10 Top Napa Cabernets Under $50

Discover the exciting and versatile side of Napa Valley Cabs

This could be an inflection point, a moment when circumstances conspire to fundamentally change things. We’ve gone through one as recently as 1997, when wines made from super-ripe fruit, fruit that would have been thought of as defective a decade or two earlier, garnered breakthrough scores for tons of wineries. In subsequent vintages, producers intentionally went for super-ripe fruit since it seems to be the key to super high scores, and we know what those scores do.
The world has changed since then. The share of voice among critics is different, and that extreme wine geek attitude, as narrow minded as it may be, has pulled open the range of wines considered acceptable, i.e. successfully marketable. And lets not kid ourselves: wine remains a business, so in the big picture, that’s what’s important. I bet there will be plenty of people celebrating the lighter style of the very pretty and accessible 2009 and 2010 vintages. Truth is 2010 is already being hailed as excellent by many writers—I am just a bit late to the game.
My point here though is not to proclaim that 2010 is so great; I am much more forgiving when it comes to vintages, and think we need to do a better job promoting and appreciating vintages for what is unique about them as opposed to holding them up to some arbitrary benchmark. Just take a look at a vintage like 1999 if you disagree. Not exactly exalted on release, they are drinking remarkably well today.
My point is that 2009 and 2010 are a different style of vintage, and very successful ones at that: vintages that will allow drinkers to experience Napa Valley Cabernet as it once was, on a wide scale. My hope is that they will enjoy the style, talk about the style, praise the style, and then go back to the marketplace looking for more wines in that style. It will be up to the producers to respond, and things on that front are all pointing in positive directions as well.
There is a growing backlash to formulaic wines even in the Napa Valley and talk is once again returning to producing wines that one likes; the fact that the marketplace, both consumers and critics, may be aligning with that direction bodes well for the future of Napa Valley wines. One thing I want to make perfectly clear here is that I am not saying that almost all wines need to change, not that that would be a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s not necessary, at least for me.
Having a dozen or two producers return to making wines that don’t need to be watered back, acidified and otherwise transmogrified would be enough for me. Will it happen? All signs point to yes, but who knows?  Me, I’m a dreamer; one with a decades-long love affair with Napa Valley Cabernet, so I’m sure hoping so. And here are some tasting notes to help explain why.

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Top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)
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Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon (2007)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Weitz Vineyard (2009)
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Robert Keenan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District (2009)
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Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (2010)
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White Cottage Estate Risa Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)
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Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (2009)
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Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville (2008)
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Peju Province Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (2009)
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Markham the Philanthropist Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)
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  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,876

    One observation I want to support is that the vintages are often overplayed. But that represents an opportunity. Most of the top wineries are not going to release a dog in an off-vintage. Instead, they'll cut back on volume if need be. But when the next "successful" vintage hits, they will still have product. That's the time to go out and buy that 2008 Chappellet, or Hall, or... well, name it. You'll get a good price and probably a more age-worthy wine than the overdone, overripe wine that opened to big reviews. I concur that the '07s aren't really playing out to be special, while the less-vaunted '06s have rocked me as they have developed. And what deals there were, between the hype for '07 and the tough economy they were released into and tough times at some of the smaller producers.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 3:21 PM

  • Snooth User: PrpleTeeth
    480990 18

    What? No Caymus Napa? Really?

    Feb 28, 2013 at 4:45 PM

  • Snooth User: dryhopped2
    544495 25

    Purple, maybe you missed the "Under $50" title. Ive tasted several of this list and it is refreshing that GDP has selected many that are not in the Caymus "big, sweet fruit bomb" neighborhood that the Wagners seem to like. Wanna good Syrah? Check out the Belle Glos Clark and Telephone Pinot Noir!

    Feb 28, 2013 at 5:33 PM

  • While its not technically "under $50" Hall's Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is typically a standout in any vintage at $50 a bottle.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 7:11 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,593

    Crap. I'm seeing several of my favorite Napa Valley producers on this list. That will do nothing to keep the prices of these wines reasonable. ;-)

    Interesting that several of these wines could have qualified for the "Under $25" list.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 7:58 PM

  • Snooth User: pt1240
    568862 6

    I drank the shit out of Napa and Sonoma cabs in the late 80s and 90s....Schafer Hillside Select, Caymus Special Select, Silver Oak, Frogs Leap, Grgich, Opus One, Silverado Reserve....loved Stag's leap the best. Ex father in law was a huge distributor so I was fortunate....never experienced the cults....i.e., Bryants, Screaming Eagle etc....however truly believe that Calis are worth the money as this article evidences. Bordeaux blows away every wine on this list - I can find a handful of grand crus for 25 bucks that destroy all this over-oaked high alcohol tannin.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 10:35 PM

  • Snooth User: pt1240
    568862 6

    ...correction - meaning Stag's Leap district the best, not the vineyard, and that California wines are way overpriced and inferior to French wines. IMHO they have lost their way - Stag's leap has the terroir but I refuse to pay 250 bucks for a Shafer Hillside Select.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 10:41 PM

  • Snooth User: JonDerry
    Hand of Snooth
    680446 3,020

    Nice Greg, I haven't seen a report of yours with scores this high in a long time. With fair to bargain price points, these look like must try's.

    Mar 01, 2013 at 12:12 AM

  • I was hoping Red Mare Wines would make this list. Perfect for this category!!!

    Mar 01, 2013 at 1:20 PM

  • Snooth User: teddz
    880703 31

    pt1240, Am all ears for any recent Bordeaux Grand Cru for $25. Tough to find cru bourgeois for that price these days.

    Mar 01, 2013 at 5:00 PM

  • Snooth User: MarkRogers
    1454508 26

    Um. Chappellet is listed with a Chardonnay? Caymus should be here.

    Jan 17, 2014 at 11:01 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,487

    Thanks for pointing out the error. Seems like the Chardonnay and Cabernet pages were merged since this was originally published. I've corrected the listing. Caymus certainly has its fans!

    Jan 17, 2014 at 12:29 PM

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