How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Cabernet Sauvignon

We’ve all been there. It is 6:30pm and you get a call from a friend inviting you over for a casual dinner. Your only option is the supermarket or local grocery store. The shelves are lined with the well known big brands. How do you decide which Cabernet Sauvignon is best for you?

Research shows that packaging and label design have a significant influence over what wines customers buy. But if you are also interested in the taste how do you decide which is better?

According to A.C Nielsen scan data the most popular wine brands sold through grocery stores in the United States include Yellow Tail, Sutter Home, Franzia, Woodbridge, Beringer California Collection, Livingston Cellars, Twin Valley, Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve, Carlo Rossi and Almaden.

Armed with this information we decided to check out a selection of these well-distributed brands. We also included a number of additional brands that we felt warranted being included. And to be able to make accurate comparisons we stuck to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Altogether, we tasted fifteen wines. Our aim in tasting was to find wines that would entice you to pour a second glass. We were looking for wines with a good concentration of clean fruit, refreshing to drink, smooth across the palate and balanced in terms of the tannins, acidity, fruit intensity and alcohol.

The most interesting finding from the tasting was that overall Chilean wines seemed to offer the best quality: price ratio. Understandably so, given that Chile’s international wine success came from producing good quality affordable wines. Australia’s Jacob’s Creek once again proves to be a consistent safe bet. Won’t knock your socks off but reliably balanced and dependable.

We had some Californian and Australian disappointments where the wines were, either thin, weedy and overly hot or, far too sweet, candied and syrupy.

We hope that the suggestions below will be of some help the next time you have to pick up a wine in a hurry.

Best Big Brand Wine Bets: Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Santa Rita 120, Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($7) – Intense cassis, black cherry, clove and vanilla aromas. Brimming with juicy ripe fruit and layers of spice and earthy notes with a touch of eucalyptus on the palate. (17/20)

2006 Montes Classic Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Colchagua Valley ($8) - packed with juicy black fruit with layers of toasty caramel, spice and hints of eucalyptus. (17/20)

2006 Errazuriz Estate Cabernet Saivignon, Aconchagua Valley, Chile ($10)
Full-bodied with ripe red and black fruits and earthy aromas. Layers of plum, strawberry and blackberry and toasty spice on the finish. (16.5/20)

2005 Jacob's Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($7) - stewed plums and cassis aromas with hints of rhubarb and herbal notes. Modern fruit forward style with restrained oak and A fruit driven style with concentrated black fruit and spice on the palate (16/20)

2005 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) – Intensely fruit forward with enticing aromas of ripe ‘jammy’ fruits with an overlay of chocolate. Cassis flavors dominate the palate with hints of cocoa. (16/20)

2006 Foxglove Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($13). A big wine. Bright cassis fruit with lots of toasty vanilla and spice. (15.5/20)

2006 Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) – Ripe plums and black fruits with lots of toasty vanilla and smokey mocha notes. Full bodied with hints of spice and herbs on the palate. (15.5/20)

2005 Ravenswood Vintners Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($10) - Dark and brooding with strong earthy notes. Lots of black cherry and plums with subtle oak notes. (15/20)

2005 Columbia Crest, Grand Estates, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($10) – Baked plums and blackberries with layers of spice and coffee and hints of coconut and vanilla. (14.5/20)

Have a great week!
- Mary



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