I've said here before that one of the great wine challenges is finding original cabernet sauvignon for not too much money — let's say $20 or under. Indeed, there's no shortage of cheap cab out there, most of it massed produced in California, where most of it should stay. In general, you shouldn’t expect much complexity, which is to say interest, at the lower end. But every once in a while a moderately priced wine stands out, like the very good $20 cab I discovered recently from Washington State.
The wine is the 2002 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maryhill Winery in the Columbia River Gorge, a relatively new wine area in south-central Washington. The winery, run by Craig and Vicki Leuthold, has almost encyclopedic menu of offerings, including sangiovese, syrah and grenache among the reds, and viognier, riesling and gewürztraminer among the whites, in addition to the more familiar cabernets, merlots, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs.
They make limited amounts of all these wines (I counted 25 or so), ranging from a couple of thousand cases of the regular bottlings to just a couple of hundred or so for the reserve wines. The fruit is both grown on their own property and is sourced, or purchased, from other vineyards.
For me, the cabernet stood out for a number of reasons, including the quality of the fruit, its mulit-layering and the fact that it’s a bit leaner in style than many wines from the region, with alcohol at 14.2 percent. Still, it is unabashedly fruit forward and has a good deal of oak in the mix, which makes it classic American cab and a standout at this price.
The aromas and tastes are marked by dark berry, currant, leather, spice and vanilla. The wine is medium-bodied and is moderately tannic but ready to drink and has a long finish. It demands meat and comes into its own when partnered with a pan-sautéed or grilled steak, although lamb and even grilled chicken will do it justice.
About 1,200 cases were produced, and Vicky Luthold tells me the wine is available in 13 states and can be shipped to many others by the winery. You can find more at: maryhillwinery.com.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch