Newbie - Tannin and Red Varietals

I’ve tried to read and learn about wine. So when when reading about Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s usually explained that these wines (especially those made entirely of Cab) would be more tannic, bold, etc.

So I bought several and tried them:

Michael David Freakshow Cab 2018
Meiomi Cab 2018
Josh Cellars Bourbon Cab 2018

I was surprised at not only how little tannins these had (they seemed almost indistinguishable from the Zin and red blends the same producers went). Not only that but a couple of these especially the Meiomi and MD felt like they were borderline dessert wines being very sweet. Maybe that’s just the high ABV or residual sugar?

These being warm weather CA cabs I opted to try a cooler climate one and bought a 2018 Carmen Gran Reserva Cab (Chile, Maipo Valley). This was almost the opposite experience in that the tannins overshadowed all other aspects of the wine (fruit, etc).

All of these wines were refrigerated for several hours and brought out for 10-15 minutes before serving with food. I strongly prefer to have wine with food, in this case all of these were had with steak.

Are the differences entirely because of one set of wines being warm weather vs cold weather? I know wines from warmer areas usually are usually more fruit & higher ABV. Would young bordeaux wines be more like the Chilean cab I tried given the climate?

Please note, i’m new at this and working buying from supermarket/warehouse (costco/Total Wine).

Still do! After attending a friends wedding in Naples we headed up north to first visit Rome and then on up to a small town in Tuscany called Pienza near Montalcino. Knew very little of wine but encountered a wine store there with a great owner who helped get us our first wine crash course. This trip sparked my interest for wine.

Out of the wines still in my storage I have a couple of 2007 brunello riserva from Innocenti (AA) and a 2007 Campo Alla Sughera Arnione Bolgheri Superiore. About time to give them a go, only issue will be to find them…

Michael David Freakshow Cab 2018
Meiomi Cab 2018
Josh Cellars Bourbon Cab 2018

That’s the problem Erika. Those wines are all made to be soft and to appeal to a mass market.

Michael-David wines are made from grapes that are picked really ripe and then they may add color. They make the wines to be soft, without much in the way of tannins. And they don’t want much acid either. The formula is super successful and they now sell millions of bottles a year. They own about 800 acres and manage around 1200 more and they produce a lot of wine. Their vineyards are sustainably farmed, but rather than making lean, green wines, they make big, soft wines.

Meiomi is worse. It’s made from grapes harvested in several places, like Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. And it’s built to spec. In other words, they want to make the wine have specific acid, tannin, color, texture, sugar, etc., from year to year. It’s a little like Pepsi. They don’t own their own vineyards. When Constellation bought the name and brand, they got no vineyards because there were none. So they can buy from anywhere and blend. And in the European Union, a “dry” wine can contain no more than 4 grams of sugar per liter. That’s actually a bit high for most dry wines in Europe and the US. Residual sugar is what’s left of the grape sugar that doesn’t get fermented. In the case of Meiomi, I don’t know if it’s “residual” sugar though. They may even shovel it in. Hard to say, but wines like Meiomi, can have as much as 12 or 14 or more grams of residual sugar per liter. That’s three or four times as much sugar as a “dry” wine. Meiomi isn’t competing with your high-end Cabs, it’s competing with brands like Cupcake, Apothic, and others that also have plenty of sugar.

Josh Cellars is a little bit like a blend of the two. They buy grapes from various places and blend them with the goal of making a very specific wine, but they’re not as far afield as Meiomi. And they did make their own estate wine called Carr, expanding to Josh to get something cheaper on the market. They may or may not use their estate grapes for Josh, but they do buy from various locations as well.

All of those wines are made to be mass-market. Wines that are made from a single vineyard or estate are by default limited in production. But if you source from all over California, you don’t have those limits. What you have is a bunch of different grapes that you have to manipulate in some way to make them all taste the same.

Those wines are a little like the difference between a Big Mac and a steak at a really great steakhouse. Both come from beef, but that’s pretty much the end of it.

Both Costco and Total CAN be really good places to get some wine. I might start looking at something from Washington if you want to stay in that price range - Chateau St. Michelle for example, is a good start. Others in that price range I’ve seen at Total would be Canoe Ridge, St. Francis, Clos du Bois, Wente, and Penley from Australia. Another thing to keep in mind is that Cabernet Sauvignon is something people will pay a lot of money for, so you may want to look at some other grapes and blends because you can sometimes find really good quality for less than a comparable Cabernet. Syrah for example, is often cheaper and to me, much better. With something like Pinot Noir I think you’re going to find just what you did with Cabs on the other hand - disappointment more often than not.

But the fact that you were disappointed in the above shows that you have a great palate! I admire you for even being able to drink the Meiomi - I’ve found it undrinkable.

As to the question about the weather, that’s partly true. But Chile has a problem. A lot of the cheaper wines have the interesting fault of being both too green and too ripe. Chile is making some outstanding wine these days, but they made their reputation on the cheap stuff and it’s hard to get people to pay more for the better wines. And Bordeaux? That’s booby-trapped. There is so much wine made there that it’s inevitable that you’ll run across some really terrible awful wine. Especially at the lower end. However, there’s also some really good wine that isn’t crazy expensive, so be careful when shopping. Just make sure to avoid Mouton Cadet. If there’s someone who knows Bordeaux at your store, ask. If you stay away from the more famous regions like Pomerol, Graves, Medoc, Margaux, you can sometimes find some pretty good deals.

One last minefield - there are a lot of wines similar to those three you listed. In fact, the Wagner family has a number of wines out under different names but with the same aesthetic. You can’t blame them for making what people will buy, but you don’t have to drink them yourself!



Hi Erika, welcome to the board. I hope you’ll stick around and participate.

Some scattershot responses to what you wrote:

  • I’ve never had a Meiomi cab, but their pinots are famous for being as you described. Very ripe, sweet, lush, little acid or tannin. So I would have guessed that wine would be the way you described. That is more of a house style than it is a comment on the cabernet variety.

  • But it is a style that is very popular among casual drinkers, and other labels like Rombauer, the Prisoner, Apothic Red, Butter and Caymus have cashed in hugely on that popularity. I don’t know those other wines you tried, but they may be part of the same movement.

  • You are correct that one of the downsides of that style is that varietal characteristics become obscured, and it can be hard to tell a pinot from a syrah from a zin from a cab.

  • I am not familiar with the Chilean cab you tried, but just speaking generally, some cabernets, particularly ones made in a more traditional, less ripe style, can have strong tannins that need aging and/or extended aeration to bring into balance. Pairing with steak helps as well.

  • It’s also possible that the Chilean cab was heavily oaked. Oak can sometimes give the lush result with flavors like chocolate, vanilla and coconut, which is more what you probably experienced with the first three wines. But it can also or alternatively impart a lot of tannin and a bitter and tough finish to a wine, particularly when young. It depends on the barrels, they type of wood, how much oak was new versus previously used, when and how long the wine was in them, and other matters.

  • fully refrigerating a cab and and then having it 10-15 minutes out of the refrigerator sounds like that might be too cold? It’s a matter of personal preference, but people typically drink cabernet in the 60+ degree range. It’s totally up to you, of course.

  • one thing you might experiment with is aerating young wines like these. Pour the bottle into a decanter (or a glass water pitcher if you have one of those?) and see how the wine evolves from when you first opened it to hours later in the decanter. It’s possible some or all of these young bottles might have showed better after some hours of decanting.

  • if you want to try a moderately priced new world cabernet that is easily available and which gives you a more mainstream, balanced view of the variety, maybe try something like the Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Valley or (better) the BV Rutherford? Or if you want to spend a little more, something like Frog’s Leap or Clos du Val. Again, try them over an evening with the wine breathing in a decanter.

Best wishes, and have fun with the wine journey.

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Greg and Chris, thank you so much for the helpful replies along with the encouragement. This has been quite educational to me especially how you alluded to the way the grapes were sourced and also made to a spec-sheet (so to speak).

I didn’t hate them by any stretch but you know how it is when you expect something and get another. As you observed they show virtually no difference across their entire line of different varietals. The cab tastes like a zin which is like their syrah, etc, so it quickly becomes devoid of any meaning.

I’m definitely open and enthusiastic about trying other varietals and suspect I’ll get a better ‘value’ (or QPR as some call it?) as well as more diverse styles too from different regions. I’ll give places like Washington, Spain, Sicily, and the lesser known regions of France a shot.

Hopefully I’ll find some affordable, earthy, but not overly tannic wines among those suggested.

What kinds of places do you have reasonably available to you to do your wine shopping? You might get more useful recommendations depending on whether you’re buying from a supermarket, Costco, Total Wine, good wine store, etc.

Recommendations would be great and most welcome :slight_smile:

I’ve got Costco, Total Wine, and a handful of ho-hum big tent liquor/spirit shops in my vicinity.

Admittedly I have not put much stock in recommendations from employees at these places as I quickly figured out everyone was being directed to the same bottles largely (those mass appeal brands mentioned earlier).

Hi Erika.

I’m a skin flint, so maybe I can point you towards a good, but relatively cheap, domestic (USA) Cab. For under $15, you should look for Horse Heaven Hills, “H3” on the bottle. For a little more money, Conn Creek is decent too. When I searched for tips in previous discussions on affordable wines, I’ve seen mention of Educated Guess and Textbook also.

do yourself a favor and purchase the Wine Bible from Karen MacNeil, super reasonable… It’s an amazingly good resource covering lots of areas. then if you go nuts for knowledge in a particular area then there are books focused just on that.

Agree with the others, the residual sugar masks the rest of the wine. These wines aren’t made to age with a tannic backbone for structure, they’re made to be lip-smacking crowd pleasers right now.
Other wines that might give you a better sense of a traditional Cab Sauv structure, but won’t break the bank: Daou Cab from Paso Robles, Beringer Knights Valley Cab. Perhaps give Wash Cabs a try.

I must point out that in this you are wrong: there is a special definition in the EU wine law that says a wine can be up to 10 g/l in residual sugar and still labeled as “dry” as long it is “balanced by acidity”. This means that you can have a wine at 10 g/l residual sugar and still have it labeled as “dry” if the acidity is within 2 g/l of residual sugar; hence a wine at 9,5 g/l residual sugar and at least 7,6 g/l acidity can be labeled “dry”, while a wine with 6,1 g/l residual sugar and 4 g/l acidity is technically medium-dry.

The only limit is that wine that is 4 g/l or below in residual sugar is automatically “dry”. However, since virtually all wines have at least 4 to 5 g/l acidity, all wines at 6-7 g/l are still labeled as “dry”. You’ll never find a European wine at 5 g/l residual sugar labeled “off-dry” or “half-dry”.

Erika - I would just second what Greg and Chris said.

Put another way, those three wines are made in a way that ensures they don’t taste like a cabernet should. But it’s hard to find any wines in that price range that do.


Having done stints as a wine judge in a competition where the wines are tiered according to their prices, it’s very hard to find any varietal characteristics in the tiers that are on sub $10 wines and even on $10-15 wines. It’s ridiculous how remarkably similar the wines can feel to each other, even though they are made from completely unrelated varieties and come from completely different parts of the world! Talk about wines made to cater a certain taste.

Remember also that everyone’s palates are different - and some may find a wine tannic while others may find the same wine does not have a tannic nature at all.

If you are able to do tastings with others - either at a wine shop that offers them (hopefully again soon), a winery tasting room or wine bar, or perhaps with a group of friends - you’ll be able to experience more wines and share the cost of doing so.


This a great book for beginners. I remember going back to it again and again for the most basic questions – for example, it occurred to me once that I had no idea what grapes Champagne was made from, so I looked it up.

It’s not really a guide to selecting wines from the store in 2021, but it’ll help fill in baseline information for you, in a friendly and unthreatening format.

Many thanks for the helpful replies and advice here

It’s a bit of a grim picture being painted as far as most stuff at these price points being largely interchange. Still I far prefer to know these things :slight_smile:

I’m comfortable going to say $25 for a weekly wine, more for a special occasion. Hopefully I can find a little more character that’s indicative of the varietal and terroir at this budget.

P.s. put the mcneil book on order at the library.

If you are interested in exploring beyond CA cabernet in your research into tannin, you might take a look at some nebbiolo-based wines from Piedmont or Alto Piemonte. Check out the recent value Italian threads - there are many excellent options, some of which might even be available at a Costco or Total in your price range with a little looking. The flavor profile is quite different from cabernet, but it is another grape whose best expressions balance tannin, acidity and fruit in a way that it sounds like you’re searching for.

Hi Erika, Since you have a Costco available, I’d suggest you peruse the Costco thread in this forum. What’s available is very store specific, but that thread gives a good picture i think about what folks in this community see as good deals, and really across the range of wines that might be available.

Specific recommendation I’ve seen a couple of times in this thread on Cab that is affordable and exhibits dry cab character is the H3 Cab from Columbia Crest, Washington State. Others similar from that CSM/CC family of producers are 14 Hands (various wines) and Chateau St Michelle Indian Wells which has become pretty ubiquitous, but both of those have become more over processed with higher RS levels that make them “pleasers”, but less like Cabernet Sauvignon, imo.

If I understand correctly, you are treating this as a learning exercise. But tannins are not something most prioritize when choosing wines with the exception of desiring long termed aging. And tannins are not what they used to be 20 or 30 years ago because of phenolic ripeness. The tannins are still present, but not in a severely harsh form. So the majority of wines even with sufficient levels of tannin are usually drinkable upon release. On the rare occasion that one encounters a really tannic wine, perhaps from a vintage when the fruit did not benefit from complete ripeness, it usually has to be drunk with food with a high fat content to be enjoyed. At the price point that you are shopping, you will find much higher quality wines from Spain than you will from California. It’s all about the value of the real estate where the fruit is grown.

Great commentary and advice above.

I’ll just add that if you like Napa Cabs and want to branch out a bit, also consider CA Petite Sirah as a stunt double with a lot of common characteristics I personally like at often half the price.