and sweet herbal elements as well
Style: Floral and fruit-driven aromatic white that comes in variable sweetness. Some producers choose not to ferment all the grape sugar and therefore make the wine in an “off-dry” style.
Description: Always very high in acid, when made as a table wine Rieslings can be harmoniously sweet (sweet and sour) or dry (very acidic). The wine is polarising because some people find dry styles too acidic and sweet styles too cloying, but the sweetness is always a winemaking decision and not inherent to the grape.
Food Pairing: Chicken, pork, duck, turkey, cured meat, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan, German, washed-rind cheeses and fondue
- Muscat Blanc (aka Moscato): Less acidic with a much more aggressively floral flavour profile
- Gewürztraminer: richer, with less acid and more broad texture, rose candy and lychee are typical aromatics
- Torrontés: Related to Moscato, but always in a dry style, more full-bodied and bitter
- Chenin Blanc: Also very acidic and made in sweet and dry styles, but much more savoury with more appley, savoury aromatics
Credits: Wine Folly