Seven ‘smart buys’ on premium California Cabernet Sauvignon

These California Cabernet Sauvignons won’t put a hole in your wallet while adding value to your wine portfolio.

Selecting a top-notch Sauvignon for the holidays shouldn’t bust your budget.There are many exciting U.S. wines on the market, especially from California where cab is king. But as we often do around the holidays, the tendency is to splurge and overspend. I hope the following selections help you to resist that temptation – and keep more money in your wallet for other things.

First, I take aim at a recent article in a major wine magazine. The writer reviewed over 600 California cabernets from the excellent 2016 vintage and compiled a list of his top 30 choices, all of which were rated 94 points or higher. The average cost of his selections was $265 a bottle. Wow! Reading between the lines, the article suggested that few wines below $50 could attain such high quality ratings. That’s absurd. I’ve tasted many cabs in the $20 to $50 range that are well made and outstanding for the price. If anything, I hope to convince you of the value in wine.

Here is the first of several “smart buys” list I’ll be writing over the next several weeks.

Bella Union Napa Valley 2016, (SRP $80) – “Second label” wines from prestigious wine houses usually yield outstanding values. Bella Union shares its single-vineyard pedigree with the makers of Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Velvety Bella Union shows intense plum, cherry and blackberry fruit laced with spicy clove. (Wine Enthusiast gave the 2015 vintage 94 points). I scooped up the 2016 at the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover for $59.99.

The Hess Collection Allomi Napa Valley 2017, (SRP $33.99) – Allomi Vineyard in western Napa escaped the wildfires chaos and produced an abundant harvest of elegant fruit. The deep purple wine is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and filled out with Petite Sirah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot. My tasting revealed dark, juicy delicious blackberry and plum flavors and a soft vanilla coating. Allomi’s on sale in New Hampshire for $26.99.

Miro Cellars Reserve 2016, Sonoma (SRP $38) – Miro Tcholakov climbs 2,200 feet atop Cloverdale’s Pine Mountain to reach Silverwood Vineyard’s bounty for this luxurious wine. The elevated site rises above the Russian River Valley’s fog layer to allow more sunshine and milder temperatures. Richly aromatic with baking spices, Miro bursts powerfully at mid-palate with layers of black cherry and mocha cream flavors. It’s a bargain at $29.99 at the Wine ConneXtion.

J. Lohr Hilltop 2016, Paso Robles (SRP $29.99) –  The winery’s sold out this superb vintage but bottles are still circulating in Massachusetts and N.H. It was recently on sale for $21.99 in several border stores. This plump, lush cab (Petit Verdot-Cabernet Franc make up 10% of the blend) competes gamely with Napa’s big boys for a pittance of the price.

Coppola Diamond Collection Claret 2017 Black Label (SRP $19.99) –  Movie director Francis Ford Coppola is called the “Godfather of U.S. claret” for good reason. He’s got a perennial star in his Napa-sourced claret, a term used by British elite to describe Bordeaux-style cabernet blends. But there’s nothing stuffy here, just a fragrant, and robust cabernet highlighted by sweet, soft tannins. Gold-netting adds luster to the bottle. Get it on sale in N.H. for $14.99.

B.R. Cohn Cabernet Silver Label Sauvignon 2016, Sonoma County, (SRP $24.99) – With 17% percent Merlot in support, this cabernet sauvignon (79%) is both supple and bright with red and dark fruit flavors. Vanilla bean and allspice add to the layered complexity. Buy this now at a $5 discount in N.H.

 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2016 (SRP $45) – If there were a Mount Rushmore to U.S. wine icons, Robert Mondavi would be the visionary Abe Lincoln of the group. For Mondavi’s “entry” level wine, this is a juicy, delicious, overachieving red considering that the highly acclaimed grand cru, Robert Mondavi The Reserve 2016, costs $164 a bottle. Of course, the latter is a great wine, but for penny-pinchers like me any Robert Mondavi wine in the $25 to $45 range is a smart buy on quality.