5 Alternative Varieties

We asked sommeliers to suggest pinch hitters for the most imbibed varieties.

Out with the old, in with the new—now that’s a New Year’s resolution that will finally get you to swap your favorite bottle of wine for something a little different. Here are five sommelier-suggested alternatives for the most imbibed varieties.

Grape: Pinot Grigio

Draw: “It’s neutral and refreshing, easy to pronounce, accessible and affordable,” says Julie Dalton, sommelier at Michael Mina’s Wit & Wisdom Tavern in Baltimore, Maryland. No wonder it’s a white-wine favorite.

Substitutes: Melon de Bourgogne is used to make Loire Valley’s Muscadet: a neutral and affordable wine, with refreshing notes of green apple, lemon and lime. In northwestern Spain, Godello, Albariño and Treixadura, offer easy-drinking, aromatic wines, featuring hints of salinity.

Grape: Chardonnay

Draw: Rich and complex, with a zing of acidity, it’s easy to see why this grape is a go to, says Master Sommelier Keith Goldston, wine director at Range in Washington, D.C. “It’s textural weight gives Chardonnay the ability to hang in there with most cuisines, and predominate citrus flavors work like a squeeze of lemon.”

Substitutes: Viognier, with its notes of peach and apricot, “drinks like Chardonnay’s exotic aunt who just returned from a Hawaiian vacation,” says Goldston. Garganega, from Italy’s Soave Classico region, can also rival the world’s most complex Chardonnays.

Grape: Pinot Noir

Draw: “Pinot’s uniqueness stems from its ability to produce tremendous depth of flavor while simultaneously staying very light on its feet,” says Bobby Conroy, sommelier at San Francisco’s Benu. Red Burgundy in particular, he says, “has haunting aromatics, racy acidity and seemingly endless length of flavor.”

Substitutes: Conroy claims that aromatic Valdiguié from southwest France shares Pinot Noir’s cherry, plum and red currant fruit, moderate alcohol levels and low tannins. Austrian Blaufränkisch, too, attracts Pinot lovers because of its dark- and red-fruit notes, and its herbaceous quality.

Grape: Merlot

Draw: “Merlot is that warm, fuzzy variety that isn’t challenging to buy or order, and it delivers consistency among producers and regions,” says John Mitchell, wine director at New Orleans’s Restaurant Stella! It’s all in the grape’s rich black fruit, well-integrated tannins and acidity.

Substitutes: “When balanced, Sicily’s Nero d’Avola can exude sweet tannin, plum, spice and blackberry,” says Mitchell. Another alternative is Prieto Picudo, from Spain’s northwest Tierra de Léon. It’s hard to find, but worth seeking out because of its Bordeaux-like qualities of black fruit and rounded tannins.

Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

Draw: Lovers of big reds are drawn to Cabernet’s ample tannins, blackcurrant aromas and great structure. “It is truly an exceptional grape,” concurs Dusty Frierson, general manager and wine director of the New South Restaurant Group in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Substitutes: Tannat-based wines from southwest France’s Madiran region are big and bold, with great tannic structure. Dry reds from Portugal’s Douro Valley—particularly those made with Touriga National and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo)—give “rich depth of flavor, acidic backbone and tannin.”

Edit Module
Edit Module

Related Articles

The Wine-and-Food Lover's Gift Guide

Wow-worthy gifts for the wine lovers, home bar masters and gourmands in your life.

2012 California Pinot Noir: A Year of Plenty

California’s 2012 vintage was almost too easy. Our West Coast editors weigh in on the best Pinot Noirs of the year.

Drew Barrymore's Newest Pinot Grigio Hit Stores

Plus other news and notes from the world of wine, spirits and beer.

5 Questions for Rock Star Gavin Rossdale

The Bush frontman and newest star of The Voice clues us in on how he sips.
Edit Module
Edit Module


You can unsubscribe at any time. View an example of our newsletter.

Edit Module


Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit Module

Related Web Articles