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Thursday Thorns
Great New Cabernets Put The Lie To The “What’s Next” Hipness in California Wine

By Stephen Eliot

First, it was Merlot, then Syrah; wines, which we were told, whose days had come and gone in California. Not only were they no longer the stuff of excitement, they were not cool to drink, and no one would buy them. You were met with condescending sighs and rolled eyes if you even so much as talked about them around would-be tastemakers, and, Cabernet Sauvignon, at least those that dare to be ripe and oaky, have lately come under attack as having nothing of consequence to say. It is the new mantra of hipness for those in the know.

“Big Napa Cab” has become a phrase often uttered in derision amid proclamations that they are prized only those with more money than brains. We are informed by ubiquitous “unnamed sources” that they are gathering dust at restaurants and retailers alike, and that their day of reckoning has finally come.

Well, folks, I respectfully beg to differ. From my perspective, their place in the market is stronger than ever. What is more, I would argue, there are more outstanding bottlings to be had than ever before, and new ones arrive on our shelves most every day.

Now, I can understand that they have become easy targets in circles where “new” has become more important than “good”, and the fact that they come with increasingly aspirational price tags makes them easier to criticize yet. The funny thing, though, about a free market is that prices are generally reflective of real demand, and, on that count, the numbers just do not add up as proof of Cabernet’s demise.

The whole idea that fine California Cabernet is on its last wobbly legs is about as silly as claims from the new avant garde that California’s future vinous success is wholly dependent on new grapes, new places and new winemaking philosophies. I would not in the least disagree that these are exciting times for California and the wine world in general, but that excitement hardly means that the last forty or fifty years have been misguided and wasted, and I have little patience with those who seem to think that praising the new necessitates damning what is not.

So just how do I know that great Cabernet abounds? Because I actually taste them, and, going over the lengthy list of stellar efforts reviewed in CGCW over the past year as Charlie and I compile our annual lists of personal top ten favorites, I am struck by the number of extraordinary examples we have seen from 2009 and 2010. Suffice it to say that it has been a very, very good year.

I only wish that I could afford to drink them more often than I do, but then there are great restaurants I would frequent more regularly, and I would drive a fancier car than I do if I could. Top-shelf Cabernet may be an occasional indulgence, but it is one that I relish, and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon remains for me one of the world’s benchmark wines. Just one man’s opinion, and I hope that I will not be too harshly judged by those far smarter and more experienced than I.


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