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Amazing Cabernet?

My husband is a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, and I want to get him a special bottle for upcoming Valentine's Day. He likes a Cab with a full fruity character, but also with a very smooth finish (he doesn't like the tannic edge (bitterness) that some Cabs can tend to have).

As an example, he really enjoyed Opus One (can't remember the year...but I think it was 2001). But I would really like to let him try something new.

So any recommendations for California Cabs or French Bordeaux would be greatly appreciated! Looking to spend less than $200. Thanks!

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  1. Not too long ago we hosted a taste-off between "Meritage" and Bordeaux. We had examples that closely matched per vintage and age, going back into the '80s. The '01 Insignia was the hands-down winner of the event, even though some of the Bdx. cost twice as much. Just did an '01 Shafer Hillside and it was drinking wonderfully, with about 45min. in the decanter.

    One producer that I have enjoyed, even in the leaner years, is any of the single-vineyard releases from Diamond Creek. The Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and the Volcanic Hill are always great performers. Though I have not sampled any of their offerings, post-Al, but I'll bet that Boots has found the right talent to do the wines, as Al would have liked. They usually run in the US$120 range. K&L www.klwines.com, often has some of the older vintages and the markup is usually quite favorable.


    1. Try Channing Daughters 2004 Research Cab...Channing Daughters is a winery located in Bridgehampton, NY....their wines are outstanding...this one sells for around 40.00 a bottle...Try Sherry-Lehmann in NYC for it.

      1. If he likes fruity, he'll probably enjoy Nickel & Nickel. These are really lush and jammy and IMHO some of the tastiest Cali style cabs out there. Get one from one of their Oakville vineyards.

        1. I am a huge fan of Cain Five, especially the awesome 2001. You can't beat the elegance and finesse that a great Napa Meritage like this offers.

          1. Opus One has been off their game with some of the recent vintages, unfortunately. If you are looking to a Napa wine, may I suggest considering Colgin, Vineyard 29, Joseph Phelps Insignia (meritage), Joseph Phelps Backus (Cabernet Sauvignon), Cardinale (owned by KJ, but beautiful wines), Diamond Creek, Shafer (Hillside Select), Dalla Valle, David Arthur,
            Del Dotto, Dominus.

            Washington State produces some beautiful Cabs as well - more terroir-driven compared to the fruit forward wines of Napa. DeLille, Northstar (Right bank Bordeaux-style).

            For Bordeaux selections, I highly recommend paying a visit to the new LA (Hollywood)location of K&L Wine Merchants (openning this month) or look at website. They maintain a virtual real-time inventory, and have some of the best prices around. Ralph Sands is their Bordeaux buyer and brings in some direct imports for exclusive sale as well. (I'm not affiliated with the business in any other way, but a loyal customer.) Call the Redwood City store (HQ) and ask for a Bordeaux, or California specialist; tell them your price range and what you are seeking. They will be most helpful. And because you are in California, you can have it shipped to you!

            2 Replies
            1. re: SanseiDesigns

              For something different than the known giants suggested above, try the 2002 Match Butterdragon Hill.

              1. re: SanseiDesigns

                Thanks for this info. I guess that I have not read my e-mail from "Uncle" Ralph, as I did not know that they were opening a new shop. Hope he's staying in Redwood City. Other than the Del Dotto and David Arthur, which I have not tried, I do agree with the others. A notation: the '01 Insignia bested the '01 Dominus in a single-blind tasting recently. I was torn, but I hosted the event, so it wasn't "blind" for me, but finally gave the nod to the Insignia.

                Thanks for the update on K&L. And be sure to tell Ralph, "go Diamondbacks!" He'll probably get the joke. If not, just tell him that Bill Hunt "made" you do it.


              2. Head over to the Wine House and look for a great 2001. Really good rec's above, such as Insignia and Shafer; agree you can do better than Opus or Silver Oak. Might add Rudd, Chappellet "Pritchard Hill Estate" (the 2002 is awesome, too), Plumpjack, and Duckhorn to the list.

                You'll probably see some nicely aged Bordeaux in your range which will be outstanding - go into the reserve room. And if you bring up your price point, there's Unico from Spain, which is really special.

                1. Thank you all for the terrific suggestions! I'm going to print this list to bring with me to the wine stores this weekend.

                  I have an additional question....does anyone have any familiarity with Cliff Lede Vineyards, and their "Poetry" blend? I will readily admit that I like the name for V-Day, but the tasting notes I've read also sound appealing. Has anyone actually ever tried it? I found a 2003 online. Thanks!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: L.A.Hound

                    Very familiar with Cliff Lede, have been a club member there for several years. Wonderful wines, great Cabs. The Poetry is in a class with many of the top Napa wines. It is a blend but is big, bold and outstanding. Their claret, another blend that's much less expensive, is also incredable. We took friends from out of town (CT) there Friday and they ordered a case to be shipped back.

                    Plus, it's a beautiful winery with a great staff.

                  2. John Anthony just relaeased their 2004 vintage. Limited and excellent (as well as unique).

                    1. hello, K&L lists a 1996 Pichon -Lalande in your price range. likely in its prime; is your experience with the tannic sharpness with younger wines? cheers

                      1. Most people that really LOVE California Cab aren't necessarily moved the same way by a French Bordeaux. There is generally an earthy, non-fruit forward component to Bordeaux, and especially older Bordeaux, that is not as enticing to a Cali Cab fan.

                        If he is really into the Opus One taste, stay away from Bordeaux and stick with California. Big, fruit forward, vanilly is the name of the game in Cali. Check out Lokoya and Rudd for something less common.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: waffleman

                          Great point. Call me uncultured if you wish, I would rather taste a fruit forward wine than the "terroir" of leather, tar, and aged meat. Are the vines grown in a cow pature where they burned old tires ?

                        2. On the other hand, why not buy something like a California Bordeaux blend? If you go to one of the good shops like K&L, you should be able to buy something like a Ridge Monte Bello. On the other hand Caymus would be a good bet too. Or if they have it, something like the Karl Lawrence Lamb Vineyard. When talking this price point, there is a lot to chose from.

                          1. Want something unique,fantastical and lovely - try the '03 MERCURY HEAD NAPA CABERNET- for under 200.00 you can buy 2 bottles-one to enjoy soon and one to put down -- have fun!

                            1. For $200 you can get him at least 3 bottles... a great Napa, a great Maipo Valley, and a very good Bordeaux, IMO the 3 best vinicultural areas in the world for cabernet sauvignon. This "trio" would be an amazing treat for any wine-lover. Consult your local wine merchant and get the best 3 bottles they have.

                              This approach has the virtue of almost GUARANTEEING that he's amazed by the wine. You set up an appropriate dinner, invite a couple friends, open all 3 bottles, and you can get into a "taste and compare" event which he'll never forget.... Enjoy.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Chicago Mike

                                I agree on the concept that ChiMike is suggesting.............3 bottles being consumed
                                amongst close friends is much more memorable than having a "Bazooka" bottle........
                                A $200 bottle is not and is never 3 times the quality intensity that the price and naivete'
                                may suggest it to be.........If California is his love, then look for 3 or perhaps 2 yummy
                                Cabs that he can enjoy with his love and his friends, and that may be something more
                                cherished and remembered.............

                              2. Remember that most of the younger vintages will show better after a few years in the bottle. So if the wine you want to buy is one to enjoy sooner than later may I suggest you look for an older vintage if it available. The younger ones will be more tannic (astringent) and not showing the beauty of their fruit that you seek.

                                1. For $200 you may be able to find a decent wine that has some age on it, that comes from an important year/vintage in your husband's life. What year were you married? When did he finish High School or University? What year were your children (if any) born? I always find it great to get wine from those milestone years. Gives an added dimension to drinking a great bottle. I would try www.winebid.com and/or www.winecommune.com, and do a search on vintages.

                                  1. Hi there I am a caviste and sommelier in France and this one is such a steal compared to the quality that this bottle holds..La fiefs de Lagrange... its absolutely amazing.. its the second wine to chateau Lagrange.. I actually think its better then Lagrange itself...it is a bordeaux and we get it here for around 25 or 30 euro a bottle..and thats an exagerated price.. but living in Megeve everything is hiked... it will be a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc.. however the finesse in this bottle is uncomparable to a new world wine... hope you can find it in the states.