One of the top questions I get at Snooth is, "Where are the values?" It’s not surprising that folks are looking for deals, and they usually are interested in their favorite wines, so it’s not surprising that Cabernet Sauvignon values are the most frequent request.

With our Global Tasting initiative (GTI) program geared up once again I thought the time was right for a value Cabernet Round-up.  We assembled a baker’s dozen, 12 wines under $15.00 and a long-time favorite (priced very fairly at $20, I might add) to use as a benchmark.

How did our budget wines fare?  Well, I found a remarkably solid $7.00 wine that duked it out with wines costing twice as much and a particularly fine Cabernet that is readily available at $13.00 or less.

What's a GTI?

Our GTI, or Global Tasting Initiative, is a great opportunity to share your tasting experiences with the Snooth community. We choose a region or grape and create a thread in the Snooth Talk Forum to discuss what we taste, and ask questions about the wines of the month. Our focus this month is on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab-based blends. So, come on down to the Snooth Forum and let us know what you’ve been tasting.
It was not surprising that the Louis Martini, this is the Napa bottling, came in first in our tasting. It is, after all, the most expensive wine by a significant margin. What was surprising to me was how well the Main Street showed. It’s a really well made wine that captures the richness of California without become clumsy in any way.  It’s a crowd pleaser that I would be happy serve to friends and family.

Close on its heels was the LangeTwins Cabernet. This is my first experience with LangeTwins and I have to say I am duly impressed. The wine may not be what I look for in a Cab, but I bet plenty of people will be very happy with the rich, sweet fruit and lush feel of this wine.

There was a crowd of wine that followed garnering 86 or 87 points, but for me there were two standouts that set themselves apart stylistically. Of course, since neither was from California, that is no surprise. I loved the freshness and purity of the Fox Run from New York.  I would love this wine paired with a seared veal chop over arugula and with some heirloom tomatoes sliced over it!

The Pepperwood Grove was another wine that I enjoyed drinking. This inexpensive (we used to call them fighting varietals! Remember that?) wine reminded me of less expensive Bordeaux more than Napa cab, yet with ripe, fresh fruit. It may not be made in a popular style but it showed a touch more elegance and balance than many of the bigger, more powerful wines.  It’s a great wine at the price.

Read all of the reviews after the jump.

2006 Louis Martini Napa Valley  14.2%

This really shows very well right out of the bottle with aromatics that highlight the chocolate covered cherry quality of the wine and add very well-judged oak spice notes and a nice array of subtly vegetal, floral, and dried grass tones.  Air tends to accentuate the sweet baking spice tones from the oak, but everything remains well balanced.  In the mouth this is moderately big and rich but with bright acids and fresh flavors it feels lighter than it is with a hint of elegance across the palate. The sweet flavors of red fruits are well balanced by the spice of oak, and the tea and herb tones that lurk in the background really add nice detail.  Finishing just a bit tight with note of espresso and dark earthy spices this could stand 6-8 months in the cellar but opens up just fine in the glass. All around a very solid offering. 90pts and a rack of lamb.

2006 Main Street Cabernet 13.5%

54% lake County – 24% Monterey – 22% Santa Barbara

There’s a touch of meatiness at the core of the nose here that serves as a foundation for the oak-framed fruit that features a very subtle but nicely contrasting note of crisp bell pepper that sliced through the plum and black currant fruit. On the palate this starts out a touch soft, but grows on you. It really fans out on the palate with fresh, transparent notes of black currant, licorice, and wood spice. This really has a great mouthfeel, full but light and elegant.  The finish is a bit lean but with good length and nice purity to the Cabernet fruit, ending with a nice touch of candied coffee.  This is no powerhouse, and may lack some complexity, but it makes up for that with its superbly friendly texture and drinkability.  89pts and pan seared hanger steak frites.

2007 LangeTwins Lodi  13%

This combines lovely notes of heather, green anise seed, herbs, and red cherry fruit with layered notes of vanilla, baking spices, coffee and a nice sweet touch of ricola on the nose.  Rich and fairly seamless in the mouth, this shows some nice bright red currant fruit with a bit of an herbal streak and bright cranberry acidity that leads across the midpalate and onto the notably long finish which combines a bit of sweet vanilla with more cherry fruit and that herbal sweet Ricola tone that appeared on the nose.  It’s got the feel and length of a more expensive wine. Very fresh and what a lot of folks are looking for in Cabernet. 88pts and coffee-cured pork shoulder.

2006 Dancing Bull  Red table Wine

This initially smells over-ripe, peachy, and herbal all at once.  With a bit of air it settles down showing decidedly ripe, tarry, vanilla, cigar tobacco, cigar ash and herb-laced dark plummy fruits.  There’s a touch of sweetness on entry that is followed up by good supporting acids that help this gain a bit of snap on the mid-palate. The tannins are soft, ripe and mostly concealed behind the chocolate covered wild cherry fruit. The complexity of the nose doesn’t really show up on the palate but all the fruit is sure to please many people.  The tannins do show up on the finish, adding some mouth grab and serving as a nice complement to the abundant, and sweet, ripe fruit, and adding a nice touch of nuttiness to the herb and red-fruited finale.  87pts and steak fajitas.

2007 Fox Run Finger Lakes 12%

This is lightly aromatic with a touch of wood, noticeably due to the gentle quality of the slightly gamy, thyme and olive leaf-inflected red currant fruit. There’s a nice coffee top note and emerging tones of capers. This is marked by bright acids in the mouth that support the fresh, pure red currant fruit. There are nice crisp tannins that add volume in the mouth but this is a smaller-scaled Cabernet that in many ways is more reminiscent of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc than most Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely freshness in the mouth is followed by a touch of minerality on the slightly astringent cranberry-fruited finish with a touch of seedy wild strawberry jam on the finale. This is a great little bottle of Cabernet. It’s a bit simply but very well done. 87pts and a pan-seared veal chop.

2007 Three Coins Napa Valley 14.1%

This clearly smells like Cabernet with a nice underlay of raw wood highlighting the bright red currant fruit. There’s a touch of herb and some nice bramble notes here but his is quite fruit-driven, while remaining fresh.  On entry this is a touch flat with a milky oak note. The tannins lay across the tongue giving this a dry, low amplitude palate impression. The weight of the wine is well balanced by the tannin and the acid, while a touch soft, prevents the wine for becoming cloying.  The finish is much like the palate, quite compressed, with a nice touch of pencil lead and lovely hints of tomato leaf and red currant on the finale. This is young and needs time in the decanter, or better yet a year or two in the cellar to pull itself together.  87pts and a skirt steak.

2008 Pepperwood Grove Valle Central Chile 13.5%

This is lightly aromatic and frankly a bit oaky and smoky, yet with nice fruit tones and accents of dried herbs and loamy soil.  In the mouth this is a rigid little wine with significant tannin, both from fruit and wood, with flavors that veer off to the savory end of the spectrum. The wood makes itself known on the palate with slightly spicy notes that are balanced by fairly sheer red fruit tones all topped with a whisper of vanilla cream.  The finish shows much of the same with nice focus and nuanced notes of smoked jalapeño adding a nice layer to the moderately long, and slightly simple finish.  This is a lovely old world style bottle of Cabernet. 86pts and a lamb steak.

2005 Toad Hollow Concinnity  California 14.4%

This is a bit hot on the nose with plenty of plummy fruit, caramel, smoky wood spice, and vanilla all rushing out of the glass. In the mouth it’s big and fleshy with a sweet edge that highlights the plum, ginger spice and toast flavors. The tannins are a bit splintery but the wine is rich and chewy with good freshness.  The backside shows more of a blueberry profile to the fruit with a nice subtle spice edge that becomes more prominent on the moderately long finish. A nice wine with plenty of fruit in a chunky, fruity style. 85pts and BarBQ beef ribs.

2007 Ca’Momi Napa Valley 13.9%

This is unusual with a very floral, rose-scented nose that also shows notes of pomegranate and rosehips. There’s a lot of underlying sweetness here, seemingly from wood by the overt wood influence seem moderate.  Overall this certainly smells different with mostly and earthy core of fruit.  Very direct in the mouth with a smooth, integrated feel yet retaining good focus. The tannins creep up on you a bit and the acidity, while soft, is sufficient for keeping the wine from collapsing on the palate.  The flavors in the mouth remain earthy thoughout with more familiar raspberry tones and even a touch of cream on the mid-palate.  The finish is short and abrupt with the tannins getting the upper hand. While this is youthful, and I expect will soften up a bit, the flavor profile is atypical for Cabernet and may not be what many people are expecting. 85pts and Kafka Kabobs.

2008 Esser California 13.5%

Aromatically quite sweet with a touch of bacon fat, basil stem and vanilla accenting the sour cherry/ black cherry fruit of the nose. In the mouth this is soft, medium-bodied, a touch sweet across the mid-palate, yet with enough acidity to keep the fruit fresh. It’s got a youthful note of watermelon over the dark berry tones and notes of chocolate and even a touch of herb adding a bit of complexity. It’s round, plump and uncomplicated lacking a bit of definition, turning a bit minty on the finish which shows a bit of aspiriny acidity. 83pts

2006 Three Coins Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.4%

A bit muddy and very ripe with notes of cracked pepper, vanilla, caramel and wood smoke enrobing dark, almost boysenberry fruit.  Nice and bright on entry, perhaps showing a bit too much acidity, but with a nice amount of blueberry and black fruit accented by licorice and cherry toasty tones.  This comes of as a bit disjointed with a long slightly sweet toasty and jammy finish that shows a touch of beef stock on the finale.  83pts

2006 Hooker Old Boys Napa Valley  14.2%

This smells jammy, toasty, and a touch hot. Smells a bit like butterscotch and blackberry salt-water taffy and sweet tea.  On entry it’s not much better showing woody dry tannins, over-ripe fruit and, well not much else. The finish is hard and ungenerous. 73pts

A Surprising Local Favorite and a Great Value

2007 Fox Run Finger Lakes 12%
New York’s Finger Lakes region has long been known for producing solid Riesling and promising Cabernet Franc. This Cabernet Sauvignon is reminiscent of wines from the Loire valley and impressed me with its freshness and pure red currant and cranberry fruit.

2008 Pepperwood Grove Valle Central Chile 13.5%
While small-scaled, the Pepperwood Grove delivered a lot of wine for the money. More Bordeaux than Napa, this balanced wine showed a lot of complexity and a fine, restrained mouthfeel at about half the price of most of the wines in our tasting. A Snooth Great Buy!