Cabernet Sauvignon holds a place among the most loved wine grapes in the world – and for good reason. Its full body, intense flavors of fruit and oak, bright acidity, and well-defined tannins make it irresistible to many. Fortunately, there are many among the thousands of grapes in the world that appeal to Cabernet enthusiasts. Try some of the varieties listed below to impress the Cab lover in your life.
Originating in the Cahors region of France, Malbec has found a new home in Argentina where it thrives in the bright sunshine and high elevation climate. Malbec and Cabernet are very similar, with Malbecs often having a slightly more purple color, very slightly lighter body, and floral notes reminiscent of violets.
An underappreciated grape from southern Italy, Aglianico (“ah-lee-AHN-i-koh”) features dense, deep color, rich flavors, and a smoky character that makes it great with grilled food. Try Aglianico from Basilicata or Campagna – especially an area called “Taurasi.”
While Spain’s Tempranillo grape can be somewhat lighter in body than Cabernet, there are several regions where its power can match and even exceed Cabernet. Try one of the brawny expressions from the areas of Toro, Ribera del Duero, or Rioja. These parts of northern Spain feature dry, warm climates that encourage vineyards to produce rugged wines that appeal to Cabernet fans.
I’ve always thought of Merlot as being very different from Cabernet, but they’re more similar than I once believed. Several years ago, I attended a blind tasting where both Merlot and Cabernet from Napa were served. I was surprised to find that they tasted nearly identical. Apparently, the growing conditions in Napa produce similar flavors and textures in both grapes. One major difference remains: Merlot is often much less expensive than Cabernet – even if both wines come from the same producer. I suggest a comparison tasting. Get a bottle of Merlot and Cabernet from the same Napa producer and see how different they really are. I’d be willing to guess that you’ll enjoy both of them.
Whereas Malbec has begun to experience popularity, Tannat remains obscure and underrated. Like Malbec, it originated in France but thrives in South America – Uruguay in this case. Tannat is actually bigger and even richer than Cabernet. If Cabernet is Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tannat is Giganotosaurus. Its relative rarity makes it a great value, fun conversation starter, and delicious Cabernet alternative.
As its name implies, Touriga Nacional is the national grape of Portugal. It is not only similar to Cabernet in style but also boasts excellent consistency of quality. I’ve rarely, if ever, been disappointed by a bottle. Touriga Nacional pairs beautifully with steak.