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Where is the price point where cabernet sauvignon improves immensely?

I believe that as you go up the scale in price, wine improves, but in diminishing amounts. For example, the difference in quality between a $25 cabernet sauvignon and a $20 cabernet sauvignon is much less than between a $20 cabernet sauvignon and a $15 one. My question is at what price point is there a huge leap in quality? I'm confining my question to cabs because, I suspect, the price point is different for different wines. Thanks!

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  1. Are we assuming that all $20 Cabs taste alike? Surely within every price point there are good values and rip offs n'est ce pas?

    1. There are bad wines at all price points.

      1. Yup. Your premise is flawed if you believe that all wines will fit into such definition. Beyond the simplistic price issue, too, is the fact that a Cab you like may not be liked by someone else. Personally, I tend to think that consistancy of quality in Cabs just starts to happen at around $25, but that's for California Cabs. YMMV.

        21 Replies
        1. re: Midlife

          If a wine goes on sale, does the quality suffer?

          1. re: eat2much

            Did you mean to reply to me? I have no idea how your post relates to mine. If you are, we're not talking about sale pricing here.

            1. re: Midlife

              I apologize for my failed attempt at humor. I agree that the OP's premise is inherently flawed. I was trying to point out that price has little to do with quality or at least that price and value are separate issues. I've had my share of lousy expensive wine over the years as well as a fair number of expensive bottles that would have been "worth it" at twice the price.

              1. re: eat2much

                True, but I just don't believe that price is completely irrelevant in this discussion. It doesn't help a consumer to be told that.

                1. re: Midlife

                  It could be argued, perhaps, that beyond a certain price point one has a better chance of finding better consistency.

                  1. re: eat2much

                    Depends on your taste. When tasting a lineup of current red wines from one winery, often I prefer the least expensive ones, because the more expensive ones have way too much new oak for my taste.

                    1. re: eat2much

                      I have to jump back up a post and agree completely that price and value are, INDEED, separate issues. But I'm still trying to stay with thd OP's request for some guidance related to price.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        A bad $40 Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to be bad in a different way from a bad $20 one, but that doesn't make it good.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          So...... Is there no answer for the OP?

                          1. re: Midlife

                            Good Cab is an expensive wine to make. It needs good land, good viticultural practices, a lengthy time fermenting, oak barrels (new, used, neutral), at least a couple of years for aging (delaying ROI), and that's before bottles and labels and distribution.

                            Given that -- and it's just a rough reference, but I do drink a lot of cab -- first $35. Then, next tier up, $50.

                            I'd say after about $65 and you begin paying for a talented winemaker, sought-after land, cachet and marketing. Above $100 and the price increase is nearly all cachet/marketing/limited supply.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Maria, are you speaking generally or more relative to Napa Cab?

                            2. re: Midlife

                              The answer is "nowhere."

                              What maria lorraine says about the cost of making wine is true, but there are other factors that affect the retail price.

                              Many wineries invest more in marketing than they do in making better wine, so the worse wines at the $65 price point are not be as good as the better $35 ones.

                              Wine sometimes sells for less than what the winery hoped to get, so a wine you get a good buy on at retail might be much better than average for its price. This can result from a winery or distributor running out of warehouse space or having cash-flow problems. I bought a lot of mid-90s Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon in 2009 for $15-20.

                              Of course, steep discounts can also mean a wine is over the hill.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Well, I understand all if what you and Maria are saying but am still trying, somehow, to see if there's any way to give the OP a price guideline........ Even if that guideline comes with a lust if qualifications.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  There's no way to give a price guideline. There are far too many variables.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Well, true...... but this is why so many people find wine so complicated and difficult to undefstand. I always tell customers the best wine for you us the one you like, at a price you're comfortable paying.

                                    That's fine as an answer but people seem to want something more specific. Can't get there, even narrowing the field to Napa Cab? Not even close?

                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      <<Well, true...... but this is why so many people find wine so complicated and difficult to understand.>>

                                      This is why I shared my broadstroke price guideline, based on my experience of tasting Cabs here in California.

                                      It's what I believe to be accurate. Napa Cabs are slightly higher in price.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        Maria, I appreciate that. I was addressing Robert, who took a while to get to a comfort level on this ..........it seemed. ;o))

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          The best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons I've had in recent years cost under $20, but my friends and I bought those at Grocery Outlet during the financial crisis. The worst all cost over $40.

                                        2. re: maria lorraine


                                          I am pretty close to you, with perhaps a US $5 here, or there.

                                          Again, it is personal tastes, and also personal wine budgets.

                                          If one has several US $20 Cabs, that they love, will they get 5x that enjoyment from a US $100 Cab? Well, maybe, but maybe not. I will depend on the buyer, their palate, and their enjoyment level, plus possibly the food, with which the wines are served.


                          2. re: Midlife

                            Yes it does help. Its far more important to be capable of identifying a good wine than assuming the price will get you there.

                  2. From my perspective the sweet spot for Cabernet (or almost any variety or type for that matter) is between $15 and $50. Below that you can occasionally find a terrific wine but the occasions are few and far between and you need to kiss a lot of toads unless you are in the trade. Frankly, there is a lot of very good wine at the lower end of that range. The best ways I know to differentiate among the myriad choices is to taste a lot or find a good wine merchant. I highly recommend the latter.

                    At price points above $50 you are paying for past reputation, scarcity, marketing or uniqueness. While each of those may be indicative of greatness they also MAY NOT. None of those may have any relation to your personal enjoyment. Also if you do not have extensive interest and/or experience may find that many of those expensive wines are disappointing. Oh, by the way you will need lots of money to find out. :)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jock


                      I would nudge the price-points up a bit, but that is just me.

                      As for "kissing toads," the pros do that 8 hours per day. I do not envy them, as they MUST find the "princes" in the bunch, for their restaurants, or their clients. I once did a bit of that, but now, it is about my personal enjoyment, so I no longer have to "toad kiss" all that much - I only want to find the wines for ME to drink.

                      Some years back, a group of winos opened a wine shop in Denver, with the tag line, "we taste them all, and pick what we like, then sell the rest." Not sure that was a great tag line for a wine retailer, but they DID seem busy. I am sort of like that now - I taste with a plan to buy what I like, and pass on the rest.

                      Also, when tasting, I am also looking for a wine to DRINK that day, on that trip. In Burgundy, I would taste maybe 50 wines (low number for a pro) in a day, and then DRINK maybe 5. That could never have happened before. Now, it's all about me.

                      I know that it sounds harsh, and sounds crass, but it's life now. Also, I seldom approach a wine, Cab, or otherwise, with intent of major cellaring, as I have reached an age, where cellaring is not likely to happen in my lifetime. Yeah, ego-centric as it is, it is ONLY about what I enjoy, and will enjoy in the next 5 years.

                      As for some expensive wines being disappointments, I agree totally. Just looking at price-points is not a guarantee that the wine will justify that price - at least to me. I do not need "cults," and I do not care about someone's "points." It is all about MY pleasure, and nothing beyond that.

                      That is what happens, when one is nearing the end of their life - the here and now becomes more important, unless one plans on leaving some legacy, or estate.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        < I do not need "cults," and I do not care about someone's "points." It is all about MY pleasure, and nothing beyond that.

                        That is what happens, when one is nearing the end of their life - the here and now becomes more important, unless one plans on leaving some legacy, or estate.>

                        Hunt, I completely agree with you. I've never cared about someone's "points." The only recs I rely on are from folks who know my palate. As for leaving wine when I go.... Well, I do have a nephew who really loves wine, so his name is on my cellar, but neither he nor I expect there will be much left by then. :)

                    2. Going on recent vintages at Texas prices I see a pick up in typical overall wow factor at about $30-35 but it is far from always the case. I'd also suggest that for many cabs if I had a choice between something likely to be good in that range, like a recent vintage Heitz (not Martha's) and something half the price but ten or more years old, like a Napa BV (not a GdL), I'd pick the one with some bottle years.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: tim irvine

                        Beyond a certain price point, I feel like I get more bang for my buck buying Bordeaux.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          So long as one is either into the great wines of Bdx., or are young enough to cellar their selections for many years.

                          I not longer even study the Bdx futures, as I will not live long enough for many recent wines.Same for Vintage Ports. Once, I bought with 10 - 20 years into the future in mind. No any longer. Glad that I bought, when I did, as I have wines to last my lifetime.

                          There ARE good Bdx. examples, ready for earlier consumption, at pretty good price-points, but it's sort of like the Cal-Cab '98 vintage - many did not realize that they were good wines, but with limited longevity in the cellar. In restaurants, early on, they were quite good wines, though horribly maligned by the wine-porn press, and often great deals for the meals being served in restaurants. Mine are all gone now, but were great "values," when purchased, either for my cellar, or at the time in restaurants.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            There's lots of mature Bordeaux on the market. I keep my eyes out for good values and keep a few on hand for when I want that sort of meal.

                      2. Back in the mid-80's there was tremendous value in the largely un-appreciated maipo cabernets from Chile. You could get really interesting wines under $10 then... some closer to $5 if memory serves me, though that seems impossible to believe today. Now those same wines are in the $30's and up, and they've re-packaged alot of them as "reserves" to price even higher and squeeze more $$ out of the market...

                        Again in the 80's there were sensational Napa cabernets in the low to mid 20's, great reserve bottles... today those are $60-100.

                        In a bad year price doesn't matter, ALL the wine from the right region in the wrong vintage is overpriced...

                        Further, I personally don't like paying more for wine than I would for the meal I'm having it with. So if I'm paying $50 for the meal I don't want to pay much more than that for the wine, and I usually drink the better part of a bottle. $100 for the meal, okay I'll push the wine price to between 50 and 100.

                        And to answer the question, IMO that's about the scale of cabernet quality... you get some really nice wines starting in the $30's, getting even better in the 50's and you have a real wide selection around 70-80. Any more than that and there's diminishing returns to the palate IMO, though you may get a prestige buzz from drinking more expensive bottles.

                        Under 30 you can find some bargains if you focus on the quality of the vintage. The more pedestrian bottles in a great vintage are going to be real values for the money although in a more average year they aren't as interesting.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: TombstoneShadow

                          For CA cabs, I'd say about 35-40 I start getting happy and am satisfied with the QPR up to about 90. I feel like in the last 4 years the $50 wines all became $75!

                          After that, I expect so much from the wine to be equal to the price that I am often disappointed. Though some of my favorite cali cabs have been in the $90+ range.

                        2. Sorry to be jumping in late with an answer, but -- in general -- I agree with the gist of what's been said so far. I don't think there *is* a price point, unless you're talking spending, say, $10 versus buying Two Buck Chuck.

                          There are great Cabernets available at a variety of price points, and it will vary with geography as well as with PPP (your Personal Palate Preference -- what *you* like and want to see in your glass of Cabernet). For example, if we confine our conversation for a moment ONLY to California, you'll find that the average price for a Napa Valley Cabernet will be higher than one from, say, Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills, or the Santa Cruz Mountains. Now, for many people (dare I say "most"?), Napa will represent the epitome of California Cabernet Sauvignon . . . and that's fine. But, in general, I happen to prefer Cabernets from the Santa Cruz Mountains. That's regardless of price, but it will also be true that (generally) a Santa Cruz Mtn. Cabernet will cost less than a Napa Cab of comparable quality.

                          The same thing is true of Washington State Cabernets to a large degree -- the best of Washington State will be as good (or better) than the best of Napa, yet the Washington wines will often cost less money.

                          Now, shifting to Australia . . . or Argentina, Chile, even South Africa, let alone France . . . .

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: zin1953

                            All good points and what we've all come to expect from you. How about we re-phrase thd OP's question to see if there's another way to approach this: What's the lowest priced bottle of Cab you've considered worthy of recommending to someone with a moderate level if wine appreciation?

                            Hopefully I haven't just re-routed this into a discussion about how people's level if "appreciation" can vary. ;o)

                            1. re: Midlife

                              My current recommendation is from Lyeth.

                              2010 or 2011 "L" de Lyeth Cabernet Sauvigon. The 2010 is a bit better if you can still find it. Retail should be $11 to $14. Drinks as well as the best in the $35 to $60 range (IMO of course) and better than many that cost a lot more. Drinks nicely now and will hold and perhaps even improve a bit for a few years. The wine is varietally correct, nicely balanced and even has a degree of complexity. The finish is pleasant.

                              I have recommended it to people ranging form complete novice to expert and not had anyone not like the wine. It has been my everyday cab for over a year.

                              PS - My level of appreciation is 50+ years starting in the 1960s.

                              PPS - Lyeth is a Sonoma cab that tastes like a Sonoma cab. Like Jason I am not convinced that Napa is the be all and end all of cabernet sauvignon.

                              1. re: jock

                                Can anyone second jock's recommendation? $9.99 at Total Wine.

                                1. re: JAB

                                  I sure think it's worth a try, along with Washington State Cabs.

                              2. re: Midlife

                                Go to klwines.com, do an advanced search for Cabernet Sauvignon, and sort by price. The wines they stock in lower price ranges tend to be good values.

                                However, in lower price ranges, other grape varieties often give more bang for the buck.

                                With dishes that would pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon, usually I drink Loire Cabernet Franc. Most of the ones I like list for $18-20 but I watch for deals, currently I'm drinking one I got for $12 on closeout in January.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Great idea. Earlier in the year, I went in to the Redwood city location and asked for 3 west coast Cabs to try under $30. I left with a Rudy, and a Twenty Rows,from Napa Valley and a NxNW from Washinton/Oregon. Spent less than $80 and got some real good wines.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "other grape varieties often give more bang for the buck."

                                    Bought the 2007 Vina Eguia Reserva Rioja for $14.99 at KL only to discover it at Costco for $10...currently on sale for $7.99. Bang for the buck doesn't get much better than this.


                              3. Match the price of the bottle to the price of the steak you'll be eating with it and you'll be fine.

                                1. I think that I received a concrete answer to my question from Maria Lorraine and Jock, although as a wine dilettante, rather than a connoisseur, I am shocked at where those price points fall, based on all the posters answers. Wine is certainly an expensive hobby to get in to, but so much fun!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                    It depends totally on both your palate and your pocketbook. Wine CAN be an expensive endeavor, or maybe not. Again, it just depends.


                                  2. In general, I'd say around $40. At that price you should be getting an age-worth Cab that has seen some decent oak (hopefully new French) and which displays a broader character than a thin, one-dimensional $10 Cab.

                                    As others point out, it's not a blanket rule; you'll certainly have $100 cabs that don't taste as good as a $20 one. But in general, I think that's the tipping point for quality that I have experienced. I also think that you get seriously diminishing returns once you hit $100+ bottles.

                                    1. While I have found good Cabs below about US $45, if I had to pick a price-point, where my enjoyment will **almost** always begin to match my expenditure, that would be it.

                                      Now, does a US $600 Cab give me 6x the enjoyment, as a US $100 Cab? Maybe, but also maybe not.

                                      As wines are unique, I find it tough to cubbyhole them, based on price-points alone.


                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        One of the "equations" used in reviewing wines or restaurant meals is the price/flavor ratio.

                                        If Wine X costs $40 and Wine Y costs $65, does Wine Y provide enough extra flavor or pleasure to you to justify the extra $25?

                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          I think $45 is the more accurate number for seeing a profound difference in flavor and quality, now that I think more about it.

                                          I said $35 earlier, but that doesn't catapult one up high enough to reap significant flavor differences, so much so that one says, "A ha! I get it now."

                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            If the answer is $45, I think the question should be, what is the undiscounted price point at which I can expect to find a reasonable percentage of delicious Cabernet Sauvignons?

                                            Skimming K&L's current California Cab inventory, I think their sweet spot is $35.

                                          2. I'll just throw out a few wines I think are exceptional for the price...

                                            Ehlers Estate 120/80 - Cab dominant blend for $45
                                            Domaine Eden makes a great Santa Cruz hills Cabernet for $35 that's seriously delicious. Like a mini "monte bello" imo.