One of the most widely cultivated grapes on the planet, Cabernet Sauvignon has commanded international attention and (often) very high prices since forever. It’s a black-skinned grape that makes deep, full-bodied red wines with (often) enormous aging potential. (I once had the privilege of tasting a Charles Krug 1964, a wine older than I am. It was still discernably a Napa Cabernet.)
Bordeaux, France, and California’s Napa Valley are probably the most vaunted and elite Cab regions, and they’re quite different, thanks to differences in climate, topography, and winemaking styles. But Cabernet pops up in a huge variety of locations around the world, and wherever it grows, it takes on its own unique character. The short version is, it can be quite vegetal (bell peppers!) in cool climates and very jammy (damson plum, cassis, blackberry) in hot ones. And a whole range in the middle. There’s so much of this stuff, actually, and it is so widely varied, that it really deserves a book-length tutorial (and you should have no trouble locating one if you’re interested), but in the meantime, we have a gift-forward holiday approaching (Valentine’s Day). Here are a range of exemplars to consider.
Seven Bottles to Try
Faust (Napa Valley, CA, $140)
This is a special occasion or gift bottle for sure. The limited edition magnum will set you back about $140 but for someone who loves both wine and art, the Faust gold-graffiti bottle is a conversation piece that happens to contain a delightful beverage. Faust (the wine) and Faust (the renowned graffiti artist) collaborated here to create a gorgeous wine in a spectacular limited edition bottle. Jewel-red in the glass, this oaky cabernet (blended with a little bit of Merlot and Petit Verdot) is silky, with a black cherry and plum-driven palate, alongside whisper-notes of blackberry and vanilla. It’s crying out for a high-end piece of red meat.
Fetzer 50th Anniversary Reserve (California, $12)
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are feeding a crowd and want something pleasing that won’t kill your budget, Fetzer’s just released their 50th anniversary wines, including this Cabernet featuring fruit from multiple California AVAs including the Sierra Foothills. This limited edition features bright fruit flavors, and framed by decadent undertones of mocha, vanilla and toffee. Cabs are often blended with small amounts of other grapes-this one’s got Petit Verdot, Merlot and Syrah-to optimize the, this wine is rounded out by bold tannins and a juicy finish.
Légende Pauillac 2014 (Bordeaux, France $54.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon with a splash of Merlot, this bottle is the epitome of what makes Bordeaux so je ne sais what. If you want to go big, This bottle from Lafite will help. This is a powerful, structured wine with well-integrated tannins and a long aromatic black pepper and licorice finish. NB: If this stuff’s too rich for your blood, Légende has other blends for about half the price and 100% of the yumminess.
Noble Vines 337 (Lodi, CA $10)
This is exactly the kind of wine I’m talking about when I say that over a certain price point you’re paying someone’s property taxes. Cabs command massive prices when they come from sexy locations. Then there’s Lodi. Unsexy. But not inhospitable to the King of Grapes. Indeed, this bottle is a super crowd-pleaser, party-friendly, quaffable fella with delightfully balanced acidity and velvety smoothness. More on the fruity end and less on the oak and leather end of the Cab spectrum, it’s still full-bodied and rich. If you’re a red meat eater this is a great wine for Those Who Tend a Tri-Tip over an Open Flame. If you lean the other way it’s also something I’d pair with a cheese-laced polenta or some wild mushrooms.
Novelty Hill Cabernet ¬Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2014 (Washington, $26)
Washington state is not flying as low one the oeno-radar as it once did, and a lot of the good stuff is starting to make you feel it in the bank account area. Novelty Hill is a wine brand I would actually argue is underpriced, and I don’t do that very often. Mike Janiuk is a poet who writes in grape juice instead of ink, I don’t know how else to say it. This Cabernet is a mouthful of cherries and chocolate with a finish that redefines “lingering.” Great structure, elegance, and approachability. Keep your eyes peeled for Novelty Hill wines in general, actually. I’ve never had a disappointing one.
One Hope (California, $20)
One Hope wines are wonderful for people who like their wine paired with a good deed: This Cab supports therapy for children with autism (check them out online for other wines and the causes they support). It’s a little bit of a moody bad-boy, sort of a Lord Byron or James Dean kind of wine, with a lot of coffee notes supported by herbaceous notes like sage and pepper, blackberries and blackcurrants, cocoa and saddle leather.
Pursued by Bear Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington, $85)
This would be a most excellent get for Valentine’s Day or another special occasion with the Twin Peaks geek in your life. Special Agent Dale Cooper can throw down in the winery as much as the screen. And no, this isn’t just a vanity brand, he’s actually involved in the process; he was mentored by the late and lamented Eric Dunham. Native. Here, fruit from two primo sites, DuBrul and Klipsun vineyards, yield cherry, date, and spice flavors. This red wine by the man who spent 27 years in the Red Room has finesse and an exceptionally long finish.
Upshot? Cabernet Sauvignon can be an investment, but it doesn’t have to be. Look for oddball regions if you want a full-throated, oak-loving red that won’t break your budget.