Cabernet Sauvignon

Your Gift Giving Guide to Great Cabernet


Not only is Cabernet Sauvignon the most popular red wine, it’s also one that is best suited to gift giving. It’s a wine that everyone knows and understands. Big, rich and bold, it’s the archetype of red wines that is perfect for the cooler months that lie ahead. While Cabernet does get a bit of a bad rap as being ubiquitous, that doesn’t mean that that all Cabernet is the same.

There are fascinating differences between producers in the same region, and of course between regions. While much of the world has adopted a certain style for their cabernet, favoring richness of fruit and tenderness of tannin over something a bit more rustic and complex that doesn’t leave us without ample choices this holiday season. If you are looking for a cabernet this gift giving season might I suggest looking beyond the obvious and searching out producers who continue to produce wines that show hints of herbaceousness. Wines that capture the beauty of Cabernet’s power without surrendering to the lack of detail that power can bring to the table. There are many regions for you to choose from; from Napa Valley, to South Africa great things are happening with today’s Cabernet. 
Nothing says Cabernet like Napa says Cabernet. It has been home to some of the most successful wineries in the US for decades, and has been the source of some terrific wines over the years, so its reputation is duly deserved. Though it has also been the poster child for both over the top wines of excess and pricing that has but a fleeting association with reality. None the less, if you’re giving a gift, putting a bottle of Napa’s finest Cabernets on the table does carry a significant impact and to be truthful, those overwrought wines that don’t do much for me do have a huge audience. Still, I will always seek out wines that harken back to the great Napa Cabs of the past, if only in spirit. Here are five worth tracking down.
2009 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve $18-$22  Martin Ray is a famous name from the past better known for his wines from Santa Cruz fruit. Today’s incarnation offers a broad array of wines and this little number carries the Napa tag along with a reserve designation so it looks particularly prestigious, even if it doesn’t break the bank. It’s a lovely wine, clean and sleek while marrying gentle sweet oak to fresh blackberry and black currant fruit. 
2010 Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon $30-$40  Elizabeth Spencer may not be a terribly familiar name to the Cabernet drinker, though her Sauvignon Blanc has been a perennial favorite of mine. That  same style that makes her Sauvy so attractive works wonders when applied to Napa Valley Cabernet.  Here’s a wine that unites fruit from throughout the valley and the result is one slightly lean, finely focused red fruited wonder that is supple but not soft and just invites one to keep drinking the bottle. 
2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon $35-$40  While my tastes run a bit outside the mainstream when it comes to Napa Cabernet there is no denying the appeal of the softer, lush, explosively fruity style that is the current paradigm for success. Usually this is accompanied by a mighty price tag but that's not the case with valley veteran Freemark Abbey who’ve bottled a fabulous offering in 2010. Rich and creamy, and ready to be consumed now and over the next several years, this is one little powerhouse of a wine that never loses focus in the mouth. 
2007 Smith Madrone $36-$50  Smith Madrone make, for my money, one of the few collectable Cabernets from Napa worth the tariff. It’s a bit of a throwback wine, rustic some might call it. It doesn’t hide it’s slight herbaceousness, nor does it come with pre -softened tannins. What it does deliver is a lively, earthy, focused mouthful of Cabernet fruit that needs a few years to round out into form but then evolves in classic form for two decades. It is the golden age of Napa Cabernet in a bottle.
2007 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65-$85  As much as I love Smith Madrone, Dunn has them beat, though for a price. Dunn’s wines are for me the top of the heap. Have an aged example of either the Napa bottling or the more massively constructed and somewhat more expensive Howell Mountain and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Both are tight wines, though the Napa is in no way a second wine to the Howell Mtn. It’s a little softer, particularly in a ripe vintage like 2007 which you might begin enjoying before it’s tenth birthday; lightspeed when it comes to these wines. Just big, rich, complex and yet fresh Napa Cabernet that should be in every wine lover’s cellar. 

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  • Snooth User: gmathias
    212629 24

    I've noticed recently that your lists have price points starting at 15-20 dollars a bottle. There are plenty of wine lovers that can't afford those prices and buy within the 8-15 price range. It would be nice if you included some decent wines in that price range in your selections in the future.

    Dec 12, 2013 at 11:24 AM

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

    You're absolutely right gmathias. I've been using this price point particularly during the holidays when folks are prone to spend up to get something a bitter better, notably when gift giving. In October I covered values among Cabernet, Merlot, and Portuguese wines and just last week I reviewed white, red and sparkling wines for parties that were almost all clustered at the $10 price point. Yu can look forward to additional suggestions at around the $10 price point on a regular basis in the future.

    Dec 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM

  • Snooth User: lbpsfl
    140373 50

    My new house red is the Horse Heaven Hills Cab from Columbia Crest. Around $12 by the case.

    Dec 12, 2013 at 11:37 AM

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

    A great buy at that price and a really lovely wine. I've got on a list of wines coming out next week on wines that always seem to be great values and are very widely distributed.

    Dec 12, 2013 at 12:00 PM

  • Snooth User: S McKenna27
    1298564 33

    It's funny seeing these comments. I live on the east coast of Canada and we don't often see any very good wines below $15 - ever. So $20 a bottle around here is just the starting point!

    Dec 12, 2013 at 12:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Dadio60
    824963 3

    When visiting the Wine store, buy several Cabs In the $10.00 price range. Put your taste buds to work. Guess what, if you like the taste you have found a great wine and you're the connoisseur. Personally, I won't bother with any Cabs if they are not from Cally. Just sayin'

    Dec 12, 2013 at 3:01 PM

  • Snooth User: mbusbey
    213676 76

    One of my favorite Napa Cabs is Cornerstone Cellars and I really enjoy their Stepping Stone as well. You should give them a try, you will not regret it!

    Dec 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM

  • Snooth User: lbjuliet
    305106 1

    i liked Justin's cab from Paso Robles, after it opened up a bit ($25ish). And I second H3 from Columbia Crest. Both are lovely.

    Dec 13, 2013 at 1:33 AM

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

    Hunt around on here and there are lots of forum threads on lower priced wines. GdP has also written quite a bit on value bottles. Absolutely true that most bottles purchased are in that $8-15 range, and folks want the guidance. It's on here, just not in every article.

    Couple points about the price of bottles here: The Mt. Eden can be found for $25 here and there, with a little searching and patience. At that price, if you like wines that aren't all fruit and alcohol, but deliver cab flavor with a little elegance, you cannot go wrong. I have always thought that their price was kept lower by the comparisons to Ridge. I think the Ridge Estate gets a little bump in price from its association with Monte Bello. Mt. Eden is a little under the radar, but they've been making that fantastic wine for a long time. Just thinking about it makes me want to go out and buy some.

    Look around for the Eberle and you might find it for $20 or even a buck or two less. The Eberles are still working in the winery and even in the tasting room on occasion, I hear, and the winery is worth a visit--tastings are complimentary, which is a dying tradition.

    And if you want lower priced value bottles, just keep in mind that there's a lot of wines besides Cab that deliver for less. Between demand and branding, Cab will always carry a premium, so branch out. Sobon Zin or Barbera, blends, Lodi Zins and Petite Sirahs--all kinds of great reds out there that aren't huge corporate outfits but aren't high priced.

    Dec 13, 2013 at 4:11 PM

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

    Great advice Richard. I happen to love the Eberle wines, and as you said searching, and shopping the sales, can get you those wines and the Domaine Eden at remarkable prices given the quality. Also worth noting are producers like Pedroncelli who continue to put out great wines at very affordable prices.

    Dec 14, 2013 at 6:08 PM

  • Compliments for this extensive overview of Cabernets. But I am missing some from the old world. I am an admirer of Super Tuscans. Off course they are not solo Cabernets, but they are based on classic Bordeaux blends.
    For example: Tenuta Monteti Caburnio, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Alicante-Bouschet. 12 months French oak and 12 months bottle ageing. Great for drinking at christmas diner.

    Dec 18, 2013 at 3:38 PM

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