Coravin Test: 3 Inexpensive Cabs

Confession: I caved and bought a Coravin. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with a Coravin, it is a nifty gadget that allows you to try wine without uncorking the bottle. How does it work? In short, the contraption uses a needle and gas to extract the wine, and since cork is self healing, the cork repairs itself keeping the wine inside away from harm. This sounds awesome, right? It is, but the downfall is it's a little pricey. Ultimately, I decided to get one in order to do things just like this post: taste multiple wines without having to pull 3+ corks and have all that extra wine sitting in my fridge degenerating quickly. Plus I got a good deal through my friends at Mountaintop Wine Shoppe, so I couldn't pass it up. 


So what was my first test? I wanted to try the three "grocery store" Cabernet Sauvignons I had on hand to see which was the best. Here was the lineup:

  1. Carnivor - California, 2013. Purchased at Fresh Market but I've definitely seen it at a ton of other grocery stores. It's also at Total Wine for $10.99. I wanted to give this one a whirl because it was on a list of highly rated wines under $20 (90 points by Wine Enthusiast). 
  2. Liberty School - Paso Robles, 2013. This historically has been a go-to grocery store purchase for me. We haven't had it in a while since we've been trying new things, so I wanted to give it a go when compared to other wines. I'd say it averages around $14 in grocery stores, but can be found at its cheapest at Total Wine for $10.97.
  3. Motto Backbone - California, 2013. I've actually done a tasting notes on this wine already. You can find it here. While I purchased it at a restaurant, you can find Motto in grocery stores and Total Wine as well. It runs from about $8 to $10.

I used my Coravin to pour about 3 oz. of each and did a mini-tasting to see which I liked best. When you only have one wine at a time, it's difficult to say which wine you like best, so using the Coravin was the perfect way to find a "favorite". Here are some details about each wine:

1. Carnivor

Carnivor was an extremely deep purple color and completely opaque. It even stained the glass when you swirled it around. Based on this, I knew there had to be some other grape blended in, and sure enough, they add some Petite Syrah to the mix. I immediately smelled vanilla and dark, ripe fruit like blackberry jam and even some blueberry. I also got a hint of something herbal or almost minty. The vanilla also came through on the pallet, and in my opinion, it was a total vanilla/oak bomb. Sure, you also got some of that blackberry or cassis flavor, but it seems like they let the wine sit in oak until there was nothing but vanilla to taste. It was smooth and full-bodied, but too heavy and creamy for me (although Kevin thought it was fine).



2. Liberty School

Since this was my go-to for so long, I had high expectations. The color was a pretty medium-red, garnet and it was semi-translucent. Definitely less full than the Carnivor. It smelled of red fruit like cherry, and there was no vanilla on this one! The wine tasted of the same red fruit and also maybe plum. It was pretty smooth for those who don't like tannin, but it was a little thin in my opinion. No real "oomph" from tannin, acid, or spice. Maybe I needed to let it sit out for longer. It was definitely still good, but not as stellar as I remembered.

Liberty School


3. Motto Backbone

As I mentioned before, I've already done a tasting notes on this wine here. Backbone was actually my favorite out of the bunch, and Kevin thought it smelled the best. To summarize, this wine was a medium-red color and smelled of ripe red fruit. I instantly thought of cherry pie and sweet raspberries. To be clear, this wine is not sweet. Just fruity. There was definitely some tannin in there, although mild. I think this bit of tannin is what pushed it ahead of Liberty School. I found this wine to be easy to drink and tasty!


So what does all of this mean? First, I loved being able to compare, so I'll have to do this with other grape varieties in the future. Second, it also means that you shouldn't always follow ratings (including my own). While they can be useful as a guide, tastes are subjective so it won't always be accurate. Therefore, I'll stick with my tried and true Liberty School or Motto for easy to drink, inexpensive Cabs. I'd say Liberty School is more widely available, so it's good to know that it stands up to others that we enjoy.

I'd love to hear about more inexpensive Cabs, so let me know yours in the comments below!


Tasting Notes: Happy Camper Cabernet

The Facts

  • Producer: Happy Camper Vineyards
  • Region: California
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $8.99

This is the first wine from my Total Wine 2015 Challenge.

  • Eyes: Deep red color. Seems like a medium body wine based on the pour and look of wine the glass. Wine was less opaque than others I have had.
  • Nose: Fruit forward, red fruit. Definitely some cherry. Hint of spice, maybe pepper. 
  • Mouth: Fairly smooth for an inexpensive cab, but also some tannin which provides a "depth" that I find most inexpensive cabs lack. Medium body; lighter viscosity than other cabs.
  • Thoughts: Very surprised by this cab, especially considering it was less than $9 after my coupon. Another note about this wine is that it was a screwtop which is VERY convenient if you're out and about somewhere... say, camping! If your taste preferences lean toward full-bodied, bold cabs, then I would shy away. However, if you like something lighter and cheap for "every day" wines, or if you're new to cabs, then I would definitely add this one to your "to try" list!