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Thursday, January 14, 2016

You Don't Have to Spend $100 to Get a Great Napa Cabernet

Napa Valley is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and rightly so. Being famous means the demand can outstrip the supply. Vineyard land is expensive, Cab grapes are expensive to purchase, and therefore the wine can be really expensive.

But you don't have to spend a ton of money to get a good Cabernet from Napa Valley. Lots of people seem to want to pay a lot for the trendy, cult stuff -- let them. We're not because we are too poor/too smart (pick one) to do that.

Prices are the winery's retail. You can usually find it for less if the wine is available in your local shops or at an online retailer.

Image from buehlervineyards.com

Beringer Knight's Valley, $32
A historic Napa Valley winery that makes some solid wines. This Cab is actually from a growing area just over the "border" in Sonoma County. Knight's Valley is undeveloped and relatively unknown for wine, but is a great place for growing Cabernet. Okay, so it's kinda cheating having this one on the list, but the rest of them are really grown in Napa.

Buehler Estate Napa Valley, $25
A long-time family winery sitting on what must be a gold mine worth of Napa Valley real estate. Lucky for us they like making Cab and selling it at honest prices. Their "regular" Napa Valley Cabernet made primarily from purchased fruit retails for an amazing $25. The estate Cab is $36.

Franciscan Estate Napa Valley, $28
If you like the red fruit, juicy style Cabs Napa is famous for then this is not your wine. It's a lower alcohol red with eucalyptus, leather and tobacco instead and it needs to age a bit. This is how Napa used to make Cabs before jammy was in.

Markham Napa Valley, $40
These guys are rightly known for their excellent Merlot (also sold at reasonable prices). The Cabs are pretty good, too.

Sequoia Grove Napa Valley, $38
A lesser known, but quality, stop along the Highway 29 corridor in Napa and one of the rare wineries that hold their prices to a reasonable level. They make a $90 Cab for those who like to spend more--I'm sure it's delicious.

Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain, $48
Stu and Charlie have been making wine here long before there was an official Spring Mountain growing area in Napa.  Great Riesling, too.

Image from smithmadrone.com

A note on 2011 Napa Valley wines:
The '11 vintage got knocked by many reviewers. I don't have a lot of experience with the Napa 2011s (I like the Sonoma County ones just fine). Of the few I've had though I would agree that it's a substandard year. All '11s won't be bad. It's just buyer beware. Most wineries are currently selling their 2012 and 2013 Cabs.

Alternatives:
Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is expensive compared to other growing areas. Sonoma County Cab is less expensive to produce. Look for wine from Alexander Valley or Rockpile. Washington State Cabs are less expensive than most California Cabernets. I can't help you with picking out the best bargains from Washington as that's a bit out of my territory.