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Cabernet Shmabernet

Cabernet Sauvignon happens to grow successfully all over the globe. But does that mean it belongs at the top of wine’s quality pyramid? As the parade of well-made Cabernets has grown prodigiously over the past few decades, “big” Cabs—characterized by intense red fruits, herbal complexity, from tannins, and palpable oak—have become a standard for great wine. Or at least “highly rated” wine.

The 94-Point Cabernet Overkill phenomenon was on glaring display at the “Grand Tasting” of last month’s Wine Spectator Experience in New York City. Hailed as a display of “Critic’s Choice” wines, in practice it was a festival of “highly rated” backslapping, a ritualistic wagon-circling to reassert the magazine’s self-perpetuating role as Master Raters of Taste.

Far from showcasing the breadth of quality of the wine world, the Grand Tasting was remarkably bland. Their power depends on wine ratings; in rewarding big red wines—most glaringly Big Cabernets—with with a preponderance of booth space at the Wine Experience’s main event, they are basically reinforcing their own monotonous vicious cycle and systemic authority. “Highly rated” Cabernet? It’s bias in a glass.

Of course, the Spectator has every right to stage its own horn-tooting “Wine Experience,” and producers are theoretically free not to accept an invitation to pour exactly what Wine Spectator wants them to pour. But for the rest of the wine world, enough with the Cabernet myopia.

Cabernet is a good thing, but let’s not for one New York minute view the Spectator’s Bland Tasting as representative of today’s world of wine. From Albariño to Zweigelt, there is way more excitement to be had beyond those 94-point Cabs.


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