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Best Cabernets for Home

Best Cabernets for Home

Find these big brand cabernets at almost any wine shop near you

One of the main frustrations voiced by our readers is the difficulty one sometimes encounters when trying to track down highly rated wines. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable due to the fragmented nature of the wine distribution industry in the U.S., though occasionally one can assemble a group of wines which are nationally distributed and widely available.

During the craziness that is the holiday season, it's nice to be able to have a few fall-back wines in mind when shopping at your corner store, just in case you can’t find a specific wine that you’re interested in. We are also faced with a lot of last-minute shopping at this time of year, shopping that may take place far from our home turf and familiar wine shops, so check out this list of my suggestions for great cabernets from $10 to $50 that you should be able to find just about anywhere that sells wine, and maybe someplaces that don't!

One little tip, don't feel as though you have to spend a lot in order to get a lot. It's true that you might end up getting more if you spend more — more color, more alcohol, more oak — but you may not end up with more enjoyment. My top picks from this selection include the ever reliable Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon and the totally delicious example from Rodney Strong, at $14 and $20, respectively. Either makes for a lovely dining companion, and they would certainly be my choices for a large gathering or party where you might have wine lovers and novices alike.

Click here to find the best Cabernets for home.

— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth


The 25 Best Cabernet Sauvignons for 2020

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red grape varietal in the United States, and for good reason: With flavor notes that range from green pepper to dark cherry and leather, it’s versatile and pairs as well with a fine dry-aged steak as it does a weeknight pasta dish. And while younger Cabernet Sauvignons are enjoyed for their bold acidity and tannins, those who prefer mellower, subtle red wines will find a lot to love in older vintages.

Of course, with popularity comes a wide variety of producers and prices, which can make deciding on a bottle particularly challenging.

To help, we’ve rounded up the best Cabernet Sauvignons that we’ve tried in the last six months. The wines on this list all scored a B+ or higher in our wine reviews, and are arranged by score and price. There are a few worthy splurges, but many fit comfortably in the $20 to $50 range, and there are also some surprising bargains to be had — proving that great Cabernet Sauvignon can be enjoyed on any budget.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

Here are 25 of the best Cabernet Sauvignons you can buy right now, with reviews by VinePair Tastings Director Keith Beavers.

Château Batailley Grand Cru Classé 2015 (A+) ($81.00)

This is an all-caps stellar wine from Pauillac and it’s under $100! I feel this wine has a soul and when you pour a glass it offers it for you to enjoy. It is deep, full-bodied, and extremely elegant. The acidity is perfect and the interwoven tannins hold together its impeccable structure. The nose has descriptors, for sure — black currant, leather, tobacco, white pepper — but all that matters is the sum of those parts coming together and physically affecting your posture as you take it in. This bottle is why we humans fall in love with wine and it still has years to evolve.

Clos du Val Winemaker’s Signature Series Three Graces Red Blend 2016 (A+) ($170.00)

The legacy of fine wine in Napa Valley is highly maintained here. This is an incredible bottle with brooding dark berry and smoked salt aromas. In terms of structure, it’s the definition of full-bodied with seamless tannins still folding into the wine. This is the kind of wine that hits your palate and you can’t help but pause and enjoy the moment before you take the next sip. It’s more than the price of a pair of AirPods but damn is it amaze.

Long Meadow Ranch Farmstead Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (A) ($31.00)

This is one of the most balanced Cabs I have tasted in a while from Napa Valley. Guys, throw your money at this wine if you dig that extremely balanced style without being kicked in the face by oak and vanilla. The fruit is focused, and the tannins are woven in. It’s young, and can age, but dammit it is singing now! If you have to buy this wine online, cuz it’s not widely available, just do it. Treat yourself and good friends.

Niner Wine Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (A) ($35.00)

This is a big, bold Cab with bountiful acidity that keeps things lively on the palate. It’s kinda plush for a Cali Cab and has a soft nose that will remind you of blackberries and soil. Tannins are present but seamlessly integrated, forming a solid framework. This is the wine you pop with good friends and a big steak.

Gundlach-Bundschu Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (A) ($43)

This wine has that old school Cali feel. It’s deep and soulful with a good amount of oak, and has high-ish alcohol, and all of it is in harmony. The structure is excellent, with classic aromas of cassis, cracked black pepper, and tannins that are expertly woven into the body. This Cab is a welcoming wine, it draws you in ,and asks politely if you have a nice, marbled steak to grill up.

Château Rauzan-Ségla ‘Segla’ 2012 (A) ($52.00)

This is a great Bordeaux wine that will help you get into this fine wine region without losing your rent money. It is simultaneously powerful and elegant, with a nice density on the palate balanced by racy acidity that keeps things buoyant. The nose will remind you of aged balsamic flecked with pepper and a side of wild berry compote. On the palate, there’s a delicious steak tartare note, which is probably what you should be pairing it with.

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (A) ($59.00)

These days Cali Cabs are powerful, but can lack elegance. This wine is up there in price, but is one of the most powerful, yet elegant wines from Napa. The power of this wine lies in the depth of fruit and well-integrated tannin, forming a confident structure. The elegance resides in the vibrant acidity winding through the wine, allowing you to experience the classic aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon: plum, blackberry, and cracked black pepper. On the palate these two elements are in harmony, adding some cassis and currant notes. The tannin grips the edges, letting the core fruit settle calmly on the palate. This wine is special, and worthy of a night with good friends.

Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (A) ($66.00)

This wine is a bit funky when you open it but, like science, it blows off with a swirl, opening everything up. This is a very savory Cab you can smell the classic stuff like blackberry and cracked black pepper, but it will also remind you of miso and tart balsamic. Then, on the palate, it all comes together, harmonizing into a beautiful, full-bodied, toothsome, soulful Cab that is worthy of the Valley on the label.

Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (A) ($146.00)

This wine shows the full power of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s dark and brooding and deserves descriptors such as: dense aromas of mocha and blackberries with slight hints of white and black pepper. All this means that this bottle is straight-up amazing. It has a rustic edge on the palate that will only soften over another year or so. If you’re going to spend this much money on Napa, please consider this bottle and buy the most expensive cut of meat you can afford.

Cecchi La Mora Maremma Toscana 2015 (A-) ($13.00)

The success of this wine lies in the price. Not often can you find a wine this balanced and awesome at $13, but man, does this bottle deliver. It has the soft, plush fruit of the Merlot, contrasted by the grippy tannins and peppery notes of the Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a dry red wine, meaning the astringency of the wine greets you first, then all the awesome fruit. Buy a case or two of this wine and have it on hand for whatever everyone is going to dig it.

Aia Vecchia Lagone Toscana IGT 2016 (A-) ($16.00)

Bringing Cabernet Franc into this blend does wonders for the wine. It brightens up the Cabernet Sauvignon and adds a juiciness to the Merlot. The nose benefits as well, showing cherry notes and some fresh-turned soil, giving it a nice earthy depth while not weighing you down. This is the perfect wine to have on a pasta night with family or friends or bring to a dinner party. Everyone will dig it.

Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (A-) ($21.00)

This is really cool, because you get a lot of the structure and aromas you would from a more expensive Cali Cab, but are paying half price. It’s not as textured as a fine wine, but has soft, well-integrated tannin, and balanced blackberry, and No.2 Pencil (graphite) aromas. It sets into the palate with medium acidity, allowing you to perceive its broad depth. At just over $20 this could be a solid weeknight steak dinner wine, or even a legit dinner party wine. It has all the characteristics for a crowd-pleasing American Cab.

Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (A-) ($44.00)

So balanced and grippy with a tight fruit core that you wanna chew on. The tannins are still a bit angry around the edges but define the frame of the wine. You can tell that in a couple of years this wine is going to shine like a superstar, but it is still drinking nice and juicy now. It’s under $50 and definitely worth laying down for a minute or four. But also consider this an awesome bottle to gift to a fellow wine lover or even impress the parents.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (A-) ($44.00)

The cool thing about this wine is that it won’t cost you too much, and you still get some seriously powerful Cali Cab vibes. This bottle is still aging, but is showing some awesome right now. It has nice tight fruit, with classic aromas that will remind you of cherries (maybe even cranberries), a forest in October, and a whiff of cracked black pepper. The tannins are young and dry, but create a nice framework for the fruit. It’s such a nice, balanced wine, and would kill as a gift to impress the boss or maybe an in-law.

Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite Legende R Pauillac 2015 (A-) ($48.00)

O.K., it’s pricey, but hey, that’s why we’re here: to help you enjoy your purchase. This bottle is widely available and an excellent example of the awesome of Pauillac. Wines from this sub-region of Bordeaux are fun cuz they drink well young, but also age for a really long time. The nose is alive with aromas that will remind you of blackberry jam and fresh-cracked black pepper along with an iron whiff you get from a fresh cut of meat. The palate, you could just chew on. It’s juicy and savory, begging for a lean steak or a stinky cheese plate. Share with good friends who dig this kind of stuff and you’ll just win all night.

Mazzei ‘Philip’ Rosso Toscana IGT 2014 (A-) ($50.00)

All kinds of cool stuff here. The dude, Philip, the wine is named after was Thomas Jefferson’s winemaker, so that’s awesome. And Cabernet Sauvignon is what good ol’ Philip Mazzei was charged with making. For an Italian Cab it’s soft and deep, with good dark fruit and a nice, firm tannic grip. This would jive with some steak or even a big pile of pasta with red sauce and some bolognese. OH!

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (B+) ($10.00)

You just can’t go wrong here. The wine is $10 and solid. It has nice medium fruit and not a ton of oak. The acidity is right, making it not too heavy. Yo, I’m thinking you should get a case of this wine to have laying around for spontaneity or to pull from when you’re on your way to a cookout, a casual dinner party, or even game night with pizza. It’s a legit go-to definitely.

Taylors Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (B+) ($13.00)

For less than $20 this is a damn gem. It’s soft and rich, with the tannin woven right in, adding to the all-around structure. It has a fun nose of classic black pepper, but with a juicy vibe that’ll remind you of blackberries and espresso. If you are a big griller, this is a great wine to have on offer at your next BBQ.

Louis M. Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (B+) ($16.00)

If you like having wine on hand just in case a get-together spontaneously emerges, here is a good one to buy a case of for red lovers in your posse. It’s under $20 with proper California Cab vibes of plum and blackberry fruit aromas framed by a well-woven tannin structure promoting some wafts of black pepper. It’s nice to know that there is a wine out there that is widely available, won’t break the bank, and tastes legit.

Angelo Innocenti Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (B+) ($17.00)

This is a hell of a deal. It’s less than $20 and solid AF. It’s full-bodied, but soft and peppery, with comfy earthy smells that will remind you of wild blackberries and a forest in October. The palate is smooth and the drying tannins are not even perceptible. Wine at this price shouldn’t be this complex, but here we are. Bring this to ANYTHING. I mean, name it. BBQ, Netflix pajama jammy jam, pizza party, burger party, pool party, wine and cheese night. Like, anything. It’s also a crowd pleaser.

Tenuta dei Sette Cieli ‘Yantra’ Toscana IGT 2018 (B+) ($23.00)

This is a fun alternative if you dig Bordeaux blends or red blends. It’s medium- to full-bodied with nice tight fruit. The intense oak you’re used to will not be apparent here, but you get more complexity. The acidity keeps the fruit tart and the body in balance, making it a great wine for a lean steak like skirt.

Dueling Pistols 2016 (B+) ($47.00)

This wine is soft and powerful. It has a luscious, juicy core with tannins that are so woven in you won’t feel them but will know they’re there when they whisper to you in the finish. It’ll definitely pair well with some roasted chicken or steak, but damn, I dunno, that might take away from the wine’s awesome.

Galerie Wines ‘Plenair’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (B+) ($53.00)

It’s big and oaky. The fruit is rich and tart you’ll smack your lips for real. The tannins are subtle at first but then they settle in, giving the wine a nice long finish. It could use maybe one more year in bottle to soften up a bit, but this is a typical steakhouse red that you can bring to the parents or gift the boss.

Taub Family Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (B+) ($56.00)

This is such a classic California Cab, but it’s not ready yet. The core of the fruit is shy right now, not showing its full blackberry-rich awesomeness. And these crazy tannins need to straight-up chill for a minute (O.K., maybe a year) so this wine can shine. This is a great gift for the boss (or yourself) and a home run for dinner with the parents.

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards ‘Versada’ Red 2017 (B+) ($65.00)

It’s pricey, but balanced, and worth your money if you’re diggin’ on this red blend trend we are in right now. This is a powerful wine with good acidity, and softened tannins. It’s young but smooth and drinking well now. This bottle has harmony and will please multiple palates, making it a great wine to share with good friends.


35 Tasty Pantry Recipes That Make the Most of Ingredients You Already Have at Home

Raid your pantry for plenty of inspired and flavor-packed family dinners.

We've all had those days where we couldn't find the time to grocery shop. But don't let that get in the way of dinner! With these delicious pantry recipes, you can easily make the most of your stocked shelves, freezer stash, and the veggies already in your fridge to make a tasty meal for the whole family.

We've gathered our favorite meals that take advantage of what's likely already in your pantry for interesting and flavor-packed meals. From crowd-pleasing pasta dishes to cheesy polenta, the grain possibilities are endless as a base for a family meal. Plus, if you're on a budget, inexpensive pantry meals are the perfect addition to your weeknight dinner routine.

From tuna recipes to plenty of bean recipes, you're sure to be armed with delicious dinners, no matter the occasion. Your pantry is a great resource to get dinner on the table fast!


We Asked 15 Wine Pros: Which Cabernet Sauvignon Offers the Best Bang for Your Buck?

As bars and restaurants continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and reopening phases, VinePair asked the bartenders and drinks professionals below to provide a virtual tip jar or fund of their choice. More resources for helping hospitality professionals are available here.

Of all the noble grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon wins the popularity contest. Coming in as the most sought-after red varietal stateside, the grape’s beauty lies in its adaptability.

Cabernet Sauvignon hails from a diverse range of vineyards across the globe, from France and the U.S., to South Africa and Australia. Due to its ability to grow in a wide variety of regions and impressive ageability, Cabernet’s styles and prices can vary greatly.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

Looking beyond Bordeaux, VinePair enlisted the expert advice of wine professionals around the U.S. to find out which bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon present the very best value for your money, according to the experts.

“Everybody knows that Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley go hand in hand. However, you’ll be paying quite a bit for that experience. If you’re on a budget, or just looking to expand your horizons, look to Washington State’s Columbia Valley. Its high-quality soils are available to winemakers at less than a third of Napa Valley’s [prices], and that’s a huge benefit to cost-conscious consumers. Just now entering their prime, these desert-climate vineyards produce wine of quality to rival California but at a fraction of the cost. Mainstays such as Chateau Ste. Michelle are easily found and dependable selections, and have offerings from entry-level up to boutique, single-vineyard wines.” — Matthew Emborski, Varia at Hilton Norfolk The Main, Norfolk, Va.

“Clos du Val is the house that, for me, [is] all about consistency — without [the] bells and whistles of marketing and showmanship. It’s all the flavors and intensity you want from Cabernet, and the Napa pedigree people are looking for.” — Jeff Harding, Wine Director, Waverly Inn & Garden, NYC

“Finding value in Cabernet is always a bit tricky, but I think the Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon always over-delivers.” — Rusty Rastello, Wine Director, SingleThread, Healdsburg, Calif.

“Aslina, [a] Cabernet Sauvignon out of South Africa, is absolutely delicious. The winemaker Ntsiki Biyela is South Africa’s first Black female winemaker and she has dedicated this wine to her grandmother, Aslina. The grapes are from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, which has a maritime climate quite similar to Bordeaux.” — Theo Lieberman, Beverage Director, 232 Bleecker, NYC

“D‘Arenberg is known for Shiraz but also makes some stellar Cabernet Sauvignon. The Originals High Trellis (this was the first d’Arenberg vineyard to be trained above knee-height) is barrel-fermented in small batches, and stays in the same batches for the entire winemaking process up to final blending. There’s also this vibrant acidity that keeps the wine light on its feet while still full of expressive blackberry, cherry, sage, and mint notes.” — Stefanie Schwartz, Sommelier, Portale, NYC

“Rotation Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi, Calif. [A] straightforward Cab Sauv from a further inland area of Northern California, it has the classic vanilla notes from oak aging and silky tannins, but the finish is refreshing with flavors of ripe cherries. Perfect summer Cab.” — Emmanuelle Massicot, Assistant General Manager, Kata Robata, Houston

“Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, a young project by female winemaker Samantha Sheehan. I worked with her POE Pinot Noir during my retail days, and the wines definitely express her inspiration and admiration for Burgundy. The Ultraviolet is an homage to the California climate she grew up in, and is such a classic California expression: dark ripened fruit, damp forest floor with soft tannins, and acidity give the wine a balance and a freshness altogether. This is a wine that screams for food, especially grilled foods and barbecued meats during this time of year.” — Madeline Maldonado, Beverage Director, da Toscano, NYC

“[F]or the best value Cabernet Sauvignon, I look to the lesser-known regions of Paso Robles (Central California) and Bergerac (just east of Bordeaux). One of my particular favorites recently is from Château Tour des Gendres, an organic winery in Bergerac. Like most Bordeaux, their wines are blends featuring both Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec.” — Marianna Caldwell, Assistant General Manager and Sommelier, Cassia, Santa Monica, Calif.

“Definitely Excelsior. It’s a phenomenal value-priced wine. The wine is very smooth and well balanced. One of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignons out of South Africa.” — Justin Anthony, Restaurateur/Founder, True Story Brands, Atlanta

“Crossroads, Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2017. Crossroads is a new project by Rudd Estate in which they fully utilize the entirety of the fruit from their Oakville property to create a wine that is more approachable at an early age. It’s an absolutely delicious Oakville Cabernet that exhibits dark fruit such as blackberry and black cherry, along with violets, red currants, plum, and black licorice.” — Carey Vanderborg, Sommelier, PRESS Restaurant, St. Helena, Calif.

“I have always done well by ‘Rudy’ — this is the entry-level von Strasser Cab, and it drinks leaner and higher-acid than a lot of examples.” — Zac Adcox, Advanced Sommelier, indo, St. Louis

“There is a fairly unknown winery project out of Napa called Mapson, and they produce a Left Bank-inspired wine called Left Lane. I love working with tiny producers who have passion projects like Mapson. This wine is an incredible value and far over-delivers on every vintage.” — Marsella Charron, Sommelière, The Harbor House Inn, Elk, Calif.

“Domaine de l’Ecu is mainly known for its Muscadet in the Loire Valley, but winemaker Fred Niger makes interesting Cabernet Sauvignon, too. ‘Red Noz’ shows a completely different side of Cabernet. It’s leaner, with tart black fruit and peppery flavors. If you are looking for something different, this is worth a try! It retails between $22 [and] $26.” — Etinosa Emokpae, Wine Director, Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia

“The 2019 Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon is [the] perfect red wine for a thoughtful dinner at home, or a treat after a long day. With food or on its own, this balanced and slightly fruity Cabernet is a crowd-pleaser that cannot be beat for $17. Picture drinking this with past Roman emperors in the Tuscan ancient lake Prelius, for which this wine is named.” — Kaitlyn Gibbs, Beverage Director, Louie, St. Louis

“Hound’s Tree Wines, ‘Estate’ Cabernet Sauvignon North Fork of Long Island 2015 ($25). Local, ambitious, delicious. … The young winemaker Alexander Rosanelli shows a restrained and terroir-driven approach, not as common in the North Fork. The ripeness of the red fruits is nicely balanced by its fresh acidity and firm tannins. Perfect for a summer barbecue!” — Mariarosa Tartaglione, Head Sommelier, Ai Fiori at The Langham, NYC


The World's Best Value Cabernet Sauvignons

From the initial staccato syllables of Cabernet to the voiced palatal-nasal Francophone swoops of Sauvignon, it heralds a grape variety that demands you take it seriously. Or maybe it's just because Cabernet has tended to be a more prestigious variety and so its very name has acquired overtones of incipient luxury.

And Cabernet is nothing if not luxurious – at its most expensive it can rival even haughty Pinot Noir, and it is a component in some of the most sought-after wines on earth. From Bordeaux's Left Bank to the rolling hills of Napa, Cabernet has proved itself to be the basis for wines that the world wants – seven of the 10 most searched-for wines on Wine-Searcher are Cabernet-based.

It is also the world's most popular red grape and is grown in pretty much every country with a serious wine industry. It thrives from the Andean heights of Argentina to the Cape vineyards of South Africa and the sun-baked red earth of Australia there are very few countries where it isn't planted. Even Italy, that bastion of indigenous grape varieties, has found a use for Cabernet as the basis for the prestigious – and expensive – Super Tuscan wines.

All of this suggests that a bottle of Cabernet will be expensive – or at least that a bottle of good Cabernet will – but the glory of Cabernet's ubiquity is that, just as not all Cabernets will be as well considered as Screaming Eagle or Latour, not all Cabernets will cost as much either.

And the following list shows that Cabernet doesn't have to cost the earth – as long as you are prepared to look south.

First, as usual, the ground rules. For this series of "best value" stories, we work with a more direct point-to-dollar ratio for a simplified "bang for buck" scale than our standard algorithm for suggesting the best value wines. Simply dividing the score by the price gives a value factor and the higher the factor the better the value – a kind of points-per-dollar scale. The higher the value factor, the more points per dollar.

Usually, when we run our superlative lists, we don't take vintage into account, but since vintage variation affects the score so much, we concentrate on individual vintages of wines for our best-value lists. It's also important to point out that this list covers wines labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than including blends, too. We'll get around to them shortly, but here is the straight Cab version.

Best Value Cabernet Sauvignons on Wine-Searcher:

Wine Name Value factor
2017 Perez Cruz Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley 6.06
2017 MontGras Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley 5.69
2016 Ruca Malen Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Uco Valley 5.69
2016 Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley 5.41
2010 Mitchell Sevenhill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley 4.89
2012 Mitchell Sevenhill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley 4.60
2017 Undurraga Terroir Hunter Alto Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon 4.38
2015 Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 3.68
2014 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 3.41
2013 Hardy's Heritage Reserve Bin Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra 3.41

It is, of course, a Southern Hemisphere bonanza, the list above – four wines from Chile, four from Australia and one each from Argentina and South Africa. This reinforces what I mentioned about looking south the notion of bang-for-buck is taken very seriously indeed south of the equator. Chile's efforts with value Cabernet have been impressive for years now, and South Africa is all-too-frequently overlooked for both value and quality.

And there's no need to feel like these are substandard wines. As with all the stories in this series, we look for wines with an aggregated critic score of 90 or more averaging out the scores on the list above gives each wine an aggregated score of 91.8, so they are not subordinate wines by any means.

The prices are impressive, too. Adding up the global average price of each of these wines and then dividing by 10 gives an average "average" price of just $20. That's the best value so far in this series and it will be hard to top.


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Wine: Napa's rival for cabernets: Sonoma

No California wine region dominates its field the way Napa Valley rules cabernet sauvignon. It's simply a fact of life for the California wine industry. If you make cabernet sauvignon and can put Napa Valley on the label, or better yet, add one of Napa's subregions, like the Stags Leap District, Rutherford or Oakville, you can charge a lot more money for that bottle than if it came from somewhere else.

This naturally galls cabernet producers who come from somewhere else. They are not willing to grant Napa de facto supremacy when it comes to cabernet, and sometimes they have a point.

Ridge Monte Bello especially and, in smaller lots, Kathryn Kennedy and Mount Eden make a case for the excellence of cabs from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and certainly you can find other fine cabernets from appellations scattered throughout the state. But really, the only place that can begin to rival Napa Valley as a source for cabernet sauvignon is its neighbor to the west and north, Sonoma County.

Of all the California regions, Napa by far has the most cabernet sauvignon planted, with 17,298 acres as of 2004, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service. Sonoma is second, with 11,836 acres. Yet when most wine people think of Sonoma these days, it is almost never in connection with cabernet. Instead, Sonoma is a center for the trendier grapes, like pinot noir. Sonoma has plenty of chardonnay, too, and syrah is coming on.

The Sonoma regions of the moment, the Russian River Valley and the extreme Sonoma Coast, are not cabernet regions. They are known primarily for Burgundian grapes. The noteworthy cabernet areas - Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley (though better known for zinfandel), Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain - exert considerably less sex appeal these days.

So who cares about Sonoma cabernet? Why, the wine panel of The New York Times. Contrarians by nature, we seek out the scorned and the ignored among regions and wines in hopes of finding surprising pleasures and fine values. For this tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by two guests from New York restaurants, Phil Pratt, wine director at "21" Club, and Adam Rieger, wine director of Bar Americain.

Of course, Sonoma cabernet is neither scorned nor ignored. It simply does not get a lot of attention. But that doesn't mean there is no demand for it. Top bottles like the best cuvées from Chateau St. Jean and Ravenswood, for example, are always hard to find. Silver Oak Alexander Valley and Jordan are perennially popular, while one of my favorite Sonoma cabs, Rafanelli from Dry Creek Valley, can only be purchased directly from the winery.

Compounding the issue of finding many of the top wines was our decision to restrict the tasting to the excellent 2002 vintage. Wine shops are full of 2002 cabernets, but these tend to be the midrange bottles. Some wineries have not yet released their top bottles from 2002. Nonetheless, we forged ahead.

While it is dangerous to offer stylistic generalizations, it is fair to say that Sonoma cabernets typically offer a different glass of wine than do Napas. Keeping in mind that we did not have some of the region's top wines, we found few blockbusters among the bottles we tasted. These were leaner and less plush than the powerful, concentrated cabernets typical of Napa, regardless of the price range.

They were more acidic and less tannic, and we did not find the sort of overripe, high-alcohol, sweet cabernets that one tastes too often among the Napa wines. Many of these Sonoma cabs had an attractive spiciness that I rarely taste in the fruitier Napa cabs.

"They are a safe choice for consumers," Pratt said. "There was a certain homogeneity among them. Some were more or less ripe or full-bodied, but there was a softness that I associate with Sonoma."

Perhaps that was because many of these wines were in the middle price range of $15 to $35, in which producers often seek to issue wines that do not require much aging. They don't have the firm tannins typical of more age-oriented bottles. Of the 25 bottles we tasted, 15 were $15 to $35. Five were under $15 and five were more than $35.

Remember what I said about the Russian River Valley, how it was not cabernet country? Well, you can put that aside for a moment, because our No.1 wine was a Russian River cabernet, made by Tom Dehlinger, who is far better known for his pinots noirs and chardonnays. This was an outstanding wine, complex and balanced, rich yet elegant, with lingering fruit and spice flavors. At $80, it was the most expensive bottle we tasted, and yes, it possessed the sort of tannins, power and ageability that many of these wines did not.

Our No.2 wine, the Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch, was a pronounced example of the leaner style of Sonoma cabernet. This wine was decidedly not a fruit bomb, and so is counter to the currently popular style, yet it was balanced, and, at $22, it was our best value.

Among the noteworthy wines, I want to single out two. The Simi Alexander Valley offered a jammy, spicy style that was pleasing, though not subtle, while the Kamen had a fruit and tannic intensity that I associate more with Napa Valley, which is just over the Mayacamas Range from the Kamen vineyard.

Keep in mind that this was not the definitive Sonoma cabernet tasting. With more ambitious bottles than the few in our lineup, our results most likely would have been very different. But compared with Napa cabernets in a similar price range, the Sonoma wines performed well, offering a reliable, more graceful alternative to the power of Napa.


Where to Find the Best Cabernets for $25 and Under

VALUE JUDGMENT Why is it so hard to find a good Cabernet at a decent price?

Lettie Teague

TWO YEARS AGO I wrote a column describing my search for good Pinot Noirs under $20 a bottle. It wasn’t easy: Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape, requiring just the right conditions to thrive, and the wines are both more difficult and more expensive to produce. Cabernet Sauvignon is a much easier, hardier grape. And yet, as I discovered in reporting this column, finding good, reasonably priced Cabernet can be just as hard, perhaps even harder.

Native to Bordeaux, France, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most popular and most commonly planted grapes. It’s found just about anywhere winemakers are looking to make their mark—or lots of money—and produces both lofty and lousy wines. The former are made from grapes grown in great sites and carefully tended vineyards, fermented and aged in expensive French oak. The latter come from high-yielding vineyards, machine-harvested grapes fermented with oak chips and worse.

Mega Purple, for instance, is one of many additives that makers of commercial brands use to make the wine appear dark and suave and help mask green or herbaceous aromas of underripe grapes. But I wasn’t interested in featuring wines made from a confected combo of oak chips and sugar but, rather, from grapes grown to physiological ripeness, unmasked by excess oak. That eliminated the majority of the most popular Cab brands on the market today.

I started my search with an upper price limit of $20 a bottle but soon increased it to $25 when the pickings proved slim. I bought 17 bottles from various wine regions in California and Washington State as well as Australia, Argentina, Chile and even one wine from South Africa. Sadly, this example, the 2017 Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stellenbosch region ($17), proved a disincentive to further South African Cabernet research.

Four Chilean Cabernets proved even more disappointing. I remember when Chilean Cabernets were pretty good, or at least not as aggressively herbaceous and weedy as the wines I bought. The 2017 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) had an aromatic overlay of tobacco and dill. The 2017 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) and 2016 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon ($19) were equally stemmy and green.


Wines to Pair with Your Next Porterhouse

Everything you need to know about steak&rsquos better half.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the alpha daddy of wine varietals. It&rsquos big, bold and everywhere. It&rsquos the main grape in Bordeaux blends (at least on the left bank of the Garonne estuary), and, as a result, it&rsquos been a strong player in the history of California winemaking, given that Napa Valley winemakers have historically looked to Bordeaux as a primary reference point. Common tasting notes for a traditional &ldquoCab&rdquo are black currant (or cassis), plum and cherry, with the cool, herbaceous quality of eucalyptus. And because of its natural, full-bodied intensity, the wine is often paired alongside big food flavors, particularly the steak dinner.

Commonly, the association of Cabernet to meat comes from habit. But it turns out there&rsquos some sense to the madness too. &ldquoMeat is a quick reference point with Cabs, and I think its a valid one,&rdquo says Lorena Ascenios, the head buyer at New York City&rsquos Astor Wines & Spirits. &ldquoYou&rsquore pairing two like things that just work really well together. Cabernet Sauvignon also caters to the American palate, which craves something obvious, as opposed to subtle.&rdquo Matthew LaSorsa, the proprietor of Brooklyn&rsquos Heights Chateau, agrees. &ldquoEvery wine sits on a frame,&rdquo he says. &ldquoIt&rsquos got its fruit, its complexity and its acidity. A really good steak, on the other hand, has marble &mdash that&rsquos fat. Cabernet&rsquos high acidity balances fat, giving you that wonderfully interesting fleshiness in steak.&rdquo For Marco Pasanella, the proprietor of Pasanella & Son Vitners downtown, Cab&rsquos &ldquonot your only choice, but it does makes sense,&rdquo he says. &ldquoYou want a wine with cojones. And the more raw the steak, the more umph you want in your wine.&rdquo

To take out the guesswork, and help avoid blank stares at your next visit to the wine store, these industry experts have weighed in with their favorites across a range of price points.

The Experts (From Left): Lorena Ascencios is the head buyer at Astor Wine & Spirits, at 399 Lafayette St, in Noho, NYC, and has been with the company for over 17 years, starting with her role in sales. Marco Pasanella is the proprietor of Pasanella & Son Vintners, at 115 South St, which has been open for over ten years, focusing on small producers and &ldquodiscoveries.&rdquo Matthew LaSorsa grew up in Brooklyn, and opened Heights Chateau (123 Atlantic Ave), today a trusted neighborhood institution, over 25 years ago in Brooklyn Heights.

Under $20

Don Cristóbal Finca La Niña Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoI always like throwing in something incredibly inexpensive into a list of recommendations because I think it over delivers. This wine from Argentina has a richness and a lot of fruit, but not a lot of those classic cassis notes. Also, this isn&rsquot a wine you age. You buy it by the case, you have friends over, you open it with take out. It&rsquos a statement, and it&rsquos delicious for what it is.&rdquo &mdash LA

Producer: Don Cristóbal | doncristobal.com.ar
Region: Luján de Cuyo, Argentina
Vintage: 2014

Viña Errázuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoThis Cabernet has got to be one of the great steals of the wine world. It&rsquos a deeply structured, full-bodied Cabernet that&rsquos characterized by cassis and plum notes. The wood is a little strong, so there are some oak tannins in the back. But there&rsquos a lot of wine here for $15.&rdquo &mdash ML

Producer: Viña Errázuriz | errazuriz.com
Region: Valle de Aconcagua, Chile
Vintage: 2013

Drovers Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoThis wine is in a very juicy camp of Cabernets. It&rsquos very approachable. The archetypal California cabernet is muscular, and it&rsquos big and it&rsquos brawny. This one is more fruity &mdash it&rsquos not going to knock you out after a glass. Though not as big as other Cabernets, Drovers makes up for it in friendliness. We can&rsquot keep it in stock, it&rsquos like crack!&rdquo &mdash MP

Producer: Andrew Jones | fieldrecordingswine.com
Region: Paso Robles, California
Vintage: 2013

Under $50

Chateau d&rsquoArchambeau Graves

&ldquoThis is a Cabernet-based Bordeaux from Graves &mdash &lsquograves&rsquo as in gravelly soil. Back in the day, Graves was really the epicenter of old Bordeaux. I like this one because it&rsquos 2010, a good year. The best Cabernets have a structure and an acidity. When they&rsquore young, they&rsquore considered &lsquotight,&rsquo which means that the flavors aren&rsquot totally integrated. Over time, like here, stuff starts to meld together and those big flavors don&rsquot stand aside as much. At $20, it&rsquos a steal.&rdquo &mdash MP

Producer: Chateau d&rsquoArchambeau
Region: Graves, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2010

Ch. Hourtin-Ducasse Haut-Médoc

&ldquoThis wine comes from a small artisanal producer in Bordeaux &mdash it&rsquos a husband-and-wife team, and they just have a few hectares. They make two wines, that&rsquos it. You get some spicy notes here, some cassis. There&rsquos an aspect of minerals, which is hard to describe, but it comes from the soils [in Bordeaux]. You don&rsquot get an overt expression of new oak, since that can overtly change the profile of the wine they use older oak, which can be a beautiful thing. The wine is about the fruit, the grape. It&rsquos an expression of what Cabernet actually tastes like, and 2009 was an excellent vintage.&rdquo &mdash LA

Producer: Chateau Hourtin-Ducasse | hourtin-ducasse.com
Region: Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2009

Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoThis wine comes from east of the Cascades, so during the day, the grapes are exposed to a deep, intense heat. This is an oak-bodied Cabernet that has a lot of plum and black currant characteristics it&rsquos big and full, but it&rsquos got some roundness without being overripe. It balances structure and acid at the back side so it&rsquos actually quite brilliant for the price. If you were looking at California for a similar kind of depth of complexity, you&rsquod be paying upwards of $50.&rdquo &mdash ML

Producer: Amavi Cellars | amavicellars.com
Region: Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Vintage: 2012

Under $100

Chateau Cantemerle Haut Médoc

&ldquoEven though this wine is $50, you get a lot of wine for the money. It&rsquos not ranked in the top classification of Bordeaux wines, so there&rsquos a value for the quality. The main difference between this and the Chateau d&rsquoArchambeau for $20 is the intensity, the length &mdash you could say the volume is turned up here. The wines are cousins, but this is the Ferrari to the Corvette.&rdquo &mdash MP

Producer: Chateau Cantemerle | cantemerle.com
Region: Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2010

Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoHeitz is in the lower part of Napa, a part of the region influenced by winds from San Pablo Bay. When Cabernet is grown in a cooler climate, the taste tends to be more &ldquobing cherry&rdquo rather than &ldquoblack currant.&rdquo The wine is Bordeaux-esque, but it has maintained a California statement without being overly ripe, overly intense or over-oaked. It&rsquos strongly integrated with wood, but done in a very elegant way. Oak is like salt &mdash you can overdo it. Heitz does it in a way that adds another level of complexity without overpowering the fruit.&rdquo &mdash ML

Producer: Heitz Cellar | heitzcellar.com
Region: Napa Valley, California
Vintage: 2011

Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

&ldquoWhen people think of American Cabernet, a lot of people dart to the Napa Valley. This is a classic California winery in the Howell Mountain Appalachian it&rsquos a very high elevation, which maintains the grapes&rsquo fresh acidity. Even though the wine is aged in new French oak, its very elegant. The barrel doesn&rsquot overtake the fruit so you still get that cassis and cool, herbaceous quality.&rdquo &mdash LA


South Africa

South Africa has a long history with Cabernet Sauvignon both as a varietal wine and in blends. The most widely planted red-wine grape in the country, it has provided many highly rated examples throughout the last few decades. Yet, South African Cabs have largely failed to be identified as a consistent exemplar on the international wine stage. That oversight is ripe for change.

Most of the variety’s plantings lie within the country’s largest Wine of Origin (WO) area, the Stellenbosch district of the Coastal Region, with more than 7,300 acres under vine. It’s here that the cultivar shines, thanks to the appellation’s mountainous topography and proximity to the ocean.

Along with the region’s warm climate and cooling, southeasterly winds, these factors yield the definitive South African Cab: ripe and fruity, not overly jammy, with ample acidity and moderate alcohol. New World fruit meets Old World structure.

Beyond Stellenbosch, superb Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in the Paarl and Robertson regions. Paarl, Stellenbosch’s northern neighbor on the other side of the Simonsberg mountain, generally offers concentrated, dark-fruited pours with structured tannins and medium-term aging potential. To the east, vines in Robertson tend to produce rich, full-bodied and velvety Cabernets with ripe cassis, plum and mulberry characteristics. —Lauren Buzzeo