Most Cabernet Sauvignons from the U.S. that get the critical attention are big, muscular, ripe, high in alcohol, and high in visible tannins with an occasional underlying savory note. These are carefully farmed wines with lower yields from premium vineyards, and they are costly, even when widely available.
So the challenge that wine producers in California face is making an affordable Cab that still has recognizable varietal characteristics and a certain amount of charm. These wines often emphasize savory elements over flat-out fruitiness, and often there are green or herbal characteristics that I enjoy, but many critics see as flaws.
This issue of The Dozen has six Cabernets in the affordable category – from $10 to $35 – to consider. All are enjoyable, and each has its merits, mainly as wines to accompany food rather than as contemplative sipping wines.
2020 Flat Top Hills California Chardonnay ($14). Tangy, gamey, and herbal with a touch of sweetness in the finish.
2018 Chauvet Frères Beaujolais Blanc ($18). This is a simple but enjoyable white with lots of floral notes that are more reminiscent of a good Chenin Blanc than a Chardonnay.
2018 Ettore Reserve Mendocino County Chardonnay ($20). A complex, nicely assertive Chard with floral toastiness and bright vanilla and pineapple flavors, with good acidity. A big lip-smacking for big tastes.
2020 Our Daily Wines “Our Daily Cab” California Cabernet Sauvignon ($10). Some years ago, while traveling southern France, a companion said after a day of tasting elegant wines, “What I want now is red with some rusticity!” This is her wine – and your wine – if you prefer rough over polished. This one is roguishly charming – slightly under-ripe blackberries, notes of tobacco, somewhat harsh on the palate, and lots of tannins.
2019 Bread & Butter California Cabernet Sauvignon ($14). Mild, slightly floral cherry and blackberry fruitiness with lots of tart acidity in the finish.
2014 Las Moradas de San Martin “Senda” Vinos de Madrid Garnacha ($14). Enjoyable red and purple fruits with a very good mouthfeel, but not as complex as I would have expected from a wine of this age.
2020 Flat Top Hills California Cabernet Sauvignon ($16). Lean and tart with a tangy finish.
2019 Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($21). Lots of spicy notes are woven into the cherry and blackberry fruits with some underlying green herbal notes, good acidity, and lots of tannins.
2018 Jamieson Ranch “Silver Spur” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). Lots of concentrated, almost jammy blackberry flavors with toasty oak and savory tannins.
2019 Prats & Symington “Post Scriptum de Chryseia” Douro Red Wine ($26). Good, dark, ripe fruit upfront, followed by a very tangy finish.
2018 Jamieson Ranch “Ryder Cup, Silver Spur” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). Warm on the palate, with hints of toast beautifully blended with creamy purple fruits, good structure, acidity, and savory, herbal notes in the finish.
2017 Sosie “Cavedale” Moon Mountain Red Blend ($45). A mix of Bordeaux varieties, it is very juicy with lots of tannins and savory berry flavors – a big, burly wine.
Prices listed are generally SRP or from wine-searcher.com. As more wineries are now shipping direct-to-consumer, check the winery website if you can’t find a bottle in your retail store.
The feature photo is courtesy of Oberon Wines.