Top-flight, affordable Cabernet Sauvignons are out there waiting

January 7, 2023

Let’s get 2023 off to a great start with some delicious, top-rated, fairly priced, inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon. The first place I look for these is Chile, because when comparing side by side, there are more of these rated above 93 points that can be had under $40. By comparison, our U.S. producers will be in the $50s and up. One of the oldest wineries in Chile not snapped up by conglomerates, Vina Cousino Macul in Maipo Valley, is a noted Merlot producer. Around 1995, they started blending with Cab and Syrah. Their Finis Terrae is one happy result. How about a Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend that has been rated 90-plus since 2014 and further back, which can be had under $30? I was initially exposed when Tim Atkin awarded 92 points for the 2014. When others started touting the 2015, I snuck across the Delaware on a back road and smuggled in a few of each. The 2015 rated 94 points. Both were on sale for $14.95. The good news is that several stores in New Jersey and New York are still selling the 2015 under $30. It is delicious now. Those with patience can find the new release 2018, also 94 McD. Reminds me a bit of top-notch Sonomas with their cassis, eucalyptus, mint, forest floor and chocolate aromas, and softer approach. There is still enough acidity and tannic grip to carry the fruit and allow cellar time. Keep in mind that older reds have sediment and shipping agitates it. Letting the wine rest upright for a few weeks and then slow pouring works. Decanting is best. A comparably rated Cab blend such as Caymus Napa may run $80. Before moving along, here is a very valuable tool. This link,, sends you to an interactive page that lists the top 10 Wine Spectator winners 2013-21. Just click on the bottle pictures to see reviews, prices, etc. 

Another place to look is Sainte-Estephe Bordeaux; their Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2019 is entering its window in mid-2023, 92 McD, $130/six bottles. Dark purple, crimson rim, ripe, jammy fruit nose with blackberry, roast coffee and barrel spice. Palate repeats blackberry, a touch of cassis with bright mineral acidity. The long, clean finish shows cocoa, pepper and licorice hints. This is a great buy, and under $24 it gets 2 price points.

Staying in the vein of top-flight, relatively inexpensive, here’s a Marietta Cellars Gibson Block Syrah 2019, McDowell AVA, Sonoma. I’m joining all the top dogs with a 95 McD rating, and at $40 I’m adding 2 price points. This is a remarkable value from 100-year-old, low-yield vines. I swear these reviews claimed to describe the same wine: WA said, “core of cassis and soaring violet perfume with accents of coffee beans, dark chocolate, aniseed and mint; full-bodied palate is powerful and concentrated with broody, iron-laced fruits, pleasantly chewy tannins and bright freshness elevating floral perfume on the finish. Drink 2023-2038.” James Suckling said, “aromas of cut plums, black tea, well-ripened red cherries and sage. Medium-to full-bodied with tight tannins. Lovely, subtle concentration and intensity. Generous without being overblown. Tar and bark. Driven with structure and length. A lovely example of what Northern California Syrah is capable of. Best after 2024.” McD also rates it 95, agrees with the winemaker most of the time. Dark and powerful, mulberry lavender and pie spice aromas, pervasive tannins and a balancing acidity frame support powerful texture with fruit and chocolate flavors through a long, clean finish. Needs a few years on the shelf. 


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