Best Napa Valley Cabernet under $20 – Vintage 2012

Wine folks, it is here. A list of the best Napa Valley Cabernets under $20 from the fabulous 2012 vintage. Believe it! I spent a couple of months seeking out Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines and found 12 wines. I found these at K&L Wines, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Costco. This was all in preparation for our blind Vintage Wine Tasting. Every other month we meet and blind taste a different varietal of wine.  It was my turn to host and seek out these Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines,  all from the 2012 vintage

This was no easy task as you might imagine. The majority of wines I purchased for our tasting retail for more than $20, one as high as $39. But we are bargain wine hunters and we search for the ultimate wine bargain. The most we paid for any of the wines was $19.99.

I decided to focus on the 2012 vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. There are plenty of 2011 Cabs on the shelves,  but that vintage was a very difficult one for California Cabernet. In contrast, the 2012 vintage was a star in both quality and quantity. The Wine Spectator’s James Laube, who covers the California wine scene , tells us: “In size and quality, the 2012 vintage is a game changer in California, especially for its star wine Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Best Napa Valley Cabernet under $20 Vintage 2012

Best Napa Valley Cabernet under $20 – Vintage 2012

In the photo we see the six wines that made it to the finals of our competition. All the wines were bagged, and each Vintage Wine Taster brings a set of six wine glasses and does a side-by-side comparison. We use a free wine scorecard from I use a spreadsheet (Numbers) with my iPad mini to quickly and accurately calculate the scoring among the nine of us. Here are the results of our tasting from top to bottom. Mind you, in our discussion, we found all of these wines to be very good.

  • Cameron Hughes 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 432

    Costco – $19.99, CH Online Wine Shop – $29

  • Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County 2012

    Safeway $18.89 (30% off sale ends on Nov 16, six-pack price),  K&L Wines $19.99, Oberon Online Wine Shop $25

  • Buehler Napa Valley Cabernet

    Safeway $15.74 (30% off sale ends on Nov 16, six-pack price), K&L Wines $21.99, Buehler Vineyards online wine shop $25.

  • B Side Cabernet Sauvignon

    Safeway $15.75 (30% off sale ends on Nov 16, six-pack price), KL Wines $18.99

  • Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

    Safeway $17.99 (30% off sale ends on Nov 16, six-pack price), Trader Joe’s $19.99, Robert Mondavi online wine shop $29

  • Sparrow Hawk 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

    Costco $15.99, Sparrow Hawk online wine shop – $39

I picked the Cameron Hughes far above the rest and ranked the others all even except for the Sparrow Hawk, which I had last. Interestingly, the Sparrow Hawk tasted much better when I tasted what was left in the bottle for dinner that evening.

Here is something that irks me. I thought all the wines were very age worthy. However, only the Robert Mondavi and the Sparrow Hawk used real corks. What I mean by real corks are corks made from the cork of a tree.  Do these other corks made of plastic or whatever let the wine breathe? I had let all the wines breathe for an hour before the tasting. Can these wines truly age over ten years without a real cork? My thought is no, they will just stay the same. Perhaps to prove this point: Vintage Wine Taster Jim A brought from his wine cellar a 2002 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet. He paid $17 for this wine back in the day. Today’s price for the Mondavi discounted is nearly the same.  The 2002  aged gloriously and is a great example of how Napa Valley Cabernet can age.  This wine was very elegant and complex and so much better than the 2012 in the blind tasting.

Following the tasting we had a delicious lunch prepared by yours truly. We had Santa Maria Tri Tip sandwiches, recipe from and a delicious spinach and Treviso salad with white miso, recipe from the Wall Street Journal.  For dessert, Sylvia’s delicious chocolate biscotti and a sour cream coffee cake from one of our favorite spots in Burlingame, the Burlingame Cakery.

Interesting in a fabulous high-end vacation wine tour? This is it!

Blind tasting of Second Label Napa Cabernet

Update to this page – Second Label Cab blind tasting


  1. I just received an email alert from K&L Wines raving about the Textbook Napa Valley Cab 2012. It is $19.99 at K&L. If anyone has tried this wine, let us know what you think. Is it worthy to recognized with the wines in our tasting?

  2. Jim Fausett says

    How do you know which of the 2012 Cabs have real corks, anyway to tell without buying?

    • That is a good question! Screw tops, no problem but how do you know what is under the “hood?” I do know if you can tell until you remove the foil. Can anyone help with this question?

      • Whenever you go into a shop that sells wine, ask for the person who works in that department. Always ask that person – Have you tried this wine? If the response is yes, then your next question should be is the cork made of real cork? Ask this simple question and then shut up. Your decision will be based on the response you get. Don’t be afraid to ask.

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