The 10 Best Napa Valley Cabernets for Under $50

Having lived in the Napa Valley since 2005, and having worked in kitchens and wineries during that time, I’ve developed a pretty good palate for the local product. As I’ve spent the last decade combing the Napa Valley for great wines, over the past few years I decided to pay special attention to the Cabernets that were priced at $50 or less, hoping to one day compile a list of favorites. I submit the following 10 wines, listed in my order of general preference. Of course, prices are subject to change over time, but hopefully not by too much.

1. Martin Estate Bacchanal Cabernet ($48) : One of the great unsung wines in the Napa Valley, I have already placed Bacchanal into a blind tasting of Oakville and Rutherford Cabs, pitting it against the 2006 Groth ($58), 2005 Rubicon ($175), 2006 Pedemonte ($39), 2006 Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger ($90), and 2006 Paradigm ($62). The Bacchanal won the tasting, with all five wine tasters ranking the wine in the top half (no other wine exhibited such consistent positive marks). My personal favorite was actually the Nickel & Nickel, with the Bacchanal ranking second. Frankly, Martin Estate is a winery that I have long meant to review, but simply haven’t yet.

2. Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet ($38) : In my previous review for Terra Valentine, I mentioned that the winery’s single-vineyard Cabs were the wines that originally drew me up to the top of Spring Mountain Road, but that their Spring Mountain Cabernet blend has now become my favorite Terra Valentine wine. This Cabernet features ripe, plush fruit with terrific character and concentration. If you’re spending a day visiting Spring Mountain wineries, make sure to visit Paloma and Behrens-Hitchcock, as well.

3. Turnbull Estate Cabernet ($45) : Flanked by Nickel & Nickel to the south and Cakebread Cellars to the north, I think that Turnbull is often overlooked by far too many of Napa’s tourists. My notes from my blind tasting of 2005 Oakville Cabernets revealed Turnbull as the clear winner (and the lowest-priced wine in the flight, to boot). One more reason to visit Turnbull: The winery also offers its 2007 Old Bull Red ($19), a tasty catch-all blend and one of the few good Napa reds that you can find for under $20.

4. Heitz Cellars Estate Cabernet ($42) : After living in the Napa Valley, I have found that the wineries with the greatest histories sometimes have the lowest prices. Many say that the old-timers have that conservative, farming mentality that will see them through good times and more importantly, bad times. The 2005 Heitz Estate Cabernet is an affable wine that boasts big ripe fruit, and I’m always amazed at how long Heitz holds back its releases (I can’t think of many other wineries that still offer a 2005 Cab as their most current vintage). As a result, these wines are often plush right out of the gate.

5. Bennett Lane Maximus ($35) : Maximus is the perennial 90-point “Feasting Wine” that lures folks to drive all the way up to Calistoga, even during the height of summer. It’s bold in the way you might expect for the newly-designated Calistoga AVA, which typically does so well with hot-weather varietals like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. My last tasting report for Bennett Lane was in December 2008. Although the winery has since discontinued its White Maximus, the proprietary red is still at its consistent best.

6. Chappellet Signature Cabernet ($47) : If you’ve read my piece on my 25 favorite Napa Valley wine tours, then you’ll know that I have long championed Chappellet as one of my key destinations. Founded in 1967, Chappellet has great history, a great view from Pritchard Hill, and great wine. With neighbors like Colgin and Bryant Family, Chappellet presents the best value, by far, along Sage Canyon Road. The winery also offers its terrific Mountain Cuvee ($29), which could’ve made this list on its own.

7. Titus Vineyards Cabernet ($41) : Chappellet winemaker Phillip Titus owns an eponymous wine label — Titus Vineyards — that also produces a noteworthy low-cost Cabernet. For me, this Cabernet exhibits some similar traits to Chappellet’s terrific estate Cab. Titus Vineyards is another winery that I’ve meant to review more recently, but have not found the time for a more thorough recap. Hopefully, I can coordinate something in the next month or so.

8. Newton Claret ($25) : Another bargain from Spring Mountain Road, the Newton Claret is one of the lowest-priced bottles on the list. Keep in mind, you could actually purchase two full-sized bottles of the Newton Claret, yet still remain within the $50 or less level (impressive). As with Chappellet, the quality of Newton’s lower-priced wine reflects the overall quality of the winery’s portfolio. Newton wines are always a pleasure to drink, and their Red Label Cabernet ($28) is also an over-achiever. Like Bennett Lane’s Maximus, the 2007 Claret is technically a Bordeaux blend, and not an official Cabernet.

9. Dare Cabernet ($34) : The second label of Viader, the Dare series offers 100% varietal bottlings of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo, each at the same price. The Dare Cabernet features fantastic pedigree, combining fruit from Viader’s Howell Mountain Estate and from the historic Lewelling Vineyard in St. Helena. I tasted these wines very recently, on the same day as my trip to Ladera.

10. Vincent Arroyo Estate Cabernet ($36) and J.J.’s Blend ($20) : Although the strength of Vincent Arroyo lies in its single-vineyard Petite Sirahs, the winery earns kudos for offering a legitimate giant-killer of a Cabernet (and the only wine on the list at less than 14% alcohol), as well as its lighter and less-expensive counterpart (which takes its name from one of the winery’s resident Labradors). The winery remains one of the Napa Valley’s best-kept secrets.

3 comments to The 10 Best Napa Cabernets for Under $50

  • You’re absolutely right about Heitz and many of the other old greats. They don’t exploit, the don’t chase fashion, they don’t over-extract and they don’t hype. They don’t need to, they make or rather farm great wines. I’m really glad you put their ‘regular’ Cab in your list, and the Dare from Vaider. Other old greats that I never overlook are Frog’s Leap, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and even Clos du Val. – I don’t know a few of your other selections, but I’ll look them out. Cheers!

  • Glad we agree on the Napa Valley classics! Please let me know what you think of my other recommendations!

  • CGD

    I agree on the Heitz, Stags Leap. I like the entry level Freemark Abbey. Bordeaux style, big but not over top.

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