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Monday, September 25, 2023

Widely Available Bargain California Cabernet Sauvignon


S.W. and Rich Hermansen
Guest Writers

A friend who has followed Wine Times from its beginning mentioned that he and his wife are now experimenting with wines other than those from their favorite Cabernet Sauvignon vintages from the Napa Valley. Bravo! But then he surprised us by adding that finding Napa Cabernet Sauvignon locally has become a challenge.

Setting aside the question of whether other varieties of red wine have a better price-quality trade-off than Cabernet Sauvignon, we have investigated how widely available California Cabernet Sauvignon compares with the pricier and less widely available Napa Valley superstars. Note the distinction between California and Napa Valley. Paul Draper, the premier California winemaker, now emeritus, found it amusing that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had achieved its lofty reputation even though grapes in his signature Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet (2016 vintage $250 if available) come from a vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, several hundred miles south of Napa. That leads us to think that the ritzy Napa appellation may contribute to the high price tags on its signature Cabernet Sauvignon and its scarcity at local wine shops. Perhaps Cabernet from the other wine regions in California offer comparable quality at price points that local distributors and retailers think the market will bear.

Consider one of our favorites, the Paso Robles region just north of San Luis Obispo at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This region has cool nights and hot, dry days with Pacific breezes. The Cabernet grape thrives there and ripens fully under the bright skies in the fall. The local Farmers’ Market has an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, including exotic cherimoya with creamy flavors of banana, pineapple, strawberry, and kiwi, and over forty varieties of dates. But we digress…. A spectrum of microclimates dot the region and foster an amazing diversity of wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon. J. Lohr vineyards produces excellent Cabernet with national distribution at prices that range from $12 for the 2018 Seven Oaks to $30 for the 2016 Hilltop estates. A classic brand that dates back to the 1960’s, Concannon, sells the 2019 Paso Robles Cabernet for $17.

In the wide open spaces of the Central Valley east of Paso Robles and close to Fresno, the Lodi Valley, a region better known for growing table grapes, the 2018 Klinker Brick Cabernet Sauvignon ($19) features black plum and cherry fruit flavors and a plush finish. From the volcanic soil in the northern part of Lake County, north of Napa, the 2019 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet ($36) rivals much pricier Cabernet from Napa Valley. One has a better chance of finding wines from these less well known regions at Total Wine and Beverage.

Excellent selections of Cabernet Sauvignon come from Washington State, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Australia (blended with Shiraz), and Italy (Super Tuscans), as well as the Bordeaux and other regions of France. Once you have found examples of Cabernet that you prefer, challenge local wine shops to recommend better alternatives that they keep in stock.

Longer story shorter, the strong demand for Napa and Sonoma Cabernet has driven up prices in the wholesale market and raised retail price points to levels that make local wine shops reluctant to stock many bottles. The prices exceed the budgets of most their customers. Outstanding alternatives from within and outside California may prove to be easier and better finds at this time.

S. W. Hermansen has used his expertise in econometrics, data science and epidemiology to help develop research databases for the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and Health Resources and Services. He has visited premier vineyards and taste wines from major appellations in California, Oregon, New York State, and internationally from Tuscany and the Piedmont in Italy, the Ribera del Duero in Spain, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia, and the Otego Valley in New Zealand. Currently he splits time between residences in Chevy Chase, Maryland and St. Armand’s Circle in Florida.

Rich Hermansen selected has first wine list for a restaurant shortly after graduating from college with a degree in Mathematics. He has extensive service and management experience in the food and wine industry. Family and friends rate him as their favorite chef, bartender, and wine steward. He lives in Severna Park, Maryland.

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