Discovering Quality Wines At Every Price

Many wine critics believe that we are living through a “golden age” of wine. There are so many great wines in almost every price category.

OK, maybe great is pushing it, but there are plenty of quality-driven wines at every price point. I think this is generally true.


Image 1 of 2

The 2011 Cabernet is big but not overly oaky with notes of chocolate. Photos from Roberto Viernes

In fact, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I was tasked to taste a host of Cabernet Sauvignons that were all around the $10 price point. And what I found was, first of all, extreme diversity, but also some really great values. We tasted more than a dozen wines, but I culled a few in order to concentrate on the ones that I thought stood out for the best quality.

The 2011 Ballard Lane Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles was certainly one of the top performers. Like many Cabernets coming from the Paso area, this one was not shy on the fruit. It has an opulent and very open style of ripeness.

The fruits ranged from red strawberry to black currant. In the mouth, it has good structure with the tannin a bit on the softer side, which in my book is not a bad thing. It makes the wine smoother and easier to drink – something you can have more than just one glass of. It was maybe the most easy-drinking of the bunch, and plump as well.

The 2011 Hybrid Cabernet Sauvignon by Peltier Station is from Lodi, Calif. This Cabernet, according to its tech sheet, is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but it tasted like it was blended with other grapes; perhaps Zinfandel or Petit Syrah. It was the darkest in color of the bunch. It had a distinct nose of blackberry preserves, almost sweet-smelling. It was burly in weight and structure, meaning plenty of it with an almost anise and plum flavor on the finish. This one was ripe and round, and definitely one for those who like the more jammy style.

The 2012 Mountain View Winery, Central Coast, Cabernet was more than a pleasant surprise. The bouquet of this wine really explodes out of the glass. In fact I kept thinking to myself, “This smells really good for 10 bucks!” Overt fruit, that dark fruit and light herbaceousness that adds complexity all abound in this wine. It also felt sleek on the palate – maybe not as sleek as a Merlot, but quite smooth. I was quite taken with this wine, and the price can’t be beat.

The last two standouts both are from Washington State. I have recommended the 2012 Stonecap Cabernet before, and this tasting proved again why. It seems to have just everything in the right place. The flavors are seamless and ample. Black fruit runs into a hint of vanilla and toast.

The tannins are velvety and it tastes like Cabernet. The consistency of this wine from vintage to vintage is also impressive.

The last and definitely the BIGGEST of the bunch was the 2011 Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Cabernet. There is some Syrah in this blend, but I don’t think that is what made it so big. It was definitely the oakiest of the lot. And I know many drinkers enjoy that flavor in the wine. I like it in proper doses, and this wine does not seem overly oaky. It has notes of chocolate along with all the black and red fruit. This wine definitely tastes like a lot more than its price.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher