Cabernet sauvignon has been the most popular red wine among U.S. consumers for decades, and California cabs are the best-sellers.
A style that has emphasized richness and concentration along with pronounced ripe fruit and lavish oak has been dialed back somewhat recently in favor of more balance. The most successful wines still offer solid fruit, supple texture and refined tannins, resulting in offerings that are enticing now but also able to improve with age.
With these wines, expect quality at an attractive price:
- 2013 Rodney Strong Alexander Valley ($28). This is a perennial value with admirable complexity and refined tannins, enabling it to entice drinkers into early consumption but also tempt them to wait a few years and see how it develops.
- 2012 Murphy Goode Alexander Valley ($26). This 100 percent cab wine shows lush, soft fruit and texture with a balancing touch of oak.
- 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley ($25). From Hillside and Benchland vineyards, with dollops of petit verdot, malbec, merlot and cabernet franc, it's inviting right now but will improve for several years.
- 2012 Pedroncelli Block 007 ($25). Estate-grown 100 percent Dry Creek Valley cab delivers pleasant, tart red fruits offset with light herb and oak notes.
- 2013 Educated Guess Napa Valley ($20). Delightfully flavorful and approachable, it has lots of character and appeal for the money.
- 2012 Old Soul Lodi ($14). Surprisingly bold, spicy and assertive with just enough character for the grill.
Sweet spot of quality/value
More money spent on these wines is rewarded with high quality:
- 2012 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley ($50). This is a fabulous tribute to the craft of blending. It's only 75 percent cabernet with 17 percent merlot and drips of cabernet franc, petite verdot and malbec from five vineyards. Quintessentially Napa.
- 2012 Murphy-Goode Terra a Lago ($40). From a vineyard in the foothills of the Mayacamas Range, this 100 percent cab offers good complexity and structure with admirable ripeness.
- 2012 Clos du Val Napa Valley ($38). Known for exhibiting a French touch with Napa fruit, this meets expectations by balancing solid structure with a bright core of fruit.
- 2012 Jackson Estate Alexander Valley ($36). A fine example of Sonoma cab (with small percentages of merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot), its higher-elevation fruit yields an intense yet balanced wine with enticing complexity.
- 2012 J. Lohr Hilltop ($35). A perennial favorite from Paso Robles, its lush red fruit melds nicely with savory notes.
These wines are for those special times when a special bottle is desired:
- 2012 Miner Stagecoach Vineyard ($75). From a highly regarded vineyard in the eastern hills of Atlas Peak in southern Napa Valley, this high-elevation fruit impresses with earthy character and firm structure.
- 2012 Duckhorn Napa Valley ($72). This company that made its name with merlot also produces top-quality cabernet sauvignon (and sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay and blends). This one is typically highly structured and expected to be long lived.
- 2012 Cakebread Napa Valley ($65). Exemplary Napa cabernet with loads of fruit buttressed with solid structure; it will reward years of patience.
- 2013 Chappellet Signature"($60). Classic mountain-grown cab, including fruit from Chappellet's renowned Pritchard Hill, delivers on its reputation for power amid grace.
- 2012 Jackson Estate Hawkeye ($55). Another fine Kendall-Jackson high-elevation Alexander Valley wine that is deeply fruited, highly structured and lusciously textured.
- 2012 Jordan Alexander Valley ($55). Bordeaux is the model for this perennial restaurant favorite. The new vintage reveals more intensity than usual but is still expectedly seductive.