Cabernet Sauvignons offer great value across range of styles

April 15, 2023

Favorably priced Cabs, anyone? The 2019 new-release Cabernet Sauvignon from 1881 Napa rivals the 2018 reviewed last year. 1881 Napa advertised it at $25/bottle on case buys. Dark ruby with purple rim, it opens to plum, black cherry, cedar and barrel spice. Round on palate, dark-fruit flavors repeat and are enhanced by chocolate and cassis, all riding a balanced tannin-acidity frame. Long, clean, slightly tannic finish says it’s approachable but has several years of longevity. Those who enjoy big, oaky Cabs will love it, 90 McD plus 1 price point under $28. The 2018 may still be on the shelves; it is a good buy under $33 and has a distinctive profile – cherry, chocolate, vanilla and not as oaky, 89 McD. Next up, Gibbs Vineyards has been around since there were more nut trees and eucalyptus than vines in St. Helena, in the 1960s and early ‘70s. With mortgage paid, the vines planted and well established, and still family run, they pass the savings to their customers. Novel idea, hey! Many St. Helena labels similarly rated are in the $60-$100 range. The Gibbs 2019 Cab can be had at $32/bottle when purchasing a case, or under $40 for a single bottle. It rates 90 McD at $32, but the single-bottle price is a bit rich. Ready, but I advise letting it rest another year; it will cellar a minimum of 10 more years. Dark ruby to nearly black center, Gibbs Cab shows a complex bouquet of blackberry and freshly cured leather with tobacco, a wide palette of barrel spices and a hint of pine. On the palate are black cherry, mocha, eucalyptus (menthol) and mint. All are supported by dusty tannins and palate-cleansing acidity through a long finish with hints of cherry, vanilla and clove. Another with at least 10 years of shelf life. Switching gears, Martin Ray Sonoma County Cab 2020 just had a 92-point review by Suckling, and it’s on sale at $18. The 92 is not considering QPR at all; I think 2 price points are warranted. Dark ruby-colored, it opens to currant, cherry and lovely, diverse oaken spice aromas since it spent 18 months on French oak. More currant, grilled meat, vanilla, chocolate and spice flavors are supported by slightly chewy tannins and bright acidity. Finishes long and dry. 

Clay Shannon, owner/winemaker at Shannon Family of Wines in Shannon Ridge, Lake County, California, does a superb job with a diverse and unique menu of Cabs priced in the low $20s. Few big-time critics spend time in Lake County unless they are on the way to Route 5 to Oregon, or Hopville or the Oroville Dam after a visit to Healdsburg and Geyserville in Sonoma. Shannon Family produces Buck Shack Bourbon Barrel-aged Cabs that add flavors not often found. These added fillips from bourbon and vanilla will probably beckon for a return of those who try them. Purists need not apply. I sampled the 2018 and gave it 88 points, including 1 price point. Initially I had thought this was produced due to the 2017 smoke taint. I am happy to report Mr. Shannon did not produce a 2017 Shannon Ridge. Clay Shannon Cabs are more traditional; the 2018 is 92 McD. Black cherry, currant, ginger, cocoa and pencil shaving aromas lead to a repeat of the fruit and oaken spice on the powerful, full-bodied palate, supported by appropriate acidity and smooth tannin. How does $20 sound? The 2019, also $20, is 91 McD due to slightly lower acidity. 

For big-buck Cab buyers, the Fortunate Son allocation is just hitting the market. The Diplomat red blend, 92 points, and The Dreamer 100% Cab, 96 points from Dunnuck, are both selling for $175. The Warrior, also 100% Cab, 98 Dunnuck, goes for $400. I have not enjoyed any to date, but the allocations are small, and many critics are raving about these. Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Cab 2019, 94 McD around $150, is another fine buy. That said, we can still find 2014 or ‘15 for about $150, and they are in their perfect window. The 2014 came in at $100, popped on reviews and is now $145. The 2015 came in at $149 and stayed there. Don’t ask me why, because with aging, they have completely risen to expectations. Do the work and you will be delighted. For top QPR Napa Cab, you can’t miss with BV. Since 2012, its lowest score was a 92 McD in the fire-ravaged 2017 vintage.


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