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All podcast music: “Café connection” by morgantj / CC BY 3.0, ©2009 – Licensed under Creative Commons 
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Apr 12, 2022

Inspired by a question from a Patron, we give you an original list of wines that are true alternatives to Cabernet if you love the OG and you want to branch out. We come up with 7 solid ideas that are similar but different enough to make them interesting.


The original idea for this list was from Patron Serl Z. and Leigh W. gets credit for naming this series.  People were so excited for these new ideas, we may just make it into a series!

We begin by discussing the main characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Flavors: Black fruit –especially blackcurrant, black cherry, black plum, blackberry -- earth in Old World versions, fruit in New World versions. The wine occasionally shows mint, eucalyptus, thyme, or green pepper notes. With oak Cab smells and tastes like tobacco, pencil shavings, cigar box, leather
  • Generally tannic with good acidity. Some can be age-worthy if they have good tannin structure and acidity (backbone)
  • Flavors depend on terroir, winemaking, oak aging



  1. Mourvèdre/Monastrell/Mataro (Bandol in France, Monastrell from southern Spain, and GSM blends from the US and Australia) – dark fruit, intense flavor, long aging

  2. Douro Tinto/ Touriga Nacional (Portugal)– dusty tannins with sweet fruit, violets, leather, tobacco, big tannins

  3. Alentejo/Alentejano (Portugal) – for people who like juicy, fruity Cabs with soft tannins. These wines are a blend of Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, and, not surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon

  4. Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy)-- Sagrantino grape is full bodied, tannic with earth, cherry, smoke and sometimes spicy notes that evolve into leather and tobacco with time. Similar to Cabernet, Sagrantino is astringent in youth and mellows with time

  1. Malbec (Cahors, France, Argentina) -- Not all Malbec is created equal. If you want wines that are similar to Cabernet, choose Cahors, which is earthier, heavier, stronger, more tannic and often more terroir-driven. For Argentina, look for wines from sub-regions of Mendoza with older vines and elevation. These areas make wines with stronger tannin, darker fruit, and more acidity. They aren’t as plush as many Malbec. In the Luján de Cuyo valley of Mendozalook for Vistalba and Las Compuertas. In the Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, which includes Paraje Altamira and


  1. Petit Verdot (Virginia, Napa, and many other New World regions make varietal Petit Verdot, it’s native home is Bordeaux, where it is part of the Bordeaux blend). Although known for what it brings to the Bordeaux blend, varietal Petit Verdot can be a great Cab alternative. The grapes are thick skinned, and the wines have black fruit, herbs, spice, and dark flower notes. The wine has high acidity and tannins, making it a great sub.


  1. Tannat (Madiran, Uruguay, Virginia, Texas, Paso Robles and Santa Cruz Mountains in California other parts of the US. Also Argentina, Brazil, Australia). John S. – this one’s for you! Tannat is often blended with with Cabernet Sauvignon to tame its tannins! In Madiran the wine is far harsher than Cab but in Uruguay, it is more like blackberry, plum, dark raspberry, earth, and spice. It has soft tannins, high alcohol, and is pretty delicious. It resembles a lighter style Cabernet from the North Coast of Sonoma


  1. Cabernet Franc (on the list with lots of caveats so this is like a 7.5!). Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s much earthier, tea-like, and has a lot of red fruit notes. It is nowhere near as tannic as Cabernet and its flavors are really different. Still, it’s not as soft as Merlot and because it can exhibit the herbs and pyrazine (green pepper) of Cabernet Sauvignon, I’m adding it to the list


At the end of the show I mention some cheat regions – good places to get blends with a healthy hit of Cabernet in them: Bordeaux, South African Bordeaux Blends, Hawkes Bay from New Zealand are three I mention!


Please let me know if you like this theme. If so, we’ll do more shows like this!


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