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You can find really cheap cabernet sauvignon, and some of it is pretty good. But for the most part, those are generic red wines. To taste cabernet’s character, it is worth exploring and spending a little more — it needn’t be a lot. The cult cabs and first growth Bordeaux are out of reach for us in the 99 percent, but there’s plenty left to experience. One of my perennial favorites is the Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas from Chile’s Maipo Valley. At as low as $15, it provides consistent value, and has a consistent track record for improving over several years.
This week’s selections are by no means exhaustive, but I’ve tried to include a range of cabernets from various regions that offer good quality and value pricing. These include Chile, Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Paso Robles in central California and Washington state’s Columbia Valley.
Maipo Valley, Chile, $15
Cousiño-Macul offers a cabernet that can be found as inexpensively as $7 a bottle on sale, but the Antiguas Reservas label, often priced around $15, is worth the extra expense. It is a great intro into what Chile can do with cabernet sauvignon, combining a Bordeaux sensibility with the New World exuberance and frontier spirit of Chile. These wines tend to age well, if you can resist opening them. ABV: 14 percent.
Imported and distributed by Winebow: Widely available in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Bordeaux, France, $30
This wine, from the producers of the popular Larose-Trintaudon, is classic Médoc wine: Dominated by cabernet sauvignon (the blend is 40 percent merlot), it offers black currant flavors with grilled toast and a graphite minerality. This would be fine with your steaks, but it will really shine with more complex and subtle stews or braised short ribs. Bordeaux fans should stock up; this is really a beautiful value, from a terrific vintage. Certified sustainable. Alcohol by volume: 13.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by M. Touton Selection: Available in the District at Circle Wine & Liquor, Eye Street Cellars, Rodman’s, the Wine Outlet. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Choice Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Grosvenor Market in Rockville, Hop N Grape in North Bethesda, Old Farm Liquors and Spin the Bottle Wine Co. in Frederick, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Rodman’s (White Flint); on the list at Old Hickory Steak House in National Harbor. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean, Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, the Wine Outlet (McLean).
Paso Robles Highland District, Calif., $33
Paso Robles is California’s sleeper secret for cabernet sauvignon. This wine combines elegance and ripeness, with black fruit flavors and savory notes of spice and earth. Best of all, each sip is better than the last, showing the wine will improve in bottle for several years. If you’re enjoying it now, decant it an hour or so before dinner. The distributor has recently moved on to the 2016 vintage. ABV: 13.9 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Rodman’s and in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda.
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, Calif., $40
Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley could be considered an antidote to Napa Valley’s high-priced cabernets. This example offers black currant flavors with some spice and roasted toffee notes, leaning toward the heavy side of cabernet without losing its balance. Winemaker Nick Goldschmidt has been making cabernet in Sonoma County for decades. ABV: 14.5 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Rodman’s; on the list at Mastro’s. Available in Maryland at Harbour Wine & Spirits in Severna Park, Kings Contrivance Liquor Shop in Columbia, the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Beers & Cheers Too and Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda; on the list at Black’s Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda. Available in Virginia at Grape + Bean in Alexandria, Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton; on the list at the Palm in Tysons.
Columbia Valley, Wash., $20
Washington State’s Columbia Valley produces some outstanding red wines, with cabernet sauvignon leading the way. The Huntsman tips toward the riper side of cabernet, with dried fruit, black olive, toffee and dark roast coffee flavors. Enjoy this with substantial meat dishes. The distributor is now selling the 2017, but the 2016 is still in the market. ABV: 13.2 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at the Bottle Shop, Chat’s Liquor, Rodman’s, Streets Market and Cafe (various locations); on the list at Art and Soul, Chef Geoff’s, Meridian Pint. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring; on the list at the Tasting Room in Frederick. Available in Virginia at Grape + Bean in Alexandria; on the list at Chef Geoff’s in Tysons, Dolce Vita and Trio Grill in Fairfax, Hummingbird in Alexandria, Liberty Tavern in Arlington.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.