Winter is the time for hearty food and full-bodied red wines. I really enjoy syrah or pinot noir, not to mention the more esoteric stuff — carignan from Languedoc, anyone? But I also drink my share of cabernet sauvignon. Despite the protestations of the ABC (anything but cabernet) crowd, cab remains the top-selling red varietal wine in this country.
So I perused my tasting notes for some affordable West Coast cabernet sauvignons. I’m not necessarily talking about wines that are cheap. The main characteristic of a lot of the cheap cab that I taste is astringency.
On the other hand, you don’t have to pay a hundred bucks to get a reasonably complex cab that will pair well with dinner. Prices for the wines I’m recommending top out at $30, and several cost less than $20.
One inexpensive California cabernet to look for is the 2013 Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) with its spicy red fruit and firm tannins. It’s widely available and often costs less than $10. Another good value is the 2013 J. Lohr “Seven Oaks” Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) from Paso Robles, an easy-to-drink red with plump black cherry fruit, some spicy notes and medium tannins.
Washington state produces some excellent cabernet sauvignon and some good buys, like the 2013 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon ($14), which is fresh and juicy, with black cherry, hard spices and firm but approachable tannins, and the 2013 Columbia Crest “H3” Cabernet Sauvignon ($15), which displays ripe black cherry fruit, hints of mocha and spice, a subtle floral note and fine tannins.
Next up, a pair of Central Coast cabernets made from grapes that are mostly from Paso Robles and southern Monterey County. The 2013 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) offers bright black cherry, a note of anise, medium tannins and good length, while the 2013 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) from Hahn Family Wines is rich and lively, with black fruit, a note of black olive and medium tannins.
The Napa Valley is Cabernet Central, but neighboring Sonoma County tends to offer better values. For example, the 2013 Francis Coppola “Director’s” Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) is savory, with ripe black cherry, black olive and fine tannins. The 2013 Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is a lively red with black fruit, notes of olive and cedar and drying tannins on the finish. Both wines draw from a variety of sites around the county.
Some of the best cabs come from the Alexander Valley. A good example is the 2012 Geyser Peak “Walking Tree” Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), which is dark, dense and savory, with black cherry and raspberry, a hint of black olive and firm tannins.
You can even find affordable cabernet from Napa Valley, particularly from some of the bigger companies. The 2013 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) is one such wine. It’s bright and fresh, with flavors of black cherry, cassis, hints of anise and baking spices and firm but approachable tannins.
Pick of the Week
Halter Ranch 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) This cab from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles is dark and dense, with lively black fruit, roasted coffee and spice notes and firm tannins. Malbec and petit verdot round out the blend.