Drink Value Cabernet Before It’s Too Late


Recent research shows that a glass of red wine a day is like twenty minutes of vigorous exercise. So before summer rosés officially take hold, get in on the last gasps of Cabernet. I tasted through forty different Cabernets, all under $16. There are some superb examples here that you’re going to want to try. Cabernet, because of the value inherent in the name, particularly when associated with an esteemed location such as Napa Valley for example, carries a premium that makes finding real values there close to impossible. Of course there are exceptions, most notably when a downturn in the economy is accompanied by bountiful vintages, but that is a relatively rare occurrence. At their cores there is little to no difference between a $30 bottle of Napa Cabernet and a $15 bottle of Cabernet from nearby appellations   -- besides origin of the grapes and their price on the open market.
The fact that these Cabernet wines are so inherently alike is a point work exploring. To many consumers a $15 bottle of Cabernet is by definition less good than a $30 bottle of a similar wine, but the wine industry is beginning to move beyond this hierarchal approach to wine, and you should be as well. Don’t approach $15 bottles as lesser examples of $30 bottles. While that certainly was the case in the past, many winemakers are now taking a fundamentally different approach to these wines. For example, instead of packing the wines with wood chips trying to replicate the overt oakiness of a wine aged in expensive 100% new French oak barrels, there seems to be a greater comfort level today with $15 wines that forego that oaky approach, saving the producer money as well as creating a real distinct style of wine that further serves to distinguish this group of wines from another, more expensive group.
It is a slow process but one that seems to be in progress, added no doubt by a series of less powerful vintages that have produced wines that are less alcoholic, with colors that are much less saturated than in the not too distant past, and less able to support heavy oak treatments. While the evidence might indicate that this is but a passing, vintage driven aberration, at the same time there is a movement afoot in California to pull back from the excess of the past two decades and produce wine that is a little less of everything. That, at the end of the day, is what really sets the best of these value wines apart from their more expensive brethren. They offer a little less of everything, but all that stuff is hardly missed. 
These are wines that are destined to be enjoyed sooner rather than later and in so many cases wines that we cellar are at their best after they've lost the oak, baby fat, and sweetness of youth. We enjoy those wines when they offer a little less of what they had on release and a little more of the complexity that comes with age. A $15 Cabernet may not have the complexity of age, or even the ability to develop said complexity, but they satisfy a need so very well. To my mind they more often than not satisfy this need more effectively than your typical $30 bottle of Cabernet, which in fact tends to be a more of a poor imitation of more expensive wines, while being no more ready to drink than that pricy Cabernet.
I’m not recommending $15 Cabernets as a replacement for $60 Cabernets, I’m suggesting wines for those times when you need a ready to drink, deliciously well balanced bottle of Cabernet, or perhaps even a case. And please, don’t ignore wines simply because they are not the top rated wines of this tasting. In fact the top rated wine here, the 2012 Ringbolt Cabernet, is a fairly powerful, age worthy wine that might not work as well as some of the lower rated wines that didn’t make the list. 
You may notice that a few of the wines listed below are not 100% Cabernet. It’s not a reach to include some blended wines that generally fall within this group both stylistically and from a QPR perspective. In fact, I would strongly suggest that you explore these sorts of blends when looking for a Cabernet styled wine at this price point, as even the modest addition of complementary varieties can make for a more complete and better balanced wine. Don’t get stuck in a rut of only trying Cabernet. You will be missing out on so many beautiful wines that will most certainly appeal to your palate, if not fitting your narrowly defined search criteria.  
One final point on these Cabernet bottles: Australia is not all about Shiraz. It is a terrifically underappreciated source for Cabernet Sauvignon. The market has yet to completely accept this, meaning that great wines continue to be great values. Get in on them while you can! 
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