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Burgundy wines are the most expensive wines in the world but who wants to pay over fifteen-thousand-dollars for this top wine (see below) when it’s over 30-years-old, it’s a Pinot Noir, and the average Pinot Noir should be drunk within 5 years. Just Saying.

I know you wine aficionados might be cringing with the suggestion that a fifteen-thousand-dollar bottle of wine might get too old. Clearly a Pinot can last far longer than five years, depending on circumstances. But that’s not the point. The point is that most of us cannot afford a fifteen-thousand-dollar bottle of wine, even if it’s made of liquid gold that last for a millennium. So let’s discover here, affordable and great wine.

In this first write-up in a series, we will research the very top wines under $50 bucks for certain varietals. We start this week’s research with the popular Cabernet Sauvignon varietal.

It’s hard to determine an objective way to judge “the best” wine-for-the-buck but we settled on using two popular rating agents and a few methodologies. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are the rating agents we chose because they are reputable, do blind wine tastings, and are rigorous and methodical in their rating process. We made sure that both agents rated the wine, to ensure that the rating was less biased by one methodology or agent.

A good recommendation, in our opinion, should include wine that has consistently rated high over many vintages (years). We sought wine makers that delivered ratings above 90, over several years in the particular varietal. This can be very difficult to find because of the changing weather conditions–year after year. The reason for adding this requirement however, is that a great wine for a low price in one particular vintage will likely not be found for that price for very long. [When inventory dissipates, less supply creates greater demand for what is left, and the price of the wine consequently goes up.]

Another criterion we used was determining whether the wine was actually buy-able at the prices advertised. So many highly rated wines are advertised on many websites for one price but when you try to buy it, you cannot find it at that price, which is really annoying. What good is a list of top wines, if you cannot easily buy them for that bargain price?

Lastly, how good is a recommendation if the inventory for that wine disappears quickly? So we looked for wines that had plenty of inventory.

Cabernet Sauvignon

When we first started researching the best valued Cabernet Sauvignons, we did not expect to find similarities between winemakers but we were wrong. The top two wines on our list coincidentally come from the same wine region and state. Given we are the Napa Valley Wine Club you might think we’ll write a biased piece on Napa but no, what’s the point in that? The region with the top wines was Columbia Valley, Washington. For the record, that’s the best value Cabernet Sauvignon and not the best Cabernet Sauvignons :-).

The fact that this region has the best valued Cabs is perhaps surprising to many of you (and me) but there are real and unique reasons for this. For one, the region is relatively new to wine-making (compared with Burgundy, Boudreaux, Chianti, Napa and Sonoma), so less people know about the region’s wine, and consequently demand is lower. This generally keeps prices down.

The region’s geography is also unique: “The consistent, sweeping winds protect the vines year-round from extreme temperatures, fungal disease and vineyard pests. These distinctive weather patterns, combined with the sandy, quick-draining loam soils in which the vines are rooted, result in berries with thick skins, plush tannins and balanced acidity

With elevations ranging from 300 to 1,800 feet above sea level, a northern longitude and many south-facing slopes, the vineyards here receive about 17 hours of daylight. This extended heat exposure is offset by cool evenings, creating a temperature shift that is more pronounced than other winegrowing regions of Washington. This helps the fruit develop intense concentration and maintain an ideal level of natural acidity to produce wines that are complex and well-structured 2.”


1. The highest rated wine by Wine Enthusiast that can be both bought easily and has their Cabernet Sauvignon consistently rated high, is Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon XV 09, at an eye-popping 96 out of 100. It is rated 92 by Wine Spectator (WS). All years of Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon are rated 92 or above on WS and most are below $50. Same is true of WE with just a few exceptions. The current vintage can be found for $45.

It is priced in the high $40s range.

Description of the wine: A mixture of black fruit (blackberries, plums, etc.) and red fruits (raspberry, strawberry, etc.), toasted flavors, coffee and mocha. Finishes with a nice amount of acidity.

2. The highest rated wine by Wine Spectator (WS) that can be both bought easily and their Cabernet Sauvignon is consistently rated high, is the 2012 Double Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills, at a 94 out of 100. It is rated a 93 by Wine Enthusiast (WE). All years have ratings in the low to mid 90s by both WS and WE. The current vintage is as low as $25!

It is priced for that vintage in the high $40s.

Description of the wine: Light in color, the nose from this wine is spectacular. The aromas range from vanilla, cherry, blueberry to high-toned herbal, graphite, and coffee notes. Its tannins are robust and long to the finish, although they are also elegant and nuanced.

3. The next highest combined rated Cabernet Sauvignon is not from Washington but from Spring Mountain in Napa Valley—a mountain known for its Cabs. This readily bought and consistently highly rated wine is the Terra Valentine 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain). It is rated 94 out of 100 by Wine Enthusiast and 92 out of 100 by Wine Spectator.

This wine could use some time (it will age well), but if you can’t wait it can be drunk now. It has intense flavors of currant and dark chocolate, while also having notes of dark berries, black licorice and savory herbs.

It is priced at around $40 by most wine shops but the current vintage is priced at $50.

Some other value wines are:

Round Pond Kith & Kin at around $30

A few years ago, Wine Enthusiast created a list of 30 wines under $30. The list is a bit antiquated and is limited to Napa Valley but it can be found here.

So what are the most expensive wine bottles in the world: The most expensive bottle of wine in the world is the 1985 Richebourg Grand Cru, from the Côtes de Nuit range, at $19,505 for a 75ml bottle1; the second priciest is A Romanee-Conti Grand Cru coming in at an average price $13,314 a bottle1; and the third priciest is the Cros-Parantoux, Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru at $8,832 a bottle1. Not only did wines from the Burgundy region take the top three spots, they accounted for 40 of the 50 wines on a popular list1.

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