GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Just For Fun top 10 lists - California Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 4, 2011.

So here's a little project I've been kicking around to no end.

The idea is simple, what are the top 10 wines in any region that remain affordable and really deliver exceptional experiences?

I know there are so many varaibles here but a list of 10 is large enough to account for the variables.

So let me start by defining affordable. I would say, in this conext, an affordable bottle is one that when purchased by a group for a tasting is, well , affordable and I'm pegging that at less than $150 a bottle.

So that was the easy part, now I begin the hard part. Naming names. Starting with California Cabernet seems to be a comfortable place. So in no particualr order, if I wanted to blow the shoes off of someone looking for grea Californai Cabernet I would be pouting


1 - Ridge Monte Bello

2 - Mondavi Private Reserve

3 - Mayacamas

4 - Dunn Napa

5 - Dunn Howell Mountain

6 - La Jota Anniversary

7 - Chappellett Prtichard Hill

8 - Rafanelli Terrace Select

Then maybe Pahlmeyer, Spottswood, Laurel Glen, Lokoya,


Any suggestions? Any giant killers? Once we nail this down we can move onto the next group and eventually end up with the greatest wines of the world list, tasting, book, and movie....



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Reply by dmcker, Jan 4, 2011.

What happened to Charles Krug, Greg? Thought you liked them? And I see Montelena also doesn't make the cut.

I'm with you on the first five and maybe no. 7, but think Pahlmeyer and Spottswoode have slipped a little (still have some from the '80s and early '90s, though).

Will have to ponder further for my full list. You have a lot easier access to more current stuff than I do. I'm thinking Mt. Eden and Arnot-Roberts, of course. Not sure where to place Insignia and Dominus these days....

BTW, your closing note makes me wonder. Got your Hollywood agent lined up yet?  ;-)

Reply by John Andrews, Jan 4, 2011.

Here is my top 10.

  1. John Anthony 
  2. Larkmead
  3. Viader 
  4. Honig 
  5. Corison 
  6. Cortesan Wines/Bridget Wines
  7. Cakebread
  8. Turnbull
  9. St. Supery 
  10. Robert Kennan 

As with Greg, these aren't in any particular order but most wineries wouldn't rise/drop more than two spots.  

Honorable mention to: Pahlmeyer, Pine Ridge, Ridge, Justin & Joseph Phelps.  


Reply by GregT, Jan 5, 2011.

Pahlmeyer Merlot is better than their Cab.  And I agree that recent vintages aren't on par with those from the 1990s.

Dunn doesn't need both on the list. I find the regular bottling to age as well and be as good as the Howell for less money, so I'm always wondering about the purpose of the Howell.  One should be on the list tho - it's one of the great Cabs.

Less than $150 kills things like Shafer HSS, which should be on the list, but OK.

Spottswoode is interesting - I've had those from the 1970s and they're wonderful.  Are the new ones?  Not sure, but one of the first great aged CA Cabs I ever had was a Spottswoode and I think they're worthy of consideration.

Laurel Glen is an interesting call - not many people talk about that wine but it's really good and not overpriced.  One of the best?  Not sure.

What about Staglin? I'd include them.

Corison is a stylistic choice, like Mayacamas and Dunn.  I love her wines and have loved them for a long time but those are outliers in a sense. Still, since they're good and illustrate the diversity of CA Cabs from Napa, those might be worth including.

And what about Dalle Valle?  Or Beringer PR?  Or Heitz?  Or BV George de la Tour?  All proven to age and develop.

And from farther south, Justin Isoceles.  In a blind tasting, it stands up.

Reply by John Andrews, Jan 5, 2011.

I should have added two more honorable mentions:

  1. Matriarch by Bond
  2. Continuum 

Continuum is pushing up against the $150 mark but Matriarch is definitely one of those lesser known gems.  

Reply by outthere, Jan 5, 2011.

Chateau Boswell - Am I pushing the price limit?

Myriad BGIII

Rivers Marie


Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jan 5, 2011.

When the thread comes to its conclusion, Greg you should do a poll on the top 10 across the board, would certainly be very interesting to the non Calis looking for guidance [like me]

Reply by John Andrews, Jan 5, 2011.

Interesting how there is NO overlap so far. 

Reply by JonDerry, Jan 5, 2011.

Excellent topic!

What i'm keying in on here is this: "blowing the shoes off of someone". 

To keep the pricing in perspective:

1. O'Shaughnessy: I've pretty much fallen in love with their 2006 Howell Mountain, and am stockpiling it. Visited the winery earlier this year, and the quality of the 07's is excellent as well, I went home with a number of the 07' Mt. Veeder.  ~$70 for Howell Mountain, $95 for Mt. Veeder.

2. Larkmead: This winery has of course had success in the past but I think it's getting better.  Start with the 08' and am looking for great things to come - especially at the $60 straight cab level up to $95 for the solari reserve. That said, this is a little more of a QPR winery than a shocker.

3. Shafer Hillside Select: I know this doesn't meet the pricing guidelines set forth, but agree with Greg here - you have to list throw this one in.  Was actually able to buy the 2002 at LA Prime for $259 with dinner in May, 2010.  Couldn't pass it up!  It was a remarkable showing and was a 96-97 pointer easily.  Must say I don't really trust the One Point Five to wow anyone.  At $70, it's tough to recommend.  Awesome nose, enjoyable wine, but just not worth the $.

4. Spottswoode: At the top end of the price range at around $200, and actually the 2007 is selling for about $255, but this is definitely a living legend in Napa.  Still producing top notch wines.

5. Crocker & Starr: At around $95.00 this will rock plenty of sox.

6. Joseph Phelps Backus: Extending a bit on the pricing again here at around $200, plus or minus but this is the top dog in a stable full of Napa Cab legends.

7. Dominus: Another Napa Cab staple that have kept their prices somewhat honest at around $100 in the face of the cult cab pricing craze.

8. Kapcsandy: Yeah, yeah...raising the stakes once again, and at around $500 for the 2007 Cabernet, but quite a bit.  But this is top of the food chain CA Cabernet and a world class winery.  Had to mention.

9. Mount Eden: Doesn't need much explanation. Value, consistency, etc.

10. Ramey: Blue-blooded cabs that meet the price criteria.

*Caymus: Not for the purists, but you could do a lot worse trying to wow someone for $60.00 spent on a Napa Cab


Reply by JonDerry, Jan 5, 2011.

GDP - In full agreeance w/ #7 as well.

HondaJohn - think Honig is definitely worth tracking for their best years at around the $30 level, but don't think their best wines will wow many.  Their 2000 & 2007 were among my favorites, topping out at about 90 points (my opinion). Spectator gave the 07' a 92, but that's a bit high for me.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 5, 2011.

OK, I was shooting from the hip a it here. Some great suggestions from all, going to revist and amend the list. O'Shaughnessy, Corison and Keenan stand out as big ommisions on my part.

By the way, just tried the 2006 Keenan Cabs. I was a big fan of the big red K back in the day. I think in 84 or 85 they changed the label to a big gold K and the wines changed in style. I still have some of those original red K bottles in inventory, probably time to revisit.

But back the the 2006s. Both good, but the Spring Mountain District was really pretty exciting, and inexpensive as well. A great candidate for laying down over the medium term.

Reply by ama il vino, Jan 7, 2011.

First ever blog post/reply and new to snooth.

Not sure this is the site for me if affordable is $150.00?

2008 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis, or Fay Vineyard. This vintage is the first start to finish vintage since the Antinori Family and Chateau St. Michelle purchased the Estate.

2007 Kuleto Cabernet was wonderful in truth we had it at the vineyard which is beyond belief and it may have slanted my judgement.

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Jan 7, 2011.

ama, hopefully the change will be positive, because SL Artemis is the single-handed worst $30+ wine I've ever, ever had.

Reply by outthere, Jan 7, 2011.

Quite the welcome. If you didn't notice GDD doesn't hold anything back.

The $150 ceiling was needed when discussing top 10 cabs because most the good ones are above $50 and usually above $100. Don't fret though, there are plenty of affordable wines discussed here. Moreso than on other blogs. Welcome to Snooth!

Reply by GregT, Jan 7, 2011.

ama il  vino - please don't take it the wrong way and continue to speak up.  I get the feeling you haven't had a whole lot of good CA wines but perhaps some Italian?  Because I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with GDD. 

And no, affordable is NOT $150.

Greg was just trying to get together a list of great wines that weren't completely insane in price.  Just a little insane.

I would love it if there were a lot of great wines around $30 from CA and Laurel Glen makes a really good wine around that price range, but people are willing to pay a lot more for some reason, so the wineries charge more.  Everyone's dream is to find a fantastic value in CA for $30 or so and to do so, at this point you have to leave Napa because the wineries there can just charge a lot more for their wine because of the name.

But most definitely stick around!


Reply by ama il vino, Jan 10, 2011.

Wow this crowd is tough, I have been to Napa 5 times in the last 10 years. I would like to think I had one or two wines that were good. I like California wines, but Greg T. is correct my love is old world wines. I am holding firm that the SLWC 2007 which I purchased for less then 40.00 retail is a great bargin. I must admit I do not get caught up in the hunt for cult wines. And since I started really tastings and enjoying wine the quality has improved at the lower end and become silly at the high end. Last night with dinner we had Paul Cluver 7 Flags Pinot Noir from South Africa, it was a wonderful old world style of Pinot, I made a horrible mess of the pork but the wine made everything quite nice.

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Jan 10, 2011.

Hopefully the 07 is better than their past efforts.

Anyhow, welcome to Snooth.  Some of us are an opinionated bunch.  ;)

Reply by sophiehudson, Jan 11, 2011.

What about Blackbird, Lail, and Tor?

Reply by GregT, Jan 11, 2011.

Ama - you can do better than the Stags Leap.  One of the things to keep in mind is that they're kind of a legend in Napa, so they get to charge about $10 more than they should!  Next time you're there, go next door to Steltzner.  And if you're nice, they'll open an older vintage.  Then you'll see what I mean.

I like Steltzner a lot.  If someone else owned the place, they'd play up the Napa and even more, the Stag's Leap area connection, they'd send their wines for ratings, and they'd amp up the pricing.  There are a few producers in Napa who put out great quality for the prices, and I'd actually include B.V. in that group, but Napa is the premier name in the US so people are willing to pay for it.

I think you're right on the money too - try wine from all over and figure out what you like.  Maybe it's a South African Pinot Noir.  Why not?

Reply by ama il vino, Jan 12, 2011.

Perhaps I missed the point I guess I was just a little shell shocked by the price point and the word reasonable.

I would add the Caymus Napa Cab because you need something you can drink right now and they are unusually tasty right away.

Nickel & Nickel Carpenters

I have some other favorites Phelps, and Heitz.

Have not been opening any napa cab's latley but today at my house we have over 20 inches of snow tonight might be a good night to start.

Maybe you can help me decide.

01 Phelphs Cab

02 Woltener

99 Nickel & Nickel

03 Twenty Bench

96-97-98 RM Reserve Napa

04 Generations


Reply by JonDerry, Jan 12, 2011.

Nice list, would be interested to see how the Nick - Nickel is.

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