Great Cabernet under $25
Tasting Impressive Cabernets from $16 to $25
The truth is that I don’t drink very much Cabernet these days, opting instead for other wines that fit my lifestyle a bit better. It’s not that I don’t like Cabernet.In fact I can honestly say that I still love Cabernet, though that love is mostly satisfied by older examples from California and some newer releases from places like South Africa. I still buy the odd Cabernet from California, though for my palate the wines have become too big, too fruit driven, and too expensive.
Imagine my surprise when I tasted through this small set of West Coast Cabernets and discovered that as a group they were not too big, not too alcoholic, not too fruit driven, and of course not too expensive. As a group these wines harkened back to what some of us refer to as the golden age of California Cabernet in a way that rarely happens. Perhaps it’s the vintage, most of these wines comes from the difficult 2010 vintage. A vintage marked by cold, excessive rains, and heat waves shouldn’t produce wines that excite you, but in this case it seems that they did.
Let’s start off with the alcohol of these wines. While labelling laws allow for significant leeway, I can’t remember opening so many bottles labelled at 13.9% in a row. This may just be coincidence, and there is not necessarily any correlation between alcohol levels and quality, but it is a component of wine that weighs very heavily on the balance a wine is capable of achieving. As a group these wines were quite well balanced, making them a pleasure to drink.
Fruit driven is a convenient sort of catchall phrase that is used to identify the modern form of wine that, particularly with Cabernet, forsakes all nuance of the grape, those notes of herbs, savory elements and some spice, in exchange for sweet, ripe, pure fruit. Some grape varieties are better than others at achieving this goal, and in my opinion Cabernet simply is not one of them. Ripe cabernet should have complexity coming from its herbal side, and in a vintage like 2010 with it’s troublesome weather, that was almost unavoidable. Whether this marks a shift in attitudes in California, which is doubtful, or is simply a delicious and complex blip of an aberration remains to be seen. What does not remain to be seen, just tasted, are these wines that have the size and flavor complexity more akin to wines of the 1970s than wines of the 2000s.
To some extent their pricing facilitates this expression of Cabernet. At the $20 price point you can’t have extremely low yields. You can’t have 100% new oak. You can’t have consultants, and sorcery in the cellar. You can however produce a solid, authentic, well balanced wine that expresses place, time, and variety. That is what I am looking for in a wine, and that is what many of these wines have achieved.
These are not ground breaking wines, though they are great values and worthy of your attention. Not necessarily wines for the cellar. Though they should, as a group, improve for 2-5 years, and hold on for another 5 years after that. Not a bad showing for a $20 Cabernet. I like these wines and think they serve a great purpose; equally adept as an introduction to the magic that West Coast Cabernet can be, and to scratch the itch that those familiar with these wines might have. Is this the harbinger of a new golden age for Cabernet? No one can see for sure, but is sure is a good time to be discovering these wines.