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Cabernet Sauvignon Can Be Good For Your Palate and Your Wallet

By Stephen Eliot

There is no question that “what’s new” is the force that drives a big share of wine discussion these days, especially here in California, but the simple fact is that Cabernet Sauvignon still reigns supreme when it comes to the state’s most in-demand red wines. It is not at all hard to find outstanding bottlings; there are very arguably more than ever before, but anyone who has a taste for fine Cabernet knows that bargains are few and far in between. While the top bottlings from Napa Valley and elsewhere are sufficiently expensive that they are at best only occasional indulgences for most of us, there are good, more modestly priced examples to be had for those willing to make the extra search. A quick glance at wine lists and retailers’ shelves might be discouraging, but price-conscious devotees of the grape will be happy to know that they are not faced with the choice of draining the bank account or doing without.

Over the last several months we have tasted our ways through hundreds of new releases and were happy to find more than a few that are easy on both the pocketbook and the palate. One of the marks of a good vintage is the success of wines at the lower end of the price spectrum, not just at the top, and the much-heralded 2012 and 2013 vintages are proving the point.

Here, then, are a half-dozen of our picks, along with our published notes, from the current crop that check in at $20.00 and less, and, if they may not be the stuff of greatness or wines meant to be squirreled away for a decade of more of age, they remind that well-made, satisfying California Cabernets with honest varietal character are still within the reach of us all.

88 EDGE Napa Valley 2012 $20.00
Good, twenty-dollar Cabernet Sauvignon is becoming increasingly rare regardless of provenance, and finding one this good from Napa Valley is a genuine and most happy surprise. The wine is nicely balanced and well-focused with ample blackcurrant fruit that is enriched by a trim bit of oak, and it claims a modest measure of complexity that sometimes goes missing in its far-pricier cousins. It may not challenge the best examples from the finest sites, but its name should be written in capital letters at the top of the shopping lists of all pennywise Cabernet lovers with an eye for a bargain.

87 RODNEY STRONG Sonoma County 2012 $20.00
A clear success in the heralded vintage of 2012, this comfortable bottling is medium-bodied in stature and fairly standard in both acidity and overall vitality, and it might have remained as another also-ran except for its focused fruit and overall composition. Its aromas of red and black cherries come with an interesting added fillip of raspberry, and while not the biggest wine by any means, it is reasonably supple and invitingly accessible. And, with a price that makes it all the more attractive, this one is easy to like.

86 CHESSMAN Santa Ynez Valley 2013 $16.00
Sporting more and much better-defined fruit than most of its similarly priced competition with plenty of structural tannin to actually encourage aging, this surprisingly solid effort exceeds expectations on several counts. Cabernets at its price point are usually meant only for early drinking, but this one is not, and, while complexity and real beauty may elude it even when held, it will be well served by at least a few years of cellaring.

86 BOGLE California 2012 $12.00
Admittedly, not a big, strapping, ageworthy effort, this wine is direct and decently fruity with the black cherry focus to earn its stripes as an everyday red with Cabernet Sauvignon pretensions. And that is more than enough to make it worthy of attention in situations that call for straightforward, easy-drinking enjoyment. Besides, there is no question that the price is more than right.

85 INSATIABLE California 2013 $13.00
Give this one credit for smelling and tasting like Cabernet even if it stints on richness and depth. It is moderately full and slightly supple in feel with a mild streak of tannin for grip, and, if a long way from complex, it is very tasty stuff at the price with enough fruity presence to succeed as a useful near-term foil to the likes of summery steaks and chops hot off the grill.

85 CHIME California 2013 $13.00
Direct and lightly fruity with a modest varietal sense of Cabernet character to its credit, this no-frills effort finds a bit of structured firmness after a softer start. While always sparing, it is clean and stays the course, and it shows a little more continuity and better varietal focus than cheap Cabernet commonly does.


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