Great Wine Made Easy: The Best 15 Cabernets Under $50
Good cabernets are getting ever more expensive: $100, $200, $300 are regular prices out of Napa Valley and in Bordeaux, especially for new labels primping for cult-worthy status.
Deep, rich, and power-packed, cabernet has plenty of appeal. It’s the ultimate meat wine, the mainstay of auctions, and at the top of the heap when it comes to red wines that age and age and age. (I’ve tasted 100-year-old bottles that were still going strong.)
Why is it so expensive? Location, location, location. In Napa, the high cost of vineyard land results in grapes selling for $10,000 a ton and up, 10 times more than, say, grenache. Add in the cost of aging in new French oak barrels, which sets winemakers back $800 to $1,000 per. And, of course, there’s a serious snob factor.
So look to such places as Chile, Washington State, Australia, and South Africa, where land is cheaper, and to less-well-known California names. Surprisingly, if you go beyond the famous ultra-expensive crus classés, Bordeaux remains the biggest source of bargain cabernet around.
Here are 15 excellent bottles:
2014 Foxglove Cabernet ($18): The Varner brothers, best known for superb Santa Cruz Mountain pinots, also make this bold, plummy cabernet super bargain (I’ve actually seen it for $12) from Paso Robles grapes. Ageing mostly in stainless-steel tanks keeps the wine juicy, charming, and ready to drink.
2014 Château du Raux ($20): This spicy, smooth 50 percent cab, 50 percent merlot blend from the heart of the Medoc will make its debut on U.S. shelves in May. It’s a terrific example of the bargains coming from Bordeaux and overdelivers for the price.
2015 Agnès et René Mosse Anjou Rouge ($22): This cabernet sauvignon-cabernet franc blend from a renowned biodynamic producer in the Loire Valley has lively aromas of violets and rose petals and delivers a lot of bright red fruit flavors.
2014 Château Sociando-Mallet ($26): The wine from this château in the north Medoc is always a steal, and the 2014 is intense, rich, and polished, with more subtlety than usual and plenty of aging potential.
2014 Andrew Will Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35): Big, broad, layered, mouth filling, this rich red is an excellent example of how cabernet thrives in Washington State. Winemaker Chris Camarda’s single vineyard wines are superb, but this entry-level cab blended from two top vineyards, with floral and licorice notes, is stunning for the price.
2014 Ramey Cellars Napa Valley Claret ($36): Dave Ramey has always been a source of top (and expensive) chardonnays, but this cabernet-based blend is one of his most interesting wines in this classic vintage. Soft and easy-drinking, with just the right dollop of oak aging, it’s ready to drink right now.
NV12 Cain Cuvée ($36): This lighter cab-merlot blend, a combination of warm vintage 2012 and cool 2011, is lively and complex. Winemaker Chris Howell, who has run the Spring Mountain winery for decades, gets the grapes from several Napa locations.
2013 Domaine Eden ($37): This red from the Santa Cruz Mountains remains one of California’s classic cabernet values. The second label from more famous Mt. Eden, it’s beautifully deep, succulent, and sophisticated, with aromas of fruit and tobacco and gentle spice flavors.
2014 Laurel Glen Counterpoint ($39): Sonoma is not as famous for cabernet as Napa, but this estate high on Sonoma Mountain has been dedicated to making it since 1981. Counterpoint, the second wine, has aromas of dried herbs and flavors of dark berries.
2013 Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label ($40): The first vintage of this widely available Australian red from Coonawarra was 1954, and although it is reasonably priced, it has found success at auction. Succulent, richly fruity, with notes of licorice and aromas of berries and violets, it’s also powerful and structured enough for long aging.
2013 Vasse Felix Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($40): Australia’s Margaret River region south of Perth is a wine paradise for cabernet grapes. This winery is the region’s founding estate, and its medium-bodied red is savory and fruity, with wonderful fruit and spice notes and a plush texture.
2013 Catena Zapata Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Before Argentina made the malbec grape a star, this pioneering winery was making old-world-style cabernets from high-altitude vineyards. There are several cuvées; this one echoes Bordeaux with excellent balance and a long, long aftertaste.
2013 Lewelling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): The Wight family has been making cabernet south of St. Helena in the Napa Valley for a couple of decades, near a host of more famous players. This silky textured 2013, from a top vintage, is a better buy than its single-vineyard cab.
2013 Gramercy Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50): This elegant red shows what a great source Washington State is for good-value cabernet. This one is made by a master sommelier who founded his Walla Walla winery in 2005.
2012 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon ($50): Sadly, many of Western Australia’s top cabs are hard to find outside the country. This one, from the Margaret River region, is not. It’s packed with layers of savory flavors—fruit, cedar, and tobacco—and has the kind of structure you need for aging.
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