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Best "non-Big-6" alternative grapes for VALUE?

914NYC Oct 14, 2008 06:22 PM

I was told ...Lesser known varietals cost less,
and/or give more value (supply/demand)

For example:

Cabernet ----> Malbec?
Pinot Noir ---> Boujolais? Montepulchiano?
Dollar for dollar, I have been told the Malbec will be "better" (Like say $15 bottle)

What are failsafe substitutes to save money for a NON-PURIST ?

  1. z
    zin1953 Jan 2, 2009 06:56 PM

    >>> What are failsafe substitutes to save money for a NON-PURIST ? <<<

    There is no such thing as "fail safe." Didn't you see the movie?

    What I think is OUTSTANDING may be a wine you detest . . . or, conversely, I may really dislike a wine that you think is superb . . . or we may both agree. I really dislike Two Buck Chuck, but there are a whole lot of people who buy a whole lot of cases of the stuff, so obviously there are some people who love it!

    So: no guarantees; no "fail safe substitutes" . . .

    1. j
      jpc8015 Oct 20, 2008 01:07 AM

      The bottom line here is that you should find a wine that you enjoy in price point that you are comfortable with and drink it. My suggestion is to go to a store with a nice wine section, ask to speak to the wine steward, tell them what you like how much you want to spend and possibly what you plan on serving it with. Chances are they will find a decent wine for you.

      I enjoy wine as much as the next person but I find that when I get to talking to some people about it they start getting into things that just don't concern me. I really don't care how many acres of Cabernet Franc Robert Mondavi planted in the Stag's Leap district between 1979 and 1983 or how much of it went into a bordeoux style blend. When it comes to wine, the main concerns should be does it taste good with what it is being served with and am I comfortable paying the asking price for it.

      There are a lot of good value wines out there. You can find some real bargains between $10 - $20. Some people will turn there nose up at this price range but I really think there are some gems out there.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jpc8015
        zin1953 Oct 20, 2008 07:34 AM

        Random thoughts/questions: Do stores *have* wine stewards??? Has anyone here ever suggested that anyone NOT drink "wine(s) that you enjoy in price point that you are comfortable with"? Do you honestly know anyone here who "will turn there [sic] nose up" at wines in the $10-20 price range?

        Jacob, speaking strictly for myself, I have long taught my students that the most important thing anyone can ever say about a wine is "Yum" or "Yuck" -- anything beyond that is ultimately superfluous. Wines in the $10-20 range probably constitute 50-60 percent of what I buy, and if you change "$10-20" to read "under $30," it's probably 75-80 percent . . .


        1. re: jpc8015
          Frodnesor Oct 20, 2008 08:43 AM

          "find a wine that you enjoy in a price point that you are comfortable with and drink it" in and of itself doesn't seem like incredibly helpful advice. The real question is "How?" That is, it would seem, exactly what OP is trying to do, and is asking whether there is any merit to the suggestion that one is perhaps more likely to find a more enjoyable wine at a lower price point by exploring less common varietals (and, as a corollary, I suppose, whether there are "substitutes" that can be suggested between one varietal and another).

          As to the first part of the inquiry, I do think that looking at less-common varietals is often a good strategy for finding good QPR. As for the second part of the inquiry, it can be helpful (both to a buyer and to a "wine steward") to consider which varietals may be - more or less - similar to each other, to expand your potential choices.

        2. b
          bclevy Oct 18, 2008 01:59 PM

          While it is taken completely for granted in the US that Malbec is
          much better than Cahors, the French version of it, I would tend to
          dispute it. While Malbec is rounder and softer, Cahors can be
          awesome provided it is aired for an extended period of time. And
          it is in the same price range as Malbec.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bclevy
            zin1953 Oct 18, 2008 03:05 PM

            >>> While it is taken completely for granted in the US that Malbec is
            much better than Cahors, the French version of it . . . <<<

            Hmmmmm . . . .

            OK, first of all, I don't know anyone in the US who says that. OTOH, I know a lot of people in the US who have never heard of Cahors, but that's another story!

            Second, Malbec is a grape, while Cahors is an appellation.

            Third, while a varietal wine must contain not less than 75 percent of that specific grape variety under US regulations (e.g.: in order to be labeled as "Malbec," that wine must contain not less than 75 percent Malbec; it may contain as much as 100 percent, but no less than 75), the French regulations for Cahors calls for the wine to contain a minimum of 70 percent Côt (aka Malbec), and the ONLY other permitted grape varieties are Merlot and Tannat. Again, a Cahors can contain more than 70 percent, but whatever is NOT Malbec MUST be either Merlot, Tannat or a combination of both. In contrast, US regulations only say that a varietal wine must be 75 percent of that particular grape variety, the remaining portion of the wine can contain ANY grape variety the winemaker wants.

            Finally, as of 2007, there were only 1,388 acres of Malbec planted in California (and only 1,216 acres actually in production). In contrast, the appellation of Cahors covers a little over 10,000 acres (but I don't know how much of that is planted to Malbec). But in contrast to THAT, as of 2005, Argentina had planted more than 50,000 acres of Malbec.

            1. re: zin1953
              bclevy Oct 18, 2008 05:42 PM

              Hi Jason:

              When I said Malbec I meant Argentina Malbec. California
              Malbecs have still a way to go. I was fully aware that they
              are made of the same grape, with some blending allowed
              in Cahors within the limits you specify, although there are a few
              Cahors that are close to 100% cot/malbec.

              My main point is that I have a hard time to understand why
              Argentina malbecs are so popular and Cahors wines are
              so unknown. it is always asserted that Cahors is rough,
              which is true on opening, but after airing for a while it is
              a wine that changes complexion.

              1. re: bclevy
                invinotheresverde Oct 19, 2008 06:28 PM

                Shhhhh! I don't want those Cahors prices jumping!

          2. Icantread Oct 18, 2008 06:43 AM

            Sarcasm aside, no one has asked how you propose to substitute wines. Flavor profiles are pretty unique, whether full bodied red or fragrant white. Are you looking for body symmetry or those flavors? There are plenty of websites that kindly suggest pairings for MANY foods. I would find an extensive one and find the "lesser" varietal that matches with the food until you have a better handle on matching food with wine.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Icantread
              anewton Oct 18, 2008 10:15 AM

              In his defense, I interpreted the OP's comments as primarily being about which varietals tend to offer the best value. I do not think one can answer this question by looking at varietal alone; one must also look at the region in which the wine is made. There are some decent and well-priced meritage blends from Stellenbosch; not as many 'deals' among Napa Valley meritage blends. There are some decent, moderately priced pinot noir offerings from Marlborough; not so many 'pinot deals' from Burgundy (and not so many deals from the Willamette Valley anymore, either).

              I have a growing appreciation of Douro table wines, and while there are some expensive offerings from this region, there are also some really great deals (i.e. Quinta do Crasto's regular and riserva bottlings).

              I also have a weakness for many Argentinian malbecs.

            2. Bill Hunt Oct 17, 2008 07:52 PM

              If one discounts styles, there could be some correlation between varietals and prices. This might be true for some, but do not expect it to hold true for all.

              Take Viognier, for example. In many circles, it is less well known, than say Chardonnay. Now, let's go find a good, value-priced Viognier. That is likely not going to be done. Maybe try some Condrieus. Nah, these are going to cost ~US$60 to $200. Not going to work. Even domestic (US) Viogniers are going to cost more than many Chards, to give you a good wine.

              Yes, Malbec from the Mendoza Region of Argentina, can be substitutes for Cab, but they are not the same. Zins can substitute for Cabs, but they are not the same.

              OK, let's go back to the whites. Sauvignon Blancs are often cheaper, than are Chardonnays. Why don't we substitute those? Well, SB's are not Chards, are they?

              There might also be a reason that some varietals are termed "Noble Grapes." Could be that they hold a slightly different place in the hierarchy. Are they better? Only your particular palate can make that call.

              Still, I would urge anyone to try as many examples of as many different varietals, as they can. There are a lot wines out there, and until one has had each one, how can they possibly know?

              It is not so easy to make comparissons between varietals. It is also not so easy to find distinct values, just by changing the varietals.

              To me, it's about finding the best wine to compliment my food, or my mood.


              1. k
                Kenois Oct 15, 2008 02:36 PM

                I'd think of it as grapes that, because they are lesser known, are better values. They'll never replace cabernet or pinot, but they are a great value. Alternative reds: Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Barbera. Alternative whites: Viognier, Pinot Gris. The folks at your local shop can guide you toward these wines, as in different countries, they are often referred to by different names.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Kenois
                  zin1953 Oct 15, 2008 03:58 PM

                  I would agree, were it not for the following by the OP:

                  >>> Cabernet ----> Malbec? <<<
                  >>> Pinot Noir ---> Boujolais? Montepulchiano? <<<

                2. f
                  fussycouple Oct 15, 2008 12:11 PM

                  Big 6? Someone has condensed the great varietals to 6? Tell me, I can't wait to hear them...

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: fussycouple
                    zin1953 Oct 15, 2008 01:30 PM

                    Ah, shoot, there you go bringing consensus into it . . . ;^)

                    Well, the traditional "royalty" has always been Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay. My guess is that the OP is adding Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, but -- who knows?


                    1. re: zin1953
                      tmso Oct 17, 2008 06:02 AM

                      Jason, I'm confused as to how someone as knowledgeable in wine as you are could so severely misspell Nebbiolo ... I don't see it anywhere in that royal list!

                      Tongue planted firmly in cheek,

                      1. re: tmso
                        zin1953 Oct 17, 2008 07:40 AM


                      2. re: zin1953
                        Bill Hunt Oct 17, 2008 08:12 PM

                        I could be wrong, or maybe my wino friends at the corner of Canal St and Camp St just did not know, but I have never heard Syrah mentioned in the top tiers, regardless of how one defines them. This is not to diminish this wonderful varietal, but it is usually not included. Merlot ("Sideways" not withstanding) is more often mentioned.

                        But hey, who is it, who makes these non-traditional (the "Noble Grapes") lists? Oprah?

                        In the end, I find it's best to find the best wine (varietal included in this, plus sytle and vintage_ to pair with the food, or the mood.


                        1. re: Bill Hunt
                          Icantread Oct 18, 2008 06:36 AM

                          Oprah has a wine club? Figures

                      3. re: fussycouple
                        Bill Hunt Oct 17, 2008 08:07 PM

                        Well, there's French Columbard, Thompson Seedless, obviously something called "Hearty Burgundy," and then the US grape referred to as "Chablis."

                        Now, to get semi-serious for a moment. There are a few hierarchial groupings of varietals. The main one is:
                        Cabernet Sauvignon
                        Pinot Noir

                        Some would add:
                        Sauvignon Blanc
                        Merlot (but this is not often seen in the groupings). Still, think Petrus and Le Pin.

                        Beyond this list, one could include the other Bdx. varietals:
                        Petite Verdot
                        Cabernet Franc

                        Then, they could add the "lost Bordeaux varietal"

                        But wait, what about:
                        Grenache (and its different spellings, depending on where you are referring to)

                        Obviously, our list can go on, and on. It can be the four "Noble Grapes," or maybe the "Big Six." Or, it can be the "Wonderful Twelve... "

                        Oops, I'm doing a wonderful little Chenin Blanc from the Loire, with some years on it, and it's great. Also, how could we forget the varietals that could go into Port? Who can name them all? Same for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What are the ~ 13 varietals, that could be included? Bonus points - which ones are whites, that CAN be used in a traditional red?

                        OK, what were we talking about?


                        1. re: Bill Hunt
                          Icantread Oct 18, 2008 06:37 AM

                          Wait, seriously though, no concord?

                          1. re: Icantread
                            RicRios Oct 18, 2008 02:19 PM

                            Hey, what's wrong with Manischewitz?
                            (Rhetorical question only, no need to reply )

                            1. re: Icantread
                              SteveG Jan 2, 2009 02:48 PM

                              It makes good jelly... the grape, not the Manischewitz.

                        2. j
                          jpc8015 Oct 15, 2008 11:05 AM

                          I don't know about substituting one varietal for another but...there are some very good lesser known grape juices out there that can be found at a bargain. One of my favorites is petite sirah, Bogle Vineyards does a very good one that can be found for about $12.

                          1. w
                            whiner Oct 14, 2008 09:29 PM

                            I look at region first, when looking for value.

                            Look to central and southern Italy and to Sicily. And even Barberas from Piedmont. Look to Spain.

                            1. r
                              RicRios Oct 14, 2008 09:08 PM

                              There's an old saying in Yiddish: "If my grandmother had weels, she would be a cart"

                              If burgundy tasted like beaujolais ... nah, fugget it.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: RicRios
                                Frodnesor Oct 14, 2008 09:24 PM

                                I've always heard it as "If my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather."

                                "Az der bubbe vot gehat baytzim vot zie geven mein zayde."

                                Before OP is completely dismissed, I would say that while you may not be able to draw "connect the dots" lines between one "premier" varietal and another "lesser" varietal, there is some truth to the suggestion that "lesser" varietals will often represent better values, just as "lesser" regions often will have better values too. For example, it may be easier to find a good $20 New Zealand pinot than it is to find a good $20 Burgundy. It may be easier to find a bood $20 malbec than it is to find a good $20 cab. If what you really want is a good cab, that may not be helpful. If what you really want is a good $20 wine, it might be very helpful.

                                1. re: Frodnesor
                                  RicRios Oct 14, 2008 09:31 PM

                                  "If my grandmother had balls ..."
                                  Well, what can I say, Frodnesor, you put in writing the implied meaning, I only said what you're supposed to say.
                                  As far as "lesser" and "higher" ... don't get me into Gobineau. I only know what I like and what I don't. And that's my advice to 914: nosce te ipsum ( know thyself ).

                              2. z
                                zin1953 Oct 14, 2008 07:02 PM

                                There IS NO FAIL-SAFE substitute . . . if you like pistachio ice cream, will almond satisfy? If you have a craving for an Oreo, will Lorna Doone suffice?

                                Purist, schmurist . . .You have to LIKE a Malbec, a Beaujolais (which is made from Gamay Noir au jus blanc), or a Montepulciano in order for it to be a good buy . . . .

                                Try looking at this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/564559


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