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If you should find yourself roaming the Bordeaux countryside in France, or the storied estates of Napa Valley in California, there’s a good chance you’d be surrounded by vineyards growing the most beloved red wine grape: cabernet sauvignon. One of the reasons cabernet sauvignon is so popular is that it’s relatively easy to grow; the grape berries are known for their thick skin and natural ability to grow in a wide range of climates. It’s why from California to Tuscany to Australia wine country, cabernet sauvignon is there.
But most importantly, cabernet sauvignon is delicious. Mildly sweet, classically tannic and fruity, it’s the red wine to rule all red wines. With so many bottles to choose from, start off with these picks of the best cabernet sauvignons from around the world.
Best Overall: 2016 Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan
It’s hard to overstate the brilliance of the 2016 Château Pape Clément. The bottle is named after Pope Clement V, who owned the vineyard when he was just a scrappy upstart Archbishop of Bordeaux in the early 14th century, meaning the vineyard’s been in operation for over 700 years. Operated by esteemed French winemaker Bernard Magrez, this cabernet is a liquid luxury that’s impossible to resist (not that you’d dare).
Complex and beguiling, this wine boasts a diverse flavor palate of dark fruits, cherry and fig, along with black truffles, forest floor, tobacco, and mocha and vanilla-tinged oak spices. It's medium to full-bodied with fine-textured tannins, silken fruit and a long, elegant finish. In a word, exquisite.
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Best California: 2014 Heitz Cellar Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Heitz Cellar is a jewel among Napa Valley wine producers, and Martha’s Vineyard cabernet is their flagship bottle. Aged five years in French Limousin oak barrels, this wine is made with intensely purple grape berries from an exclusive Oakville vineyard situated within its unique micro-climate—meaning this is one exemplary wine. Every vintage since 1966 is coveted by collectors, but 2014 was a particularly good year for this cabernet.
Positively a classic with true cabernet herbal aromas of bay leaf, cedar, mint, and flavors of raspberry, red currant, sassafras, dark chocolate and eucalyptus. Sweet, svelte tannins find a long, dry finish supported by mouthwatering acidity. Best of all, you could be drinking this and enjoying it 50 years from now!
Best Washington: 2015 Sparkman Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon
Washington is known as the “Evergreen State,” and they probably got that nickname from all the knockout wines that deliver quality all year round. Celebrate the Pacific Northwest’s flair with the Kingpin Cabernet from Sparkman Cellars, a woodsy cuvée from the volcanic soils of the Yakima Valley.
It's deep, dark, and brooding with black cherry, black plum, and black currant bolstered by some campfire aromas of smoke and cedar. Sweet on the palate with coarse tannins, this wine is ready to go and prepared to accompany your perfectly-salted ribeye steak.
Best Under $20: 2017 Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
Under the banner of the famed Mondavi winemaking family comes this delicious and mercifully affordable cabernet, which combines the robust flavors of grapes sourced from Paso Robles and the Monterey coast to Yolo County. Because of its rich flavor, this bottle offers great value.
Fruity and spicy, this wine has notes of vivid wild-berry and red fruit strawberries, along with herbaceous aromas of jasmine and violets. Expect easy-drinking soft fruit with good juicy acidity and smooth tannins. It even pairs wonderfully with a rare burger.
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Best Under $50: 2017 Experience Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2017 growing season threw a few curve balls to growers in Napa, but if you want to experience a cabernet that encapsulates the brilliance of the season at under $50, this is it. Crafted by husband-and-wife duo Catherine and Travis Vale, barrel-fermented and aged in French oak, this affordable wine is treated like triple-digit royalty and is perfect for accompanying your more relaxing moments.
With bright raspberry and red cherry notes, this is a medium-bodied wine with gentle tannins and sweet red fruit, fresh-pressed blackberries and gobs of dark chocolate, along with a spicy finish.
Best Under $100: 2016 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
For almost five decades, the Duncan family has shepherded Silver Oak Cellars on a continued path of perfection. Their Alexander Valley property is worth a visit to California alone, just to experience their LEED Certified Platinum winery and, of course, to taste their Alexander Valley Cabernet.
Classic Silver Oak layers of deeply delicious toasty oak notes are harnessed with vanilla, blackberry, cassis and violets, further revealing black currant and wild herb notes over time in the glass. Expect bold tannins, bold flavors and mind-boggling complexity.
Best Value: 2018 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced from grapes grown in California’s warmer Lodi region, Avalon’s cabernet is one of those wines that sneaks up on you and grabs you by the tongue. Sustainably produced and flavor-conscious, this bottle has a taste that feels more expensive than it actually is.
Red-berry fruit, sweet oak spices, and vanilla find silky up-front fruit with powerful grippy tannins and a rich oak-led finish.
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Best Splurge: 2016 Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
Not to knock Champagne, but if you have an occasion worth celebrating, try skipping the bubbly and diving into this exquisite bottle of cabernet. The Lokoya Mount Veeder is an indulgence, and you'll know why as soon as the first drops fall on your tongue. It combines the best of Napa Valley’s mountain climate, rich soils, and expert winemaking from Lokoya’s artisan of the grape, Christopher Carpenter.
This is an example of peak cabernet. It is intensely aromatic with blueberry, violet, and blackberry notes bolstered by truffle and wild herbs. It's also full-bodied with tannins that grip and refuse to let go. Enjoy with reckless abandon.
Best Australian: 2018 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
Try cabernet the Aussie way with this fruity rendition from Penfolds. This South Australian multi-regional blend is made with grapes from the country’s cooler climates, maturing in French and American oak for a full year. The result is this deep and structured wine that’s worth crossing the Pacific for.
You’ll find aromas of blackberry compote, on-the-vine tomato leaf, cassis, and brown butter sage out the gate. This is a medium-bodied wine with wispy tannins and flavors of black and red currant, cherry and nutty mocha. This wine tastes excellent today, but will also improve over the next decade.
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Best Chilean: 2016 Clos Apalta
The Lapostolle family is Chilean royalty, and a member of the family, Charles de Bournet Marnier Lapostolle, is president and CEO of Clos Apalta. He brought in consultant Michele Rolland, perhaps the greatest winemaker in the world, and Jacques Begarie, a legendary French winemaker. Together, they are producing some of the best Chilean cabernets on earth.
With 64% carménère, 19% cabernet sauvignon and 17% merlot, this is a compact red, bursting at the seams with black raspberry, blackberry, red currants, crème de cassis and olive tapenade. Grippy, powerful tannins are underscored by savory tobacco, mint, and cacao leading to a focused and harmonious finish.
Best French: 2016 Château Marquis d'Alesme Margaux (Grand Cru Classé)
This bottle is the perfect example of what happens when you combine historic vineyards (in this case, the Margaux region on the left bank of Bordeaux) with expert winemakers (in this case, Marjolaine Maurice de Coninck, who’s known for her attention to detail and making sure every vine produces the best fruit). With its jewel-purple color and rousing aromas, this wine is a fully immersive experience from the trenches of Bordeaux’s storied soil.
This wine is exceptionally fragrant and emboldened by dark fruits: plum, black currant, crème de cassis and blueberries. Bolstered on the back end by notes of sandalwood and violet, it's medium-bodied with plump tannins and a dazzling texture, as well as a finish that lingers like a Hawaiian sunset.
Best Organic: 2018 Bonterra Organically Grown Cabernet Sauvignon
Bonterra’s reputation in the beverage trade can be distilled into two major points: first, they’re committed to producing quality wines, and second, they were organic before it was cool. Yes, even as far back as 1987, Bonterra has made their wines without using pesticides. The extra effort is evident in their 2018 cabernet, an inspired feat from the originators of organic vino.
Expect flavors of cherry, plum, and spice with pretty oak notes tinged with vanilla. The wine has a hearty structure with soft acidity and a fresh finish.
Best Vintage: 2015 Rodney Strong Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
A Sonoma staple founded by the late ballet dancer Rodney Strong, the winery's 2015 Reserve Cabernet is one of their exceptional standouts. Even today, Rodney Strong continues to be a force known for sustainable production of quality wine.
Find notes of blackberry, cherry, dark plum, tobacco, cedar, chocolate and toast. This wine is refined and robust with a long finish—an ideal match with beef and lamb dishes.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe and was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.