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Beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet

Posted on Sep 01, 2014 in Wine , September-October 2014

Chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are two classic and noble grapes that can be beautiful and expressive. On the flip side, they can also be the ubiquitous juice poured at a banquet. I say cherish the quality bottles, but if you are just ordering these out of habit you are missing out on new experiences. This fall I challenge you to take a small step outside your comfort zone with grapes that have similar qualities to these classics, yet will give you something new to indulge in.

Generally, chardonnay is a medium to full-bodied wine with flavors of green apple, pear, lemon, vanilla and butterscotch. Its texture can be creamy and lush, making it a lovely pairing with many dishes, from pasta to chicken to lobster.

One of my favorite alternatives to chardonnay is viognier. With a round body similar to chardonnay, viognier is even silkier with aromas of honeysuckle, peach, melon, orange and white flowers. Often described as chardonnay’s exotic and sensual cousin, this wine is most famous from the Rhone region of France and, increasingly, California.

Arneis is another delightful substitute to chardonnay. Grown in the Piedmont region of Italy, this dry white has a medium to full body and can be both crisp and floral, with notes of pears and apricots. While it is a difficult grape to grow (arneis means little rascal in the local dialect), it has been planted for centuries in the region.

Cabernet sauvignon shows blackberry, currant, eucalyptus, cedar and leather aromas and is characteristically full bodied and tannic. Tannins come from the skins and pips of grapes, as well as the oak in which it is aged. Tannins smooth out with fat, so pair these or the following with roasted meats.

Sangiovese, the grape of Chianti in Tuscany, is another bold tannic grape with similar characteristics to cabernet. With aromas of mulberries, prunes, spice, tobacco, leather and chestnuts, this grape is an easy substitute for cabernet.

Another grape rich in color and tannin is Touriga nacional from Portugal. Thick grape skins give wine excellent structure and ability to age, which is why it is the primary grape in port wine. This grape, however, also makes a beautiful still wine. Touriga nacional has intense flavors both fruity and floral, showing black currant, raspberries, herbs and anise.

So next time you are in the mood for wine and you are about to reach for the old stand-by, seek out these different yet comfortably familiar alternatives. Cheers!

Karen Granger is a Sommelier and manager for Crush in Seaside. While new to the area, she is not new to the lifestyle. Granger has poured wine in Chicago, Ill., Columbus, Ohio, and previously designed wine lists in the U.S. Virgin Islands.