Value Cabernet Sauvignon

Can a $10 Cabernet make the cut?


Tasting inexpensive wine is always refreshing. Not because they wines always offer such compelling value, but rather because they allow one to keep things in perspective. Now I’m not going to say that any of the wines tasted for this article are worth twice the price, though in fact there are wines twice the price that are less drinkable than some of these wines, though I will say it is refreshing how attractive $10 wines can be today.

Seriously, a $10 wine is only supposed to be decent, and has no right to show off some nuance, complexity, or sophisitcation less it embarasses the big boys, and yet that’s just what some of these do. Wine is not priced on a smooth curve. In fact there can be little relation to quality when pricing wine, you just have to look at wines priced between $45 and $450 to see how little marginal utility you get by paying several times the price of the best value wines. And of course value wines can be found at $45 just as they can be found here at $10.

The best of these value priced Cabernets offer fresh fruit, and are well balanced with both varietal character and some complexity. A few wines fall into the usual traps that inexpensive wines are prone to fall for. Over-oaking for one and over-ripe fruit another.  Most producers seem to be learning that the $10 Cabernet consumer is not actually looking for some faux $50 wine but rather just what that $10 wine should be. Once again we return to drinkability, and deliciousness. That’s all these wines need to offer to win an audience over, anything above and beyond is just frosting on the cake.

A few wines tip towards being something a bit sweet, which reduces the wine’s drinkability for me, but I know that many people find these wines more drinkable than dry wines so I try not to knock them if they are well made and balanced. And in fact I think that there are fewer sweet Cabernets today now that red blends has become a code word for sweeter red wines, leaving all these varietal wines for drinkers with a bit more of an understanding as to what one might expect from a varietal wines.

The truth is, counter intuitively I might add, that these wines seem to be getting better year to year. I say counter-intuitively in particularly referring to California’s wines since the great grape glut seems to have come to end and producers are finding it more difficult to find high quality juice at an affordable price. That might be becoming apparent with some of the highest volume producers already. Still there are plenty of enjoyable wines on the market today at $12 and under. Wines that are worth trying, if just to gain an understanding of what one should expect from wines that we are charged more for. If these $10 wines can deliver this much, $20 wines need to step up their game.

One note worth mentioning here. The $8 Trinity Oaks cabernet is delicious, and even though the Excelsior didn’t finish with the top group today it’s also a wine i would happily drink with friends. Just like with the prices, it’s good not to get too hung up on the point scores either! Sometimes that 86pt wine, a score that says ‘“ Like It” is just what one needs, and if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need. Oh yeah. With $10 you can get what you need.

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Top Value Cabernet tasted 10/13

Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon (2011)
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Di Majo Norante Cabernet Sauvignon Terre Degli Osci IGT (2011)
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Tortoise Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Cherokee Lane (2010)
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Santa Julia Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza (2012)
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Trinity Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (2011)
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Viña Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley (2011)
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Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon (2011)
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Mentioned in this article


  • These days wines are made in India too.How do you rate it?

    Oct 29, 2013 at 11:07 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I have not had any Indian wine recently, in fact I can only recall a single example tried several years ago. The wines are not widely distributed here in the states but I do look forward to trying some when they are.

    Oct 29, 2013 at 11:15 AM

  • Snooth User: 1206gene
    1298826 51

    It has been my observation that, typically, if you tend to enjoy Cabernets, you'll need to spend upwards of $20 per bottle to get something that has enough of the usual Cabernet qualities to satisfy, and that the $8 or $10 bottle simply has few or none of these qualities.
    But recently I have been buying at Costco a Cab that sells for $11.69 there and several bucks more at a supermarket or wine shop. For under $20/bottle, this definitely has enough Cabernet character to satisfy most folks. It's made by Columbia Crest, which is a basic supermarket label, but this Cab and its mate, a Merlot, are under the H3 ( Horse Heaven Hills ) label and are definitely a huge cut above their supermarket brand brethren.

    Oct 29, 2013 at 3:40 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 9,003

    Very timely for me. I've been asked to participate in a event where one of the wines I'm to bring is a Cabernet Sauvignon that costs less than $10. I also second Gene's endorsement of the Columbia Crest H3 bottlings--outstanding value.

    Oct 29, 2013 at 5:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,006

    Wow, talk about value cabernet! Even I hesitate to look at the cabs in this price range, and I like to think I can sniff out a bargain wine with the best of them! No reason that one couldn't find some good cab at these prices, since it can yield pretty highly compared to Pinot and some others without too much loss of quality and grows about anywhere, but it wants some oak and some time, so it doesn't always get the treatment it deserves. Emark, I did one of those $10 cab things once, but that was probably close to a dozen years ago. ( I have some $75 Altus Cab from the crash that cost $10 where I got it, but that's not the objective.) Ditto on Columbia Crest--quality volume wine you can find anywhere.

    Oct 29, 2013 at 5:58 PM

  • Snooth User: lfc reds
    823019 70

    2011 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Series, $8 from Costco. Wonder how it compares to others in this price range?

    Oct 29, 2013 at 7:12 PM

  • It's incredibly annoying that there are no 'single page' options on these articles

    Oct 31, 2013 at 9:24 PM

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