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Brian St. Pierre

Professional Wine Expert

Best Cabernet Sauvignon & California Cabernet Sauvignon

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Right now is a good time to be a lover - or even a friend, for that matter - of Cabernet Sauvignon: California’s 2004 vintage, just released, is a bounty of richness and elegance, and Bordeaux 2005, appearing on the market shortly, has been hailed as the best vintage for several decades.

Of course, playing the game at the top level means putting nothing but the blue chips on the table; in many cases, sticker-shock is part of the package, and then there’s the necessity for aging the stuff into something exquisite, which means your pleasure is a dream deferred for at least ten years, probably more. On the other hand, it’s undoubtedly a better bet than buying a piece of a hedge fund. I know which way I’d go. . .

Ever since the now-legendary “Judgment of Paris” competition in 1976, where wines were tasted blind (without labels showing) and California Cabernets trounced several famous and expensive Bordeaux, there’s been no question that the Golden State has the grapes, soil, sunshine, investment, and ambition to take on the chateaux of the world’s benchmark wine (the ambition peters out somewhat after that - Cabernet rules, by a long shot). In replays of the Paris tasting over the years as the wines have aged, including the 30th anniversary shootout last year, the results have stayed fairly consistent: California wines still do very well.

In fact, their success has opened the door for Cabs from Washington State, Australia, even Italy - good soil, grapes, money and ambition aren’t confined to California, or Bordeaux any more. In the long run, though, California has so much of those elements, and also has the considerable bonus of well-established vineyards, that it sets a standard of its own. As Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited the Napa Valley in 1880, wrote, “The smack of Californian earth shall linger on the palate of your grandson.” He didn’t know he was talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was indeed a good call.

Buy the best Cabernet Sauvignon with the help of our wine experts who take the guesswork out of buying the best wine at the best price. Choose California Cabernet Sauvignon for the best taste.

Best CA Cabernet Sauvignons by Brian St. Pierre

The Best You Can Get

  • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

    Brian says: The winery that began it all just over 30 years ago was part of the new wave of wineries that revitalized the Napa Valley in the early 1970s and the top scorer in the fabled Paris tasting. Stag’s Leap set a standard few wineries can approach with its three versions of Cabernet: SLV and Fay, two single-vineyard wines, and Cask 23, a blend of the best barrels from both. I recently tasted a selection of them with owner and winemaker Warren Winiarski, back to the vintage of1977, which was delicious, nearly perfect (that singular honor went to the delicious 1984). The trio from 2004 defines elegance and grace.

  • Ridge 'Montebello'

    Brian says: The winery was begun as a casual sort of business by a group of professors in the 1960s, but this original vineyard had been planted in the 1880s (it was abandoned during Prohibition). Over the years, winemaker Paul Draper has sorted out and refined the standards of the mountaintop vineyard even more; this is consistently one of America’s best Cabernets, lush, dense, concentrated, with deep blackcurrant fruit - powerful but not overbearing.

  • Caymus Vineyards

    Brian says: Another member of the wave of wineries that began in 1972, when the grape-growing Wagner family branched out into winemaking, Caymus set a brisk pace from the start with a variety of very good wines, before settling into being a Cabernet specialist. They’re still out in front of the pack - both the “Special Selection” and the “Napa Valley” bottlings came tops in a recent large-scale tasting that blew a group of us away. Both are opulent and rich, concentrated, slightly spicy, really exciting wines. The “Napa Valley” is also a relative bargain.

  • Robert Mondavi

    Brian says: Thanks to its energetic founder, it’s one of the best-known names in the wine world, but family troubles led the winery astray in the last decade. Despite a very bumpy ride during that erratic time, the winery still owns several of the Napa Valley’s best vineyards, and now, with what appears to be a renewed sense of purpose, it’s back on form, with fine “Reserve,” “Oakville,” and “Stag’s Leap” versions. (The straight-ahead, bargain “Napa Valley” is pretty darn good too.)

  • Joseph Phelps

    Brian says: Back in 1974, when Joe Phelps bottled a Cabernet-based blend that he called “Insignia” and charged what was considered an exorbitant $12 a bottle, people thought it was a novelty, a vanity wine for rich folks. Now, it’s an icon, and as of 2004, it’s all estate-bottled, mostly Cabernet, with a dollop of Merlot and other grapes, in a classic Bordeaux interweaving. The flavor and aromas are of blackcurrants and cherries, with a hint of mint and cedar, nicely balanced. It’s a well-built assemblage, not a blockbuster, but ages gracefully anyway.

You will be happy with any of these

  • Beringer

    Brian says: The “Napa Valley” bottling is a blend from several vineyards, but Beringer, which has been producing wine continuously since 1876, makes the most of its long tenure, with its own terrific vineyards, long-term contracts with grape growers, and a talented winemaking team.

  • Trefethen

    Brian says: Another winery that began as a vineyard operation and moved into winemaking in its own time, Trefethen has long been known for good Chardonnay (it’s in the southern, therefore cooler, end of the Napa Valley). When the Cabernet grapes ripen well, as they did in ’04, especially the estate-grown “Oak Knoll” selection, it’s lean, racy, and fine.

  • Clos du Val

    Brian says: Bernard Portet is French to his fingertips, and learned his winemaking in Bordeaux. His Cabernets always need time to come around, to shake off somewhat harsh tannins and herbal notes. He’s recently replanted his vineyards and fine-tuned his wines to make them a bit more accessible. The “Napa Valley” bottling is worth a bet.

  • Ferrari-Carano

    Brian says: Ferrari-Carano owns a dozen vineyards all around Sonoma, and has a showcase winery north of Healdsburg. The wines are all polished and buffed smooth, carefully made and matured in new oak. The Cabernet, from the Alexander Valley, is a good example of a more accessible, modern-style Cab, best in five or six years.

  • V. Sattui

    Brian says: Darryl Sattui has always been a maverick, going against the grain of gentility in the Napa Valley. He began by opening a delicatessen, tasting room and picnic grounds at his winery, and selling wine direct to visitors; of course, now everyone does it, but back then he was seen as crass by many of his neighbors. Eventually, he bought vineyards and made some respectable wines, and in good years, they’re even more than respectable. Case in point, 2004 Napa Valley, rich and lush.

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Sip the best Cabernet Sauvignon with suggestions from our wine experts who review Caymus, Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Ferrari-Carano and others. California Cabernet Sauvignon has an exquisite taste without a huge price tag. We recommend Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and other Cabernet Sauvignon wine at the best price on the Web.