The most wonderful time of the year is the perfect time for Cabernet.
There is no better wine for the holidays than Cabernet Sauvignon. There, I’ve said it. My Burgundy-obsessed sommelier friends may look coolly askance at this statement; natural-wine lovers will choke on their obscure, sulfite-free Loire whites; and no doubt the marketing wizards of Champagne have a response at the ready and can simply pull a lever to put their mighty machinery to work. But seriously, it’s true.
Here’s why. First, gift-giving. When it comes to holiday wine gifts, unless you know the recipient’s particular tastes well, it’s best to go with something that is recognizably appealing. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to pick a grape variety that is broadly identified with the upper echelons of wine.
Second, there are good Cabernets at every price. Need a $10 wine to slake the thirst of hordes of partygoers? An impressively tasty $25 hostess gift? A $200 bottle to keep you in your father-in-law’s will? Cabernet is there for you.
Third, and finally, during the holiday season, grand cuts of meat are often what’s on the table. One effective trick for pairing wine and food is to go by weight, so to speak: lighter foods with lighter wines; richer, more robust foods with equally substantial bottlings. For a juicy beef rib roast like the one on page 124, an opulent Cabernet is the ideal partner.
With all that in mind, here are 19 spectacular Cabernets from around the world to seek out for the holidays. And don’t forget to buy a bottle for yourself—this season can be stressful, after all, and you deserve a present, too.
Pours for Parties
2015 Leaping Horse Vineyard California Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) An unmitigated steal, this lightly spicy red comes from the family behind California’s Ironstone Vineyards. A touch of the robustly tannic Tannat variety adds a little extra structure.
2016 Santa Ema Select Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) Sweet cherry flavors and soft, silky tannins make this straightforward, easy-drinking Cabernet an ideal value choice for big holiday gatherings.
2014 Cannonball California Cabernet Sauvignon ($16) Longtime California winemaker Dennis Hill teamed up with entrepreneur Yoav Gilat in 2006 to found this cheeky brand, and their bright, blueberry-inflected Cab has proved a perennial best-buy.
2015 Substance Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) Grapes from two top Washington regions, Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope, come together in this powerful, dark-fruited wine. It’s a terrific introduction to Washington state’s talent for tasty reds.
2015 Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($19) Robust black currant flavors lifted by a minty note lie at the core of this juicy Chilean Cabernet from the Maipo region. Winemaker Grant Phelps has a knack for producing reds that outperform their modest prices.
2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) This rich, mocha-scented Cabernet from Washington state’s most historic winery (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) would be ideal with braised short ribs or any rich, slow-cooked meat dish.
2014 Finca Decero Remolinos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) This complex, tobacco-scented wine comes from a vineyard in Argentina’s Mendoza region named for the remolinos, or tiny whirlwinds, that dance through the vines.
Holiday Dinners & Hostess Gifts
2015 Mitolo Jester Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) A process borrowed from Italy’s great Amarone reds—a portion of the grapes is dried on racks for seven weeks before fermenting—intensifies the flavors and aromas of this luscious, chocolaty Australian Cab.
2014 The Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) Winemaker Dave Guffy uses only a modest amount of new oak for this polished Cabernet, keeping its lively red currant flavors bright. Though not technically a single- vineyard wine, most of the grapes come from Hess’s Allomi estate vineyard on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain.
2014 Wildberry Estate Reserve Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) Australia’s Margaret River region, on the far west coast, south of Perth, is one of the country’s greatest Cabernet sources—something this vivid wine attests to with its intoxicating aroma and layers of flavor.
2015 Band of Vintners Consortium Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) This is the second release from a group of seven winemaker friends whose goal is to produce a Cabernet from top Napa Valley sites at a modest price. They’ve succeeded brilliantly with this peppery, cherry-rich bottling.
2014 Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) Thanks to the bountiful 2014 vintage, Laurel Glen was able to make substantially more of its most affordable Cabernet than usual. Yet the wine definitely rises to its usual high quality level, with clove and vanilla notes hanging above its sweet cassis fruit.
2014 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) Wynns’ “black label” Cab is an Australian classic. First produced in 1954, it has a justified reputation for cellaring well (even for decades), yet it also drinks beautifully when young, as this 2014 with its currant and black olive flavors proves.
2013 Domus Aurea ($65) If you think Chile only makes bargain reds, here’s a bottle to change your mind. Sourced from a single vineyard in the Andean foothills, Domus is world-class Cabernet, its black currant fruit lifted by eucalyptus and rosemary.
2014 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) Winemaker Peter Gago’s precise touch shows through in this impressive Australian Cab. Fragrant and mouth-filling without being heavy, it’s distinguished by notes of dark cherry and spearmint.
2013 Inglenook Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) Rescued from decades in the doldrums by Francis Ford Coppola in 1975, Inglenook now makes some of the best wines in its storied history. Case in point: this formidable, polished Cabernet.
2012 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) Old-school in style—don’t look for superrich black fruit flavors here—this single-vineyard red from one of Napa’s classic producers is gorgeously fragrant and supple.
2014 Force Majeure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) Winemaker Todd Alexander honed his skills making one of Napa Valley’s top cult Cabernets before decamping to Washington state. Now he uses fruit from the steep slopes of Red Mountain for this velvety, black cherry–scented wine.
2013 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) This Napa Valley estate has a decidedly colorful history (its first owner went bankrupt, while during Prohibition it was occupied by bootleggers), but it has long made benchmark wines. Now star winemaker Andy Erickson is in charge, and this profound Cabernet is his stellar debut.