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Great Cabernet Sauvignon for $65 and Under – It Exists

by Monty and Sara Preiser

As we write this a few days before publication, the DOW is up significantly this year and CNN has reported that consumer spending levels in October for the first time matched the pre-recession spending levels of September of 2007. Certain major investments are showing confidence in an economy that has now shown growth in six consecutive months. And Chrysler actually showed a profit on the operating side (interest payments dragged them down to a small loss), and GM is a miracle story of recovery. What does all this mean for wine lovers?

Well, whether you care for the policies of President Obama or not, the facts show they have been relatively successful. And as Winston Churchill once said, “If you don’t look facts in the face, they have a way of stabbing you in the back.” Actually, we concluded personally that the country was better off by just being in Napa all summer, as at least the better hotels, restaurants, and wineries were quite crowded and did good business. And though heavy traffic is the proverbial two edged sword for us, there was more of it on the roads than we had seen in years.

With all of that, what is also true is that Americans are being more careful (smarter?) in HOW they spend their money. More of it on cars, homes, and office improvements. Less on furniture and electronics. Of course, we are interested here in wine, and it seems clear that, as a whole, people are buying almost as much as always, but are spending less per bottle. Anecdotally, collectors and industry observers have already seen this up close. For the first time in a decade or more, many of the so called cult wines that generally cost between about $175 - $650/bottle and are allocated for long time customers only, are now being offered by their producers to the public in general or to new potential wine club members, and sometimes for less money than before.

So it seems that enophiles (and yes to the purists, this is the modern and accepted spelling in the U.S.) – so it seems that enophiles, like all categories of consumers, are shopping with more discretion. A frequent question to us asks where one can find good Cabernet Sauvignons for $65 or less. Well, we’re fixin’ to tell you about some that are not just “good,” but outstanding.

-2006 Artesa Limited Release Napa Valley ($70 SRP, but $52.50 for club members): OK, maybe this does not technically qualify for this list, but we had to list it because of its wonderful secondary characteristics. Tobacco, leather, forest floor, and even some flint make you think this has aged longer than it has. But the fruit (plums and cherries) is still there.

-2007 Black Cat Rutherford ($55): A small vineyard is often able to offer superior wine at a lower price because of a similarly low overhead. Black Cat is one of these. Currant, black fruit and chocolate abound, and the finish is Rutherford “dusty.”

-2006 Darms Lane Bon Passe Vineyard ($60): Only in its second release, keep an eye on this winner. Bright fruit is abundant, and it is supported by tannins that seem to evolve from huge to welcoming by the time you get to the dark chocolate and cocoa powder finish.

-2007 Frank Family Napa Valley ($45): It really is hard for some people to believe that a serious Cab can be made for under $59, but this one exhibits layers of fruit, surprising structure, a hint of leather, and some cocoa at the end.

-2007 Foxen Happy Canyon Vogelzang Vineyard ($50): This vineyards site yields only one ton per acre, so the flavors are compact, concentrated, and seamless. We were able to identify some licorice, chocolate, mint, and clove.

-2007 Hartwell Estate Miste Hill ($60): Black fruit, sweet, and soft tannins come to mind immediately. The interesting finish here stops short for a beat, and comes back big time.

-2006 Inherit the Sheep ($65): A wonderful new winery in the Coombsville area, where the fruit takes advantage of a long, coolish (yet sun-filled after 11 am) growing season. Great concentration of fruit and a smooth finish are this wine’s hallmarks.

-2006 Keenan Napa Valley ($45): We hope we aren’t being redundant to say that Keenan is one of those brands we always look for on wine lists because owner Michael Keenan insists on distributing some affordable wines, even if they could command larger prices. This 100% Cab is mostly from Spring Mountain, offers dark red fruit, plus some very pleasing secondary characteristics.

-2006 and 2007 Lancaster ($65): There is a new sheriff (winemaker) in town at Lancaster, and from what we can tell, he will continue making super wines, and maybe even improve them. The Cabs are undervalued, which is the only way they make it on to this list, of course, but they have lush black fruit, soft tannins, a resounding back palate, and a longer than average finish.

-2005, 2006, & 2007 Long Meadow Ranch ($42): Not surprisingly, each of these wines has a different profile, and, truth be told, we have only tasted the 05 (which is available at the winery and, since our visit, in our collection) and the 06, which is only available to club members for now. Both demonstrate leather, woods, and long finishes. While we have not sampled the 07, it is a great vintage across the board, and there is little doubt the LMR will be superb. And at $42. Go to the website for a pre-release special.

-2006 Markham The Altruist ($55): Stunning in its flavor blend of red and black fruit, you also will find licorice, currant, and baking spices.

-2006 Markham The Philanthropist ($55): Say everything we just said about its little sister above, then add darker fruit and yet another tier of boldness. Some might call The Altruist more feminine in style and The Philanthropist more masculine.
Note: In 2008, Markham created its Mark of Distinction program, a grant initiative designed to cultivate positive change across America by awarding funds to help spearhead or continue community efforts. Two $25,000 grants are given each year, and to celebrate, the winning project information is highlighted on the back labels of The Altruist and The Philanthropist.

-2007 Mi Sueno Napa Valley ($65): Bright red fruit up front precedes currant and cassis in the middle, which precede some chocolate on the finish. Chewy tannins.

-2007 Monticello Tietjen Vineyard ($65): Year in and year out, the coupling of the winemaker and vineyard make this a superb wine at any price. Always well structured and layered, there are some toasty marshmallow notes that follow anise and dark fruit.

-2005 or 2006 Parry Cellars ($60): These wines always have blue and black fruit depth along with spice, cassis, and earth nuances. The structure throughout is excellent, which in some way belies the soft and satin-like tannins.

-2006 Reynolds Family Estate ($45): Yes, $45 is right again, and yet this doesn’t just “sneak into this group,” but belongs as an equal. This wine exhibits an interesting sweetness with a whiff of cherry vanilla, probably due to being aged in 50% French oak and 50% American. One of the few wineries where the Estate is so good it rivals the Reserve.

-2007 Round Pond Estate ($50): Spicy and robust, with a cigar box mid palate and a chocolate back palate, this is the winery’s first estate wine and it is a hot commodity. The addition of some Petit Verdot (as is so often the case) brings fabulous structure and finish.

-2006 Rudd Crossroads Oakville ($65): Sort of like a bouncing ball, this wine is huge, then light, and then bounces back. It’s an interesting sensation as you identify a number of distinct flavors. The Crossroads comes from the same vineyard as the twice as expensive Oakville Estate, so you know it has to be good.

Follow-Up on Food Trucks:
Many comments received on the article about NY and Napa food trucks. Alicia Raymond let us know about the very recent advent of “Marks the Spot,” a fine food truck in Napa offering dishes prepared slowly, and served quickly. On this menu are sliders, regular burgers, dogs, crispy chicken or duck, soups and more. Go to marksthespottruck.com to see where Mark, a trained chef with worldwide experience, will be for the week. We have not tried this one yet, already having returned to Florida for the winter, so let us know what you think.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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