It’s Time for Wine: Napa Cabs That Drink Like $100 Wines

Affordable Napa Cabernet Sauvignons That Drink Like $100 Wines

By Monty and Sara Preiser

As long time wine writers, we are constantly asked two very common questions. Firstly, “Can a wine really be worth $100?” And secondly, “Do I have to pay that much for good ones?”  Today we will explore answers to both inquiries, and a practical solution.

For about 20 years we have studied many aspects of the wine-world, tasted thousands of wines, and extolled our opinions in hundreds of articles. The one truth that we passionately want to make common knowledge is: The only important factor is your own personal opinion – whether you like a wine or not. It matters not what any critic says – your own taste should always be your guide. We also believe it is helpful to discover writers/critics whose perspectives fall in line with your own. If you taste and determine that the Preisers’ (that would be us) palate and style are amenable, then we are always pleased to develop long term relationships.

Today we feature eight beautiful Napa Cabernet Sauvignons that can confidently be served to any Cab lover, and unhesitatingly paired with food at the finest of restaurants. Astonishingly, all of these recommended wines cost $65 or less, a very difficult reverse threshold for fine Napa Valley Cabs to meet.

First, however, to question number one – how can a wine be so expensive? Actually, one might just as easily ask how any car can be worth $50,000, how an orchestra seat at a Broadway show can run $150, or even how a beer can cost $8. The elementary answer as to why so many producers and suppliers can command these prices is . . . because they can. In many cases it is nothing more than simple supply and demand fueled by marketing, while in other situations the driving force is an individual’s desire to buy what others cannot afford or obtain.

Fortunately, there are many wineries that make a profit satisfactory to them by selling their wines at what one might call gentle prices (the paradoxical irony here is that some people think that the more inexpensive the wine, the worse the quality – and while that might be so more often than not, it certainly is far from a universal fact). There are logical reasons why fine wines might be available at $65 or less.

-Vintners already own their own property and vines, and thus they need not make heavy outlays for the fruit. A lower cost means a lesser margin is needed for a fair profit;
-A winery might sell so much other wine for such an acceptable-to-the-owner profit, that it can afford to offer a particular Cabernet Sauvignon for a relatively affordable price;
-Though the wine is terrific, neither the winery nor the winemaker has yet reached celebrity (or at least well known) status, and so a lesser cost may mean easier sales; and/ or
-Vintners may just feel as if the lesser price is enough.

The above are all objective justifications as to why you need not be afraid to show off wines of $45 to $65 that you find enticing. Answering the second question earlier posed, the wines below (listed alphabetically), at least to our palates, have constantly maintained exceptional quality, and all can be enjoyed now, or, if properly stored, for ten or eleven years into the future.

2008 B Cellars Syn3rgy ($55) – Black and blue fruits are most noticeable in this wine from nose to first sip, and through the mid palate. Just as the back palate comes into play, some jammy notes appear, and the finish features a kiss of tobacco and touch of oak. Wonderful layers.

2009 Chappellet Signature ($49) – The grapes are grown mountainside, where the rocky soils make a vine’s roots struggle so that only the healthiest survive. This leads to highly concentrated fruit with excellent structure.  A nose of cherry and violets leads into notes of cassis, licorice, and clove on the palate. The beautiful finish is chocolate influenced.

Cliff Lede Stags Leap ($60) – The winemaking team of Abreu, Melka, and Anderson is top notch, and to find their wine at this price is unusual. Dense and creamy, there are suggestions of sweetness all around, though there is interesting minerality on the finish. Great concentration.

2009 Frank Family Napa Valley ($49) – Cherries Jubilee comes to mind as this wine refuses to take a back seat to its extraordinary and more expensive brothers. Consistently lauded by critics, the lush, ripe berries are bookended by vanilla on the nose and a woody, leather finish.

2008 Mi Sueno Napa ($65) – Produced from Napa’s newest appellation – Coombsville – this powerful wine fills your palate with black fruit and some forest floor after having enticed you with the aroma of vanilla coffee. Strong but smooth tannins are present and welcome.

2008 Paradigm ($62) – Iconic winemaker Heidi Barrett has a long association with Paradigm. The 2008 shows off perfectly ripe fruit integrated with tannins that are strong but approachable. Cherries and red berries abound, while a hint of cigar box lingers with the finish.

2008 Parry ($60) – Napa’s smallest vineyard, only 160 cases were produced this year. But what a wine. Semi-sweet chocolate is prevalent on the nose, and the velvety mouth-feel surrounds luscious cherries and baking spices which are maintained throughout an ultra long finish.

2007 Reynolds Family Estate ($45) – All is dark in this concentrated single vineyard Cab – currants, plums, and chocolates intermix from nose to the back palate, while the finish is one of baking spice and campfire. Swirl it around and layers interchange. Yum.

If your mouth is watering, call your favorite wine store and ask if the wines you prefer are in stock. If not, don’t fret – you have three options. The first is to ask your retailer to order what you desire. As long as a winery has a distributor in a state, then any product that winery makes can be ordered for you by a retailer. The second option is to make your purchase directly from the winery’s website. However, there are some states to which some wineries will not deliver. Whether a winery’s position on this is wrong or right is a discussion for another time, but rules change quite often. If you run into a non-shipping policy, the third option kicks in – use the internet or contact a wine savvy individual to locate a reputable wine broker in California. S/he will happily obtain all the wines you desire, and will send them to you even if a winery will not (trust us, there are ways to do it – legitimately, too).

In case you are wondering if any of these machinations will increase the bottle price, the answer is “no” (though when you avail yourselves of the latter two options you may have shipping costs). As a matter of fact, sometimes paying the shipping costs is well worth the effort as you know the wines coming to you have probably been stored correctly (and you may be able to wrangle a discount with a winery or broker).

Remember our first admonition above all else. Search, research, discover, and make your own selections with confidence.

This article originally appeared in Coastal Carolina Life in July. To view the article in the magazine, which also includes pictures of the bottles mentioned, visit


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

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