Friday, June 12, 2009
Let's face it, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is expensive. For the 2005 vintage, the average price of a 90-point Wine Spectator bottle was $75.
So what to do if you enjoy the characteristics of the category but don't want to drop $20+ on a weeknight bottle? I enjoy Napa Cab for it's big, rich fruit, balanced by meaningful yet enjoyable tannins. Where else can we find these characteristics at a more approachable price point?
One place to look is Cabernet from outside of Napa. Areas that come to mind are Washington State, Argentina, and Chile. Of these, I'd say that Washington State might be the most similar stylistically to Napa. I say this with a blind tasting which compared a Cab from Washington to two from California fresh in my mind.
On the other hand I've found Cabernets from South America to be different than those from California. Things like smoke, raisins, and green peppers are more commonplace it seems and those wines have not provided to me with an affordable substitute to Napa Cab in my experience.
Another play would be to stay in Napa, but avoid the Cabernet grape. The only problem with this approach is that when you flank to another grape in Napa, you tend to still land on expensive producers and similar (if slightly lower) price points. Land is expensive in Napa and the labels that come out of Napa tend to be famous.
I think the 2006 Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah provides an affordable way to stay in Napa while avoiding the Cabernet grape and still enjoying similar charactersitics. The price is lower on this wine because it's from a non-famous label. More on that important point in a moment.
Typically, I wouldn't expect a Rhone variety like Petite Sirah to be as full bodied as Cabernet Sauvignon, and I don't want to mislead you into thinking this wine is as dense as a Cab. It's not. But there's something to this wine that is unmistakably California. It's luscious, delicious, and intense, with a nice firm backbone. I would rate it 90 points.
Plugging this wine into the Wellesley Wine Press QPR Calculator (What's This?) with a baseline price for California Petite Sirah of $30 and a street price of $12 for this wine, we get:
Value: 2.5 (Very Good)
Back to the previous point I alluded to regarding this being a non-famous label. It seems this wine can't be mentioned without whispers about it being juice from a more prestigious winery and that if it had the original winery's label on it, it would sell for $38. Judging from how much I've enjoyed this wine, I wouldn't be surprised if these whispers were true.
I originally discovered this wine at Legal Sea Foods where they pour it by the glass and offer it by the bottle or by the case. I always try to make follow-on purchases from the retailer that first turned me to a wine, but I have seen this wine available at other retailers as well:
Where to Buy:
- Legal Sea Foods Chestnut Hill MA
- Blanchards West Roxbury, MA
- Bin Ends Wine Braintree, MA
- Highland Wine & Spirits in Newton, MA (617) 527-3040
- Legal Seafoods Does Wine (including the Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah)
- My piece on a blind tasting of Napa Cab vs. Chilean Cab
- My piece on a blind tasting of California Cab vs. Washington Cab
- The Passionate Foodie's take on Petite Sirah
- Wine Library TV's take on Petite Sirah
- RJ's take on the same wines from California and Washington
- The $38 Stag's Leap Petite Sirah
- The CellarTracker page for the 2006 Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah