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ABCC — Anything But California Cabs
My coworker T. was asking me recently about the best cabernet sauvignons around $20 or $30.
Welp, as you may or may not know, this is not one of my areas of expertise.
I have a lot of respect for Napa as the region that put the U.S. on the map as a serious contender. We were puttering around, making our little local wines, until 1976 and the Judgement of Paris. Suddenly, American wine was on a par with the Old World. And what was one of the winning wines? Stags’ Leap cabernet sauvignon.
Cab sauv is the most popular red grape in the world, with almost 720,000 acres planted worldwide. Its vines are highly adaptable to many kinds of climate conditions. It also grows vigorously and has high yields, so it’s a great investment to plant. However, it’s a late-flowering and late-ripening grape, so in cooler climates and regions, it could not ripen fully. A few years ago when I was talking to the owner at Autumn Lake Winery in south Jersey, he mentioned that he was unfortunately having to rip out all their cab sauv. He had really wanted to grow it, but New Jersey’s short growing season didn’t pan out for them. East Coast cab is less tannin bomb, more acidity, and super food-friendly. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t taste like California.
So okay, cab sauv has a lot going for it. But why is Napa cab so expensive? The most expensive wine searched for on Wine-Searcher.com is Screaming Eagle which retails for an average of $4,625! Is it really 115 times better than a $40 wine?
Napa Valley is one of the most expensive places to buy grapes, over 2 1/2 times the average according to 2017 statistics.
Oak barrels cost hundreds of dollars apiece, and depending on how much new oak flavor you want, you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on barrels before you even harvest a single grape.
If you’re making high end wine, you’ve got folks out in the vineyard hand harvesting, not a machine that chops and tears and potentially mangles your expensive fruit
“Cult cabs” like Screaming Eagle limit production so demand is high.
Add in reviews from Napa stan Robert Parker, and the prices go up even more.
On top of all that, we’ve got the good ol’ supply chain issues that are hurting pretty much every industry.
If you’ve got your heart set on cabernet sauvignon, try looking for bargains elsewhere. Nearby Washington State has a similar climate and not so overbought. For inexpensive decent cab, I like H3 from Columbia Crest and 14 Hands. Even 14 Hands’ reserve cab is $40, a steal compared to some Napa wines.
South America is an excellent place to find great value. Check out cabs from Chile and Argentina. South Africa and Australia also have wide selections of warm-weather cab.
And if you really want to drop $300 on a bottle of Napa cab, check out Amanda McCrossin’s YouTube channel SOMMVivant. Amanda is a professional sommelier in Napa who adores cab sauv, so she can hook you up.
What do you think about California cab? Love it, hate it? What are your favorites? Drop them in the comments below!