We thought it would be fun to compare really popular brands of Cabernet Sauvignon sold at most local stores. We went to Smart & Final (we specifically chose a big box store since so many people buy wine from them) and chose two of the more popular Cab Sauvs on the shelf: Rodney Strong and J. Lohr. These bottles are typical go-to brands for the sub-$20 Cab Sauvs. They can usually be found at your local grocery or liquor store for about $17 each.
I remember drinking both Rodney Strong and J. Lohr Cab Sauvs in the past and liking both for bottles under $20 from the grocery store. I’ll be honest, buying wine in the sub $20 price range is a crap shoot. There are a lot of stinkers in that price range unless you get guidance from a wine pro. That’s why we prefer buying wine at wine shops but sometimes your only option is the grocery store. Drinking these Cabs side by side should be interesting. Here goes:
The Rodney Strong is full-bodied with a deep purple color. It has strong green pepper notes, which I find a little distracting. I’m not a green pepper fan in wine. It’s too strong for my palate and takes me away from the pleasure of drinking wine. A straightforward Cabernet, the Rodney Strong would likely pair well with most heavy dishes like steak, roasts or even pizza. It gives a full-mouth feel, which makes it taste richer than the J. Lohr.
The J. Lohr is significantly lighter in body and when tasting it next to the Rodney Strong, I wonder if it’s really a Cab? Not good. Normally, I am a fan of J. Lohr as they usually have strong bottles of wine for low cost. I’m not loving this bottle though. It’s not distinct and it’s a little jammy. The nose is very slight and the finish is weak.
I don’t love either bottle but if I had to choose, I would go with the Rodney Strong. It tastes like a bigger wine. However, in reality, I would probably not buy either. Instead I would go to my favorite wine shop (not the grocery store or Bev Mo but a wine shop) and get a recommendation for a Cab Sauv in the $17 price range. There are so many great wines in this price range that deliver rich and bold experiences that you want to get from a Cab Sauv and wine shop employees should be able to steer you in the right direction.
I was surprised to see that side by side the Rodney Strong and the J. Lohr were almost identical in color; the Rodney Strong looked just a tick lighter than its competitor. At first they both had the same almost nonexistent nose too. But after ten minutes or so the Rodney Strong developed a big young green peppery nose. I know Jane is rather averse to it (especially on a Cotes du Rhone) but I am much more forgiving.
The Rodney Strong also has a bigger body in general. I imagine that the J. Lohr is perfect for some though; it’s one of those right down the middle wines. There is nothing that jumps out at you as wrong with it, but at the same time nothing to me is all that right either. For those who like a generally good, pleasing wine it’s a good choice. But I want just a little more. I agree with Jane that I probably won’t buy either of these again. But if I were forced to choose, I’d jump at the Rodney Strong. It just shows a personality that is undeniable. It’s a bit young and green but the pepper adds some depth and at least helps to establish some semblance of personality in the wine. The much bigger tannin also reminds you that this is a Cab. I think the J. Lohr could be almost any nondescript cuvee (not that I have a problem with cuvees; when they are done well they are one of my favorites) it just doesn’t scream Cabernet at me at all.
Honestly, I’d rather buy another bottle or two of the amazing $24 spicy Merlot that I had at our local wine store tasting last Friday night. It had great presence, good body and was just a real pleasure to drink. If you find Korbin Kameron’s 2008 Sonoma Valley Merlot, I urge you to buy a couple bottles – it’s more than a great Merlot. Don’t be a wine snob like Miles from Sideways, the right Merlot is so worth it.