Monday, February 21, 2011

Top Ten California Cabs for Under $20

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most widely planted red gape varieties around the world. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the grape accounts for over 25% of the land planted to red wine grapes in California, more than Pinot Noir but a lot less than Chardonnay. With this kind of coverage the Cab spectrum is wide, from $10 to $1000 and from generic, commercially-produced to artisan boutique style. Taking into consideration the current economy, I think it's fitting to dedicate this week's post to California's value-packed Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

1. Line 39 - Cabernet Sauvignon - Lake County, California 2007 - $10
Line 39 benefits from the lack of a mortgage payment, and not because of a foreclosure. They don't own vineyards or a brick and mortar winery. Instead they purchase fruit and rent resources to create mind blowing wine for the price. Founder Roy Cecchetti has over 20 years of wine industry experience, building brands that include the Pepperwood Grove line. The label sources fruit from Lake County, a region that Bob Browman, Line 39 winemaker, describes as the "new frontier." This area is often seen playing a role in North Coast AVA wines, which also includes Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties. The Line 39 name refers to latitude 39, where many of the great wine growing regions of the world are found, including Lake County of course. With a full body and dark fruit aromas and flavors, this Cali Cab is a steal at only $10!

2. Cycles Gladiator - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $10
Cycles Gladiator is value-packed brand produced by California wine icon Hahn Family Wines. This wine's label, a replica of an 1895 French bicycle advertisement featuring the image of a nude woman flying alongside a bike amid a star-filled sky, created quite an uproar in Alabama. In 2009 the state banned the label from appearing on retail shelves or wine lists. President of Hahn Family Wines Bill Leigon explains, "The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control did, in fact, approve the label when the wine came into the market in 2006, but suddenly changed its mind late last year. We were unaware of the new ruling until now when it was deemed pornographic." Personally I say good! More Cycles Gladiator for me. However the "negative publicity" has proven positive for the company helping them reach sales of over 600,000 cases since the wines inception in 2006. This $10 red is full-bodied with juicy red fruit flavors and aromas. Fight the man! Drink Cycles Gladiator.

3. Bogle - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $11
This next producer often finds its way into my wine tastings. I always tell people to take the Bogle challenge. It's kind of like the Old Spice challenge, but you don't have to take off your shirt and you get to drink. Bogle was founded in the 1970's and today is still family owned and operated. Their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fruit was sourced from Clarksburg, Lodi and Lake County, and the wine was aged for 14 months in American oak barrels. The flavors are big and bold, and this wine has aging potential, all for the low price of $11. Pick up a bottle and take the Bogle challenge.

4. McManis - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $11
McManis Family Vineyards was founded in 1990 by Ron and Jamie McManis. Often compared to Bogle and competing for a similar market, McManis is still family owned and operated. The winery produces 300,000 cases of wine annually, over 100,000 of which are Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is likely sourced from their 2500+ acres of wine grapes, equally divided between Ripon and Lodi. The McManis Cab is ripe and spicy, with dark fruit flavors and aromas. Wine Spectator awarded the 2008 McManis Cab 85 points, a pretty amazing feat for an $11 wine. Pick up a bottle and you'll taste value.

5. The Crusher -'Wilson Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon - Clarksburg, California 2007 - $13
The Crusher is produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons. Don Sebastiani, of the famous Sebastiani wines, has over 30 years of industry experience. Don Sebastiani & Sons' portfolio currently consists of everyday labels like Smoking Loon, Flock, B Side, and Pepperwood Grove to name a few. The Crusher line was designed to focus on everyday, good-quality wines. The Crusher Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Clarksburg, a large area south of Sacramento. This big-boned red shows depth, complexity, and structure. It's safe to say you get a lot of wine for only $13 with The Crusher.

6. Bota Box - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2007 - $19 (3L)
Yes, that's right. This one comes in a box. But before you break out in sweats and having flashbacks of your Franzia White Zin days, hear me out. Bota Box has a lot of advantages. It holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine, and its design allows you to drink wine by the glass without worrying about waste or spoilage. This system keeps wine fresh for up to 45 days after opening. Consider me converted. Not that spoilage or waste are a real problem in my house, but for those of you who pace yourselves, here's your solution. They claim their practice is "state of the art," but it's still a bag and tap system. I don't know about all of the "innovative" talk, but it's good juice and it's always on tap. Try to get past the embarrassment of heading to the register with boxed wine in hand and see for yourself. The proof is in the bag.

7. Louis M. Martini - Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma County, California 2007 - $17
Louis M Martini was founded in Napa Valley in 1933, and sold to the Gallo family in 2002. Today all they do is Cabernet Sauvignon, and with their '07 Sonoma Cab, it's safe to say they do it well. Sonoma County encompasses six valleys and 13 American Viticulture Areas (AVA). This particular wine comes from a number of appellations in the county. The 2007 Martini Cab is robust, with dark fruit and spice. If you are looking for a fat Cab to pair with your steak, look no further than this monster.

8. 4 Bears - 'Sean Minor' Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley, California 2007 - $17
Four Bears Winery and Sean Minor Wines were founded in 2005 By Sean and Nicole Minor. After realizing their largest monthly expense was wine, the Minors decided to throw their hat into the ring and make money off their vice. The Minor winery is all about family; in fact, they named their business for their four children. With the help of family friend and colleague, Will Bucklin, 4 Bears' initial production featured a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast Chardonnay, and Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. They have since added a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Merlot, and a Napa Valley Carneros Pinot Noir. Today the winery produces good quality wines at an everyday price. This Cab is well-balanced, with lots of character. You won't be disappointed.

9. Kunde Estate - Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma Valley, California 2007 - $18
Kunde Family Estate has been family owned and operated since 1904 when Louis Kunde, a German immigrant, acquired the Wildwood Vineyards ranch in Sonoma. Today the fourth and fifth generation oversee an operation comprised of state-of-the-art winemaking resources and 1,850 contiguous acres of sustainably farmed vineyards of which 700 acres are planted to more than twenty different varieties of wine grapes. This wine comes from Sonoma Valley, an area where reds fend well and where vines have been planted for almost two centuries. Kunde's Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is big and tight, and has the components to age for the better part of a decade. If you pick up a bottle, forget about it for a few years.

10. B. R. Cohn - 'Silver Label' Cabernet Sauvignon - North Coast, California 2007 - $20
B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company was founded in 1984 by Bruce Cohn. A well connected grape grower since 1974, Bruce began his career by selling fruit to producers like Sebastiani, Caymus, Ravenswood, and Gundlach-Bundschu from his now-acclaimed Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. Along the way Cohn has employed a number of of iconic California winemakers including Helen Turley, Merry Edwards, and Steve MacRostie. Today the winery produces about 75,000 cases annually. Their 2007 'Silver Label' Cabernet Sauvignon received a well-deserved 88-point rating from Wine Spectator for its depth and complexity. If you're looking for ultra-premium wine at a reasonable price, check out the B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon; it's a great bang for the buck.

This list was actually fairly easy to put together. The grape's popularity and the lack of good quality Cabs for under $20 left me searching for ten rather than sifting for ten. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty that didn't make the list, but to find accessible California Cabs with this kind of quality for under $20 is becoming more and more difficult. If there's a value-packed Cali Cab you think should make the list, leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or shoot me an email.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director


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