France may have established that the grapes of Bordeaux go very well together, but that essential blend can now be found in excellent wines worldwide, from South Africa to Washington State.

California does particularly well with the black grapes of Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. California Bordeaux blends include some of the biggest names in Napa, like Harlan, Colgin and Opus One. Harlan Estate currently retails for more than $750 a bottle, while Colgin tops $400. But those high-priced bottles aren’t my focus here. Instead, I’m concentrating on the very best Bordeaux blends available for $125 or less.

The top values here are the Ridge Estate, at about $44; the Wallis Family Estate Little Sister at $45; the Rockpile Winery Buck Pasture at about $50 and the Justin Isosceles, which averages about $56 for a bottle of the 2009.

While this list is dominated by Napa Valley based producers, it also includes Paso Robles’s Justin, Santa Cruz Mountain’s Ridge and Northern Sonoma’s Rockpile Winery (Mauritson).

1. Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette, Napa Valley (Spring Mountain District) This winery has incorporated four historic, contiguous vineyard properties that were each quite large on their own: Alba, Chevalier, La Perla and Miravalle. The total holdings are now 845 acres, including 225 acres of vines planted in 135 discrete hillside blocks at elevations running from 400 to 1600 feet on the eastern slope of Spring Mountain. The winemaker is Jac Cole and the vineyard manager is Ron Rosenbrand. The Elivette is basically a barrel selection each year of the best lots from the different blocks of Bordeaux varieties.

2008Very dark red violet color; tart black fruit, dark chocolate nose; tasty, tart black fruit, dark
chocolate palate; needs 4 years; long finish (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc,
6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec; 22 months in new French oak). 94 points
2007Very dark red violet color; tart plum, herbs, tobacco nose; tight, tart black fruit, black
tobacco palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet
Franc, 4% Petit Verdot; 21 months in 85% new French oak). 93+ points
2. Viader Proprietary Red (Napa Valley) - This winery was launched by Delia Viader with plantings on the slopes of Howell Mountain in 1986. The 30-acre vineyard is at a 1,000 foot elevation on a very steep site. Delia’s son Alan is currently Director of Operations and winemaker, with Michel Rolland as consultant. (Delia was the winemaker for the vintages noted below.) The proprietary red usually contains a high proportion of Cabernet Franc, reflecting Delia’s fondness for the wines of Cheval Blanc, which are usually about half Cabernet Franc.

2001Coffee, caramel, blueberry, eucalyptus nose; very tasty and elegant, coffee, caramel, cassis, espresso, chocolate and licorice palate; medium-plus finish (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc). 93+ points
2005Opaque dark red violet color; nice coffee, black fruit and mulberry nose; nice, plush, mulberry, berry and roast coffee palate; medium-plus finish (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc). 93 points

3. Justin Vineyards & Winery Isosceles (Central Coast, Paso Robles) -Justin and Deborah Baldwin were the original proprietors who bought their property in Adelaida Valley in 1981, but the winery is now owned by Roll Global. Their primary focus is on the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. My favorite of their lineup has always been the Isoceles, which usually contains from 70 to 85% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Right Bank inspired wine is Justification, based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Fred Holloway, formerly of Kendall-Jackson Artisanal Estates, is currently in charge of production.

Rich blackberry and black fruit nose; very tasty, blackberry, cassis, vanillin oak palate; medium-plus finish. 93+ points
2006Plush berry and plum nose; poised, tight, cassis and berry palate; medium-plus finish (86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot). 93 points
2004Rich, sexy, cassis, blackberry nose; tight but tasty, cassis, plum palate; medium finish (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot; 18 months in 34% new French oak). 92+ points
4. Realm Cellars The Bard (Napa Valley) - Realm was launched in 2002 by Juan Mercado and Wendell Laidley. The winemaking team is Benoit Touquette and Michel Rolland. The Bard is their Left Bank inspired blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon from a blend of vineyard sites throughout Napa Valley.

Bricking, opaque red violet color; intense, blackberry, berry, lavender nose; tight, plush, blackberry, berry, mulberry palate; long finish (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot). 93+ points
5. Blackbird Vineyards Contrarian (Napa Valley, Oak Knoll) - Blackbird Vineyard was planted to Merlot in 1997, and its fruit originally sold to a variety of producers. In 2003, Michael Polenske purchased the 10-acre property and launched Blackbird Vineyards as a premium label for Bordeaux blends, based on the estate Merlot and Bordeaux varieties sourced from other vineyards. The talented Aaron Pott is the winemaker. The Contrarian is their Right Bank inspired offering, based primarily on Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Very dark red violet color; poised, ripe currant, light coffee, tart blackberry, tart black fruit nose; plush, tight, silky textured, tart blackberry, tart black fruit, tart cassis, tart raspberry palate with polished, sweet tannins; accessible now; medium-plus finish (38% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon). 93 points

6. Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Éloge (Napa Valley) - The winemaker/proprietor here is Todd Anderson. The Éloge is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. They also produce a wine called “Right Bank” which is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
2004Bricking dark red violet color; rich, ripe cassis, black currant nose; rich, tart berry, ripe black fruit palate; medium-plus finish. 93 points
7. Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red (Napa Valley) - Jayson Pahlmeyer, whose inspiration has always been Château Mouton, is the proprietor. Kale Anderson is director of winemaking for their Napa Valley vineyard and operations. The Proprietary Red was launched with the 1986 vintage, and is usually a blend of all five Bordeaux varieties, aged an average of 18 months in French oak.
2006Pencil lead, black fruit nose; tasty, black fruit, pencil lead palate; medium-plus finish (81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec). 93 points

8. Rubissow Les Trompettes (Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder) - Rubissow is based in Mt. Veeder on a 45-acre hillside estate, of which 18.5 acres are planted to vines that are farmed organically. Peter Rubissow is the general manager, and he and his sister partnered to acquire and modernize their father’s brand. Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto oversees vineyard operations. The winemaker is Timothy Milos, who started out at Opus One, and was director of winemaking for Cliff Lede. The Les Trompettes is a Cabernet Franc dominated blend. The 2005 is the current release.
2004Nice blackberry, boysenberry and floral nose; tasty, ripe boysenberry, berry, black fruit palate with depth; medium-plus finish (65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). 93 points
9. Cain Vineyard & Winery Cain Five (Napa Valley) - The owners here are Jim and Nancy Meadlock, who bought out their fellow founding partners, the Cains, in 1991. The 84 acres of vineyards on this 2000 foot elevation site on Spring Mountain were planted from 1981 to 1990. The winemaker since 1990 is Chris Howell, who studied enology at the University of Montpellier before beginning his winemaking career at Mouton Rothschild. Starting in 2007, the Cain Five, containing all five Bordeaux varieties, is made entirely from estate grown fruit.
2003: Intriguing tart plum, mulberry, mint nose; plum, fig, mulberry, chocolate palate; long finish (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec). 93 points
2007Very dark red violet color; herbs, tart black fruit, earthy nose; tasty, tart black fruit, herbs, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc). 92+ points


10. Wallis Family Estate Little Sister (Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain) - The vineyards for this project on Diamond Mountain were planted in 1997. They consist of 13 acres planted to five different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, and small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Initially the fruit was sold, first to David Ramey and then to Lokoya, before the family decided to start making their own wine in 2006. The renowned Thomas Rivers Brown came on board as winemaker in 2008.

Very dark ruby color; tart black fruit, herbs, savory nose tasty, tart black fruit, coffee, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (97.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Petit Verdot). 92+ points
11. Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate (San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains) - Ridge is the great Bordeaux variety producer in the Santa Cruz Mountains that also makes age worthy and highly acclaimed Zinfandels primarily from vineyards in Northern Sonoma. Their flagship Bordeaux blend offering, the Monte Bello, is a little too pricey for this list, but their estate red, which is usually a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, is a relative bargain in a classic style.
2007Dark red violet color; deep cassis, red plum nose; with a touch of menthol lift; tasty, poised, cassis, tart plum palate with depth; medium-plus finish (58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot). 92+ points
12. Robert Keenan Winery Mernet Reserve (Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District) - Robert Keenan originally purchased the property on Spring Mountain in 1974 and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Their first vintage was 1977. Robert’s son Michael now serves as President, with Nils Venge serving as consulting winemaker and Randy Kewell as assistant winemaker. The winery is well known for its single Bordeaux varietal bottling—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The Mernet Reserve is a 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Very dark red violet color; plush, ripe berry, black raspberry, blackberry, vanilla oak, chocolate nose; tasty, plush, berry, mulberry, blackberry, chocolate palate; medium-plus finish (50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). 92+ points
13. Vinoce Proprietary Red (Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder) Vinoce is owned by Brian and Lori Nuss, who grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot on Mt. Veeder hillside slopes. They planted their vineyard in 1990. Brian serves as the winemaker. Their Mount Veeder Estate Proprietary Red is a blend of their three red Bordeaux varieties.

Very dark red violet color; rich, intriguing, deep berry, ripe currant nose with a touch of menthol; tasty, poised, tart currant, tart berry, light menthol palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
14. Robert Sinskey Vineyards Marcien (Napa/Sonoma, Carneros) - Rob Sinskey studied for a degree in design, but a call over 25 years ago from his grape grower father got him involved in the business, which now includes 200 acres of vineyards in the Carneros and Stags Leap Districts of Napa and Sonoma. The winemaker is Jeff Virnig. The Marcien is a Right Bank inspired wine from grapes grown in their cool climate Carneros vineyards.

Appealing tart currant, olive and black fruit nose; tasty, Bordeaux-like tart black fruit, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon). 92+ points
15. Rockpile Winery (Mauritson) Buck Pasture Rockpile Ridge Vineyards (Sonoma County, Rockpile) - The Mauritson family has been growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley since 1868. S.P. Hallengren, was a pioneer grape grower in the Rockpile region, where he first planted vines in 1884. He shipped all his wine back to his native Sweden. The family’s Rockpile homestead and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s when all but 700 ridgetop acres were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma. The family currently manages 310 vineyard acres in the Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and Rockpile appellations. Clay Mauritson got the family into making wine when he returned after graduating the University of Oregon in 1997. He has made a variety of delicious Zinfandels and Petite Sirah. The Bordeaux blend, called the Buck Pasture, is the family’s most expensive wine, at $50 a bottle.

Dark maroon color; captivating, rich black fruit, berry, violets nose; tight, rich, tart berry, violets, tart mulberry, pencil lead palate with firm, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec). 92+ points

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