Wine Talk

Snooth User: AdrianSmith

Your fave Cab under $20?!

Posted by AdrianSmith, Sep 19, 2014.

Whats your favorite penny saving cab and WHY?!  :)

To make it easier, feel free to follow this format!

Name: Belle Ambience
Price (roughly): $9
Why: Deep fruity notes of red berries, cherries and  a little vanilla dolce at the end. A perfect way to wind down and relax in the evening after a long hard day at work.

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Reply by dmcker, Sep 19, 2014.

Louis Martini (Sonoma) cab, circa 1990. Approx. $7.00. Well structured, not too heavy on the oak, balance of fruit and acidity, medium-to-long finish, even aging potential. Well made by someone who both respected the best of what Bordeaux aims for but also could take advantage of good, cheap (in the day) Sonoma fruit and wanted to get good quality out at reasonable price. Alcohol usually below 13%. Well distributed (could find in most liquor stores of the day, at least in CA).

Where is the equivalent now?


Who wants vanilla dolce in their cabs??  And where did the cherries come from? Somebody blend in some CA pinot?? ;-)


Waterstone is a decent current option, often available at $19.95.

Reply by jtryka, Oct 2, 2014.

I just had a bottle of 2012 Encantado Cabernet (made by Pine Ridge Vineyards) last night that I thought was really excellent at $19.  Louis Martini is always a great choice but the price has been increasing the last few years, I remember in 2010 you could get the Napa Cab for about $17, now the Sonoma is a little higher than that and the Napa is now approaching $30!

Reply by JonDerry, Oct 2, 2014.

Was thinking about my fave under $30 recently. 

And my two picks out of Napa would be Buehler and Twenty Bench

Reply by dmcker, Oct 2, 2014.

Martini these days is not the Martini of old content-wise, either, since they were bought by a conglomerate. Good for the Martini family, not good for consumers...

Reply by outthere, Oct 2, 2014.

Conglomerate = Gallo

Reply by dmcker, Oct 2, 2014.

Same diff. Within the wine context they qualify as such.

Reply by dvogler, Oct 2, 2014.

OT, do you drink Gallo?

Reply by dvogler, Oct 2, 2014.

I can't readily buy a cab under $20 in BC.  When I go to Seattle, the Kiona cab is $22 and is great.

Reply by dmcker, Oct 2, 2014.

This goes back to that earlier discussion. You can get decent (if not sock-knockers) cab blends for well under $20 in and even from France. Used to be possible (as in Martini, for example) back in the day in North America. WTF is going on with how the market is pushing the juice so high in price??

Reply by GregT, Oct 3, 2014.

Gallo owns a lot of stuff around the world these days, and they're importers too. But I drank a Gallo wine last night - Las Rocas. It was created by Eric Solomon, who found a co-op in Spain that had good old Garnacha vines and eventually he sold it to Gallo. Not great by any means but competent and I was tired and wanted something that was a known quantity. It's not as good as in prior years, but if Gallo can do anything, they can ensure consistency, which was a problem in the earlier days.

Back in the 1990s they tried to go a little upscale with their wine but they got that out of their system soon enough. I can't imagine a Cab that they do that I'd really look for. Under $20 there's Steltzner Claret, although they're sold now too so who knows what's going to happen to that, then there was something by Newton, and Buehler but they've kind of changed in the last 10 years, maybe Kenwood Jack London - that's about $20 here.

Washington is better - the Kiona, Cougar Crest, Chat. St Michelle, and you really want to get Merlot anyway so consider Arbor Crest, Novelty Hill, and a few others.

Outside of the US, Argentina has plenty of good Cab under $20, as does Australia. France not so much, or to be fair, not so much that I know. There's a lot of wine in Bordeaux that isn't crazy expensive. Most of the cheaper ones I've tried aren't really that good, but there has to be some.

Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2014.

Re: Gallo, actually was taken by a Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet in 2010.

Reply by dmcker, Oct 3, 2014.

Some Bordeauxish options:

  • La Parde de Haut-Bailly is about $20 in France, less in Switzerland (!), more in the States. 2nd wine of the Chateau, which has improved quite a bit in recent years.
  • Chateux Teyssier (St. Emilion), Olivier (Pessac-Leognan) and Potensac (Medoc) can still be found under $30, if not $20 anymore. Oliver's white is also excellent. It's the discount version of when I want Domaine de Chevalier (either red or white) but don't want to pay the tariff. Would have to do a websearch on some of my other old standbys to see where they are currently priced....
  • Some negociants like Cordier put out Bordeaux-blend bottlings with names like 'Bordeaux Grand Vin Prestige' (name may change depending on the market but will be similar to this) at around 10 Euros that are more than merely drinkable and to my palate are better than many mentioned in the posts above. Buying them is kinda like the buying decision Greg described for his Las Rocas.
  • Drop down to Friuli and get some merlots from the likes of Bidoli Vini for around 10 euros. In this pricerange Italian Bordeaux blends can be a good option, even down in Tuscany where prices definitely rise. In Tuscany one 'safe' option is Lucente from the Frescobaldi/Mondavi venture for $15~$20. Between $20 and $30 there are many, many very good options both for Bordeaux blends and those including Sangiovese.


These are just off the top of my head with 30secs' thought, based on purchases I've actually made, locally or overseas. If i were to spend 30mins instead and do some websearches I could fill a whole page worth's of post, I'm sure.



P.S. As I noted near the top of this thread Waterstone is a good Napa option for sometimes just under $20. What are the lower-end Chappellets going for these days?


Reply by dmcker, Oct 3, 2014.

As I'm thinking back on cab prices in the past I also recall Sebastiani. It was another safe, cheap, good buy well throughout the '90s. Guess the same type of thing happened to it (Constellation?) that happened to Louis Martini....

Then, though I'm going off on a wee tangent, there were also these folks waaay back when....  ;-)


They and a few others were mainstream consumption when I first became aware of wine and its advertising, with growing competition from the likes of Korbel in sparkling and then heading upward in quality these guys:


and of course BV and Inglenook, all of which were quite reasonable throughout the '80s. Heitz and Stag's Leap always wanted to price themselves higher. Mondavi was split between new opportunities (thus his Reserve pricing) and what he'd learned from his dad at Krug, so early on his regular cab bottlings were quite reasonable, while he also carved out new markets with reasonably priced 'Fume Blanc'. On the other hand he then launched that series of inflationary international JVs, which started with the uber-pricey Opus One....



So if I were in business school and wanted to look at how California started pricing itself way above the international standard I guess I'd look at what happened from the end of the '80s through the beginning of the naughties, tying to events like conglomerate buyouts and dotcom bubbles--with predecessor rumblings from the likes of the Judgment of Paris and the intense PR and marketing efforts that followed it, as well as Mondavi marketing initiatves. Somewhere in there might also come behind-the-scenes machinations by the Wine Institute and a few others, followed by the entrance of every finewine marketer's champion, RP. All the arrivistes who wanted to buy the latest cool wine, but had to be told which that was, followed by too many people dreaming of making wine in Napa, supported by a mushrooming industry on every level, leading to too-high land prices and other infrastructural costs and too many bank loans requiring inflationary pricing for survival which were then swallowed by more arrivistes, cult wine prices dragging lower-echelon wines higher up the price scale, etc., etc. Not sure how much labor costs would enter into it since immigration status wasn't as much an issue until Homeland Security came on the scene, which was long after the prices had begun rocketing....

Reply by outthere, Oct 3, 2014.

"OT, do you drink Gallo?"

Yep, I do, as do many here. Gallo brands are far reaching. Look what's on my countertop right now...


Frei Bros is a Gallo brand, so is Louis Martini. That Rancho Zabaco that EMark drank the other night, you guessed it, Gallo brand. They are a huge operation that produces a lot of pedestrian wine. They also make wines on a higher tier albeit not a whole lot. Can you afford $35+ wines 7 nights a week?

Alamos Selección
Barefoot Bubbly®
Barefoot® Refresh®
Bartles & Jaymes®
Bella Sera®
Bodega Elena de Mendoza®
Boone's Farm®
Bridlewood®Estate Winery
Carlo Rossi®
Carlo Rossi®Founder's Blend
Cask & Cream®
Clarendon Hills
Columbia Winery™
Covey Run® Winery
Dancing Bull®
Don Miguel Gascon®
E. & J. ® VS Brandy
E. & J. ® VSOP Brandy
E. & J. ® XO Brandy
Ecco Domani®
Edna Valley Vineyard®
Familia Camarena® Tequila
Frei Brothers® Reserve
Gallo Family Vineyards® Estate
Gallo Family Vineyards® Single Vineyard
Gallo Family Vineyards® Sonoma Reserve
Gallo Family Vineyard®
Gallo® Signature Series
Ghost Pines®
La Marca®
Las Rocas®
Liberty Creek®
Livingston Cellars®
Louis M. Martini®
MacMurray Ranch®
Madria Sangria®
Martĩn Cõdax®
Maso Canali®
Mia Dolcea™
New Amsterdam® Gin
New Amsterdam® Vodka
Peter Vella®
Pölka Dot®
Rancho Zabaco®
Red Rock Winery®
Redwood Creek®
Sheffield Cellars®
Shellback® Rum
The Naked Grape®
Tisdale Vineyards®
Turning Leaf®
Turning Leaf® Refresh
Wild Vines®
William Hill Estate ®
WM. Wycliff Vineyards® Sparkling


Reply by Really Big Al, Oct 3, 2014.

Name: Montoya 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley
Price (exactly): $19.99
Why: The first CA cab that got me hooked on drinking quality wine.  I picked up a bottle today when I paid a visit to Total Wine.  You know the routine - $20 coupon if you spend $100 or more.  I spent more!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 3, 2014.

I see probably a half dozen or more wines on that list from Gallo that I drink or would drink without a problem.  Martin Codax is effectively a version of Gallo for certain regions of Spain--they made, distributed, and exported all kinds of stuff.  Good Albarino, if not stellar.  Wm Hill was a nice place to visit last year and the stuff they sell at the winery (Benchland series, or some such) was good enough I bought some bottles.  MacMurray is still decent Pinot if you are stuck some place where you don't have great wine culture.  Brancaia, from the Blu series to Tre, it's 20-ish/bottle, is quite good, very reliable. 

Now, back to the OP:  As a bargain hunter of note, I drink less Cab than I used to, but good bottles can be had for around $20.  Franciscan has been doing a good job at about $24 (and I'm sure they are part of a conglomerate); Liberty School was pretty good a while back, although it's been about 3 years since I had any.  I've been disappointed by Waterstone, to be frank, but maybe I expected too much.  Kestrel in WA makes a wine called Lady in Red that is all packaging, you'd think, but the cab turned out to be pretty good, and I see it here and there for $12-20.  If you shop around, Clos Du Val makes their basic Napa Cab for $24 and it's dusty, milk chocolatey in a good way, and worth that small uptick in price.

I've been drinking a ton of good Cab lately that I paid less than $20 (and even less than $10) for after the crisis of 2007-9.  Altus (2nd label of Merus), Villa Hermosa (now out of business), Sodaro (right next to $150/bottle Meteor and Meteor stole their winemakers), Phelan (also out of business, sold grapes to Silver Oak then tried to go it on their own, big mistake), all in 2006 vintages and all under $20.  But their original retails were upwards of $60.

I don't really agree with the blanket statement that Cal Cab is overpriced.  There's a lot of it that doesn't appeal to me, and quite a bit that is priced like Veblen goods (Colgin, Screaming Eagle, Harlan, quite a few others) but that's really not the way to look at it.  By volume and even label, there's a lot more Bordeaux that sells at prices unrelated to quality IMO.  Ridge ain't cheap at $150 or so, but drinks better than plenty of Bords at much higher prices.  And there's a lot less of it.  It's hard to justify some of the prices in Cab except that the market will pay them.  It can crop higher than Pinot or Syrah (and Zin, for that matter) and still produce quality.  It's only fairly recently that the land prices in Napa have gone so high that any new producer has to charge $150 a bottle to break even; of course, those land prices reflect that the cult  producers started realizing they could get those prices if they hyped their product (by older, I mean things started in the 90s and after, but not in the last ten years).  Sadly, great wines were being made at reasonable prices from vineyards like ToKalon, but now growers like Beckstoffer own those vineyards, not the wineries that once did, and actually force makers to charge higher prices if they are going to name the vineyard on the label.  (True:  One of my favorite over-$20 cab producers uses enough ToKalon or George III fruit in his wine that he could designate it, but Andy insists he doesn't charge enough by about $30 to use the name.  The contract is a very long one, so they are just stuck in a standoff.)

Now, my new candidate for the best deal in Cab (over $20 category) is Hendry.  I'll be submitting a longer piece on them soon, but for $55, you get fruit that used to go in a wine that now fetches three figures.  And you support something that is the opposite of a conglomerate.

Reply by dmcker, Oct 3, 2014.

A sad state of affairs when the 'best deal' is $55. Frankly absurd and Alice-i-W-ish. You're possibly too close to see how wrong that picture is.  ;-)

And Waterstone's relative weakness (wasn't weak at first but seems to have become more so over time for whatever production reasons) when it has been one of the best lower-priced cabs was what again caused me to wonder what was wrong with the CA pricing model (after starting to do so in the early '90s when I was helping people import to Japan). When you have all the money in the world (or what seems like it to you) then you can ignore inflationary bubbles and the like, but when budgets are lower you start seeing things, perhaps, more clearly. The better CA wine priced itself out of international markets back in the '90s. No skin off many producers' whatever-part-of-anatomy when people with money are buying domestically, but it has contributed to a skewed, questionable wine culture as viewed from overseas. Over the past decade or more even lesser wines have also risen high enough in price to cause not only eyebrow raises but nose laughs, and an even lesser interest by many to try them.

And the Bordeaux/Burgundy/possibly-Rhone bubble is another subject for a grad-school paper. Minus the Chinese am curious how it might have evolved.

Reply by dvogler, Oct 3, 2014.

I see about TWO dozen that I wouldn't touch!

Reply by William Djubin, Oct 4, 2014.

I would reach to Chile or Argentina or Australia for your flavor.. Enjoy >$20 and figure it out..

Do you honestly think you would enjoy my taste?? come on...

Reply by GregT, Oct 4, 2014.

Yep. But that's where Gallo always made their money. In the 1950s, lots of their their customers were winos. It was Mondavi who pushed wine upscale in the US. Gallo has been very smart in that they never forgot where their cash came from. Some of those wines are quite drinkable, at least as good as what you're likely to get in many a cafe in Europe. The rest are kind of like those packages of ramen noodles - the point is more to evoke the idea of wine rather than to deliver.

I think D nailed it though, particularly in the last paragraph. People with lots of money came in and "gentrified" the area, which was a farming region until the good folks at places like the Wine Spectator started writing about "glamour". Jess Jackson made his money in wine, but guys like Harlan, Hall, etc., made their money elsewhere and picked up wineries as a hobby.

But it is not unique to Napa. Who is buying up Bordeaux? Insurance companies, LVMH, and of late, the Chinese. They're not interested in putting out a $10 wine, they're looking for prestige. Maybe there are places in CA that can produce wine as good as anything in Napa, but there's no prestige to those places yet, so the wines are cheaper. Same with different grape varieties, which is another thing Mondavi taught. It's kind of a shame that people are so focused on the variety that they will over-pay for Cab and won't pay for wine that can be every bit as good.


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