Think You Can’t Find Affordable California Cabernet? Think Again.

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California produces bold Cabernet Sauvignon renowned around the world. And while Bordeaux may be Cabernet’s spiritual home, if the Judgment of Paris taught us one thing, it’s that California produces bottles that are easily on par with the famed French region.

Some of the most notable examples come from Napa. But the cost of grapes from the valley are often notoriously high, which means it can be difficult to find a budget-friendly bottle.

So today we wanted to shine a spotlight on both well-known and often unsung areas that are producing Cabs whose prices will keep you and your wallet happy and showcase all that this state has to offer.

The Judgment of Paris Turns 40

Recommended Budget-Friendly California Cabernet

Paul Dolan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino County); $25, 94 points. This is a huge, muscular but agile wine made from organically grown grapes. Fragrant aromas of French oak spices are followed by concentrated layers of black cherry, cinnamon, black currant and clove. Supported by a big, velvety frame of soft tannins, it is seductive now and will improve through 2026. Cellar Selection. —Jim Gordon

Daou 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles); $28, 93 points. Aromas of black plum, black olive and violet lead into a texturally dynamic palate loaded with ripe but not overdone black currant, baking spice and vanilla flavors. Strong acidity drives the finish. Editors’ Choice. —Matt Kettmann

Barra 2017 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino); $20, 92 points. This is a broad, rich and relaxed wine made from organic grapes. It shows generous black-plum and blackberry flavors, full body and grippy, moderate tannins. It does a great job of filling a big frame with opulent, delicious and ripe fruit, while adding subtle spice and wood-smoke nuances that enhance each sip. Editors’ Choice. —J.G.

Three Finger Jack 2016 East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Lodi); $22, 92 points. Silky and supple despite the great concentration and full body, this opulent wine has focus and fruitiness. The color is extra dark, the aromas are brimming with black currants and black cherries, while the flavors capture wonderful baked fruits and dark chocolate. The wine’s tannins are soft and well integrated, providing a smooth mouthfeel. —J.G.

Edge 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley); $24, 91 points. This wine is blended with 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Spicy leather and sweet tobacco combine around bright red fruit and supple tannin. It offers a balanced approach to richness and concentration. —Virginie Boone

Clos LaChance 2017 Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Clara Valley); $25, 90 points. Dense and concentrated aromas of blackberry, purple flowers and cola spice show on the nose of this bottling. Roasted black plum, rose petals, wild thyme and dark chocolate combine on the complex palate. —M.K.

Jason-Stephens 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Clara Valley); $28, 90 points. Plummy aromas meet with sunbaked soil and lots of earthy herbs on the nose of this bottling. Grippy tannins and buoyant acidity frame the palate, where strawberry, red plum and baking spice flavors lead into an oaky finish. —M.K.

Lucas & Lewellen 2016 Valley View Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez Valley); $25, 90 points. There is a strong mineral kick to the nose of this bottling, with aromas of wet slate and loam that lead into purple flowers and blackberry juice. The palate is lively with energy, dusted by dried herbs and lifted with fresh blackberries, all clinging to tense tannins and strong acidity. —M.K.

Michael David 2016 Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon (Lodi); $20, 90 points. This lavishly oaked wine blends ripe black-fruit flavors with abundant baking spice, wood smoke and maple tones. It is big but fairly soft in structure, with moderate tannins that give it a seductive, extravagant edge. —J.G.

Olema 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County); $26, 90 points. This is a value-driven proposition of well-made wine, with tiny amounts of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Earthy in clove and dark backing spices, it has a wealth of soft blue and black fruit backed by firm easygoing tannin and integrated oak. This is one to hoard. —V.B.

Published on September 12, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings


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