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With vineyard land in Napa Valley growing ever more scarce and expensive, vintners are increasingly specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape best suited to the valley and one with an exceptional track record. For most wineries, their Cab defines them—but not all Cabs are created equal. Luckily, in Napa this big red is made well at every price point; you just have to know where to look. These bottles have national distribution, so you can find them back home, too.

Villa Mt. Eden, Grand Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2005, $17
This is a great gateway Cabernet: It’s relatively soft and smooth and more like Merlot than some—perfect for Cab beginners. It has fig and berry flavors and just a touch of the charming bell pepper taste characteristic of this grape.

Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2005, $30
Founded in 1900, the historic Beaulieu Vineyard impresses with this lovely wine at a very reasonable price. There’s a dusting of licorice flavor, along with the classic Cab note of cherry. Its slightly chewy texture means that it pairs nicely with grilled meats.

Chappellet Winery, Signature Cabernet, Sauvignon Napa, Valley 2006, $42
Chappellet isn’t as well known as some Napa wineries, especially on the East Coast. But this family-owned operation should be at the forefront of any Cab lover’s mind. Sweet fruit is the focus, with blackberry and plum tastes accented by dark chocolate.

Rubicon Estate, Rubicon, Rutherford 2005, $145
When filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola bought the Inglenook estate (and rebranded it Rubicon), many doubted that he and his team could craft wines worthy of its legacy. But their flagship wine—a big, brooding beauty—shows that value can apply even to a wine that’s fairly pricey. It’s good now and will taste even better in five years. Don’t rush it.

From the Summer 2009 issue of Sherman's Travel magazine

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