My wife thinks i’m a wine snob and has been pointing this out for quite some time. I, of course, have been vehemently disagreeing with her, in a nice way, until I finished my outline for this article. The wife bases her argument on my palate, which she claims tends to wines that are too dry, earthy, tannic, leathery etc., etc,.
The truth is that my wife is more typical of a majority of wine drinkers out there who just want a decent glass of wine that is fruit forward, soft and pleasing. They also want the wine shopping experience to be easy and familiar. If you have been reading my articles on a regular basis you’ve probably noticed that I don’t write much about California wines. That is because in the price range of under $20, where I try to focus, the wines generally don’t fit my criteria for terroir—the combination of their climate, soil, grape variety, and vintage. When I taste the same wine from two vintages the style should be consistent but the wines should be different. To me that’s a turn on. To my wife and many others, that’s snobbery and a turn off. In a way they are right because there is something to be said for a wine to taste the same year in and year out. Therefore I have chosen several California Cabernet Sauvignons that are widely available and retail for under $15. I think the goal of most of these wines is a similar taste and style regardless of vintage. I do think there are differences in vintages in California, especially in the premier growing regions; however, they will not be as apparent in this price range.
The tasting was done blind by a panel of Thom Wysham, Elon Bliden and myself. I chose the wines, removed the corks and capsules and gave them to a neutral party to put in paper bags and number. Thom and Elon were told the theme i.e.; California Cabs under $15. Here are the results of those wines that stood out on a 20 point scale...
Avalon Napa Valley 2007 • $14.99
Pretty sophisticated for price, dark garnet with spice and dark berry nose, good balance of tannins, acid and fruit. A full rich palate and long finish with some complexity.
Conclusion: excellent value worth buying multiple bottles or a case. [Score 17]
Ancient Peaks Paso Robles 2006 • $14.99
Quite a nice fruit style Cabernet from a warmer appellation way south of Napa. Plump berry nose is the best asset with good mouth feel and ripe tannins.
Conclusion: Good winemaking and high quality fruit, excellent value. [Score 16]
J. Lohr Paso Robles 7- Oaks 2007 • $14.99
Smells like Cabernet and tastes like Cabernet—a good start. Plump and rich with a slight minty quality, a bit softer than Ancient Peaks but still well made.
Conclusion: Could use a little more structure but still decent. [Score 15.5]
Cannonball California 2007 • $12.99
Elon really liked this wine and so do our customers. It is very soft, friendly and straight forward.
Conclusion: A Cabernet that doesn’t require food. [Score 14]