Cabernet can be inexpensive and good

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Its high priced brethren are among the most expensive, collectible and desirable wines available. Once someone discovers or develops a taste for those wines, anything else seems a pale likeness, or no resemblance at all.

I’ve always thought that, unlike zinfandel or syrah, cabernet sauvignon did do cheap very well. Many under $10 taste like generic reds. So I focused on a few cabs between $8 and $13. At about $8, a cabernet should start tasting like cabernet. In the cheap jerseys midteens and up, the stakes and expectations are higher.

What makes a cheap cab good really depends upon what it is not. It shouldn’t be sweet. Cheap reds are getting sweeter. Young adults, those just turning 21, are drinking a lot of wine, but are drawn to sweeter wines. Consider the proliferation of sweet reds, the Apothic Red syndrome. Those really sweet wines are difficult to pair with food. A cheap cab can be a bit off dry, with a hint of sweetness. But it shouldn’t taste like fruit juice.

A cheap cab should not taste too green. In the world of cheap wine, green is a taste, a sign of a vineyard is pushing high yields, not allowing the grapes to fully ripen off that green character. A bit of greenness is acceptable for Bordeaux reds such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and even merlot. The word „sauvignon“ indicates a wild, savage forest. Sauvignon blanc, particularly those from New Zealand, have this character. A slight leafy, bell pepper, or mintiness taste is fine and an acceptable part of the flavor profile. But when the green hits an overpowering, crushed tomato leaf and bitter unripeness point, it’s wrong. If you want to impress wine snobs, chemists or winery tasting room staff, you can talk about that green character using its scientific name: methoxypyraines.

A cheap cab get points for having something other than cab character such as oak, spice, leather or chocolate. One that offers that sort of complexity is Leese Fitch 2012 California Cabernet Sauvignon, which shows a chocolate mintiness on the nose with candied fruit, prune and mesquite flavors. Don’t be surprised by the Zork a new wine bottle closure that opens like a jug of milk, making opening wine fun and easy. $13. Bogle is a good source for inexpensive wine, but 2011 was a tough year for Bordeaux varieties. $13.

Beringer Founders Estate 2011 California Cabernet Sauvignon smells of pepper and raspberry with flavors on the sweet side of rich fruit preserve and a dark chocolate and cedar. $11. 1/2

Some other inexpensive cabs I had good experience with include Dancing Bull and Gnarly Head, two brands better known for their zinfandels, and McManis.

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