Despite being the world’s most widely planted grape variety, there aren’t many affordable cabernet sauvignons I would truly recommend. When a quality bottle turns up with a retail price less than $20, it is often made in Argentina, Australia or South Africa by winemakers who have cracked the code for crafting dry and delicious examples.
California was also a fixture in that category, but prices of well-calibrated and wallet-friendly examples have risen owing to short crops, supply chain issues and demand. Quality producers from Sonoma County, which used to be a relative steal, are fetching $25 or more per bottle. (These still look like bargains compared with cabernets coming out of Napa Valley, which have also escalated in price.)
Less expensive cabernets with a California appellation on the label are mass-produced for mass appeal and made for the supermarket channel in the United States, with lower prices than we can see owing to duties and taxes.
Californian wineries looking to make crowd-pleasing wines at this price point often use performance-enhancing techniques, such as aging cabernet in bourbon barrels to add more flavour to the finished wine and leaving residual sweetness to soften any rough edges or astringency. As a result, they have made the typically ripe and luscious style of California cabernet into something that’s more innocuous than interesting, at least to my taste.
But a remarkable cabernet crossed my path this week, with the introduction of the latest vintage of La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina. While there’s always been more to Mendoza than just the stylish and supple expressions of malbec, cabernet sauvignon is being touted by winemakers as a variety to watch. La Mascota has been written up in these pages previously, so if you find a bottle with a different vintage than the one reviewed here, I think there’s bound to be a strong family resemblance.
La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Argentina)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Made in Mendoza, La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon has become a remarkably consistent and enjoyable under-$20 red. It has seamless and generous texture with shoulders, meaning a structure that makes this appealing on its own or with a meal. It’s dry and vibrant, with terrific intensity of dark fruit and peppery spice that are easy to appreciate. Drink now to 2024. Available at the above price in Ontario and Quebec, $19.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $16.99 in Manitoba, $19.49 in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, $17.78 in Nova Scotia, $20.99 in Prince Edward Island.
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Pinot Noir 2020 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
It’s rare to see a rapid expansion of a winemaker’s portfolio without an adverse effect on quality, but Gérard Bertrand continues to add new labels to the lineup of wines his winemaking teams produce in the south of France. This attractive pinot noir is a recent addition to the Côte des Roses family, which has grown thanks to the ongoing success of the rosé. This offers dark fruit with floral and cedary notes that gain structure from bright acidity and a tug of tannins on the finish. Drink now to 2024. Available at the above price in Ontario, $23.99 in Saskatchewan, $21.98 in Nova Scotia.
Hillside Heritage Series Syrah 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $32
Established in 1990, Hillside was one of the first wineries located on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley in B.C. The portfolio is impressive across the range, however winemaker Kathy Malone’s syrah is always a standout. Made with grapes grown at the Hidden Valley Vineyard, this ripe and refined red offers serious complexity and freshness. The low alcohol, 11.8 per cent declared on the label, was achieved without sacrificing ripeness or character. The spicy and savoury notes add layers to the core of dark-berry fruit and cedar. Drink now to 2028. Available direct, hillsidewinery.ca.
LVE French Rosé 2021 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $29.95
A collaboration between singer-songwriter John Legend and the Boisset family, LVE produces wines in California and France. This creamy and rich rosé is a blend of grapes grown in the Languedoc, including grenache and syrah. It offers the smooth sophistication that Legend exudes in performance, with a fashionable pale-pink colour, but more depth of fruit and intensity than the lean and reserved styles made in Provence. It’s dry but not bone dry, thanks to a rounded texture and peach and apricot flavours on the finish. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $34.49 in Saskatchewan, $29.99 in New Brunswick.
Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (United States)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $35.95
Alexander Valley in Sonoma County is home to some of California’s best cabernets, including this complex and compelling example, which makes the most of its rich, ripe and rewarding character. A dry and flavourful style of cabernet, with elegance, structure and complexity, this agreeable red wine is crowd-pleasing and accessible without the crutch of residual sweetness that a growing number of California producers employ. Drink now to 2030. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta.
M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2021 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.55
This stylish white blend from the Rhône offers appealing concentration, complexity and refreshment. A flavourful mix of rich and zesty components makes for an enjoyable white with fruit and floral notes and a rich texture. This is harmonious and reliable vintage after vintage, which makes it a good candidate for your house white. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price ($14.55 until Sept. 11 at LCBO outlets), various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $19.99 in Manitoba, $23.29 in Nova Scotia, $22.99 in Newfoundland.
Famille Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2019 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.95
Consistently enjoyable and available, this ripe and spicy red blend comes from the Perrin family, which owns an extensive patchwork of vineyards through France’s Rhône Valley and controls Château de Beaucastel, one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s most famous estates. A conventional blend of the region’s principal grapes, grenache, mourvèdre and syrah, this is an enticing wine with a touch of rusticity that makes it an excellent dinner companion. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $20.49 in Saskatchewan, $16.99 in Manitoba, $16.60 in Quebec, $18.98 in Nova Scotia, $17.99 in Prince Edward Island, $20.98 in Newfoundland.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.