Choose Your New Weapon

Alternatives to chardonnay and cabernet.

My dad used to say boredom is evil. I know what he means. When I'm numbing my brain with Law & Order re-runs, I sometimes wander back and forth from the couch to the refrigerator, and that dried-out hunk of cheese looks more attractive each trip. Then there's that bottle of opened, aging wine that has been in the fridge so long I don't notice it anymore. To quench thirst, I actually consider trying it. Although this is the equivalent of drinking moldy leftovers, evil boredom drives me not only to drink, but drink stale wine.

And speaking of stale, isn't that the same thing as drinking the same wine over and over again? Trapped by habit, some people mechanically reach for the same labels and varieties each shopping trip. I don't understand it - with all the wine choices in the world, don't they get bored?

It's easy to land in a chardonnay or cabernet rut; there are gazillions of gallons on the market. But other grape varieties should earn your respect. For chard drinkers, try sémillon (SEM-ee-yon), viognier (vee-oh-NYAY), and pinot gris (PEE-no-GREE). Often full-bodied and wildly aromatic, these wines have the aroma to lure you and the oomph to keep you. They are rarely acidic or tart like sauvignon blanc, characteristics that normally send chardonnay lovers screaming back into their comfort zone.

For those who like the big, beefy punch of cabernet sauvignon, explore cabernet franc or California syrah. Cab franc, for years an underrated blending grape, can be as bold and full-bodied as cabernet sauvignon with an equally long aging life. Syrah uses the same grape as Australian shiraz, but the bigger Aussie wineries have dumbed it down a bit for mass consumption; California syrah, by contrast, is gutsy. With similar flavor profiles as cabernet sauvignon - black cherry, tobacco, chocolate and leather - don't ignore syrah on the wine aisles and lists.

Red blends can also deliver a similar punch, combining the best of all worlds in one bottle. Winemakers have been blending since the beginning of time, adding a pinch of this and a dab of that to create a final masterpiece. They represent perhaps the best alternatives for cab lovers wanting to kick the habit.

Recommended WinesPonzi 2003 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (OR) Medium-bodied and rife with pears, tart minerals and an intriguing green grape aftertaste that deliciously lingers forever. Oregon loves pinot gris. Sweetness = 4. $13.

Bourassa Vineyards 2003 Viognier Napa Valley (CA) The best viognier I've tasted in years, with aromas of peaches in full bloom and gorgeous honeydew melon in the mouth. Full flavor and elegant finish. Wow. Sw = 3. $24.

Conn Creek 2000 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (CA) Rich with red raspberry and red cherry, laced with tobacco and leather. Deliciously sinful. Sw = 1. $24.

Simon Hackett 2004 Brightview Semillon Barossa Valley (AU) Well-balanced with low acids, creamy honey flavors and a touch of green grass. Cool wine. Sw = 2. $16.

Evans and Tate 2003 Margaret River Classic Red (AU) A complex blend of the classics: shiraz, cabernet and merlot. Combines all the best flavors of each variety: vibrant black cherry, rich chocolate, ripe blackberry with black pepper. Amazing value at $15. Sw = 1.

[email protected]Got an upcoming or ongoing wine event? Send information to: The Wine List, 810 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, FL 33606, fax 813-739-4801 or e-mail [email protected].

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