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"Are California Cabs Overpriced?"

  by Fred McMillin



This is a golden age for California Cabernet Sauvignon. Never in its history has that wine been so popular with the American wine-drinking public, or has it been so well made.

...James Laube, California's Great Cabernets, 1989

Smith & HookThe Question

I have $18 to buy a California red to give to my host tonight. I know that the words Cabernet Sauvignon carry the most prestige, but I can't taste prestige. Are the Cabs overpriced? Is a different $18 red a better-tasting wine?

The Answer (from a blind tasting)

To get an answer, we selected Cabs ranging from $7 to $30. Each was paired with some other varietal of the same price...an $18 Cab with an $18 Syrah, for example. Here are the winners.

Price Winning Varietal Winery, Etc.
$7 Cabernet M.G. Vallejo, Calif., '95
$10 Merlot Forest Glen, Calif., '97
$14 Cabernet Concannon, Central Coast, '96
$16 Cabernet Franc Steele, Clear Lake, '96
$18 Cabernet Smith & Hook, Santa Lucia, '95 (pictured)
$21 Cabernet Lockwood Reserve, Monterey, '95
$24 Zinfandel Sebastiani "Old Vines," '95
$26 Cabernet St. Clement, Napa Vly., '95
$28 Cabernet Peju Province, Napa Vly., '95
$30 Cabernet Guenoc, Bella Vista, '94


The California Cabs won seven of the ten matches. This tasting says they are not overpriced.


Since Cabernet Sauvignon is the most prestigious California red, did its grapes command the highest price in last fall's harvest? No. Cab was third. Above it in second place was its Bordeaux cousin, Cabernet Franc. The most expensive was the difficult Burgundian rival, Pinot Noir.

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