Total Wine

Myth: Red Wine is Better Than White

Here’s a short list of the number one wines of 2016 as ranked by four wine industry influencers – two publications, one critic, and one retailer:

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Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines: #1 -2013 Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

James Suckling’s Top 100 Wines: #1 – 2013 Opus One (Cabernet blend), Napa Valley

Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines: #1 – 2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo blend), Rioja

Total Wine & More’s Top 20 Wines:  #1 – 2013 Mascota Vineyards Unanime (Cabernet blend), Mendoza, Argentina

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that all of the number one wines above are red and that three of the four are Cabernets.  Lest you think that’s an anomaly of the 2016 lists, in addition to this year’s Top 100 list Wine Spectator also published the names of all its number one wines since the list began in 1988.  Here’s the quick math on the previous number ones, and (in bold italics) what these rankings lead many wine lovers to believe.  I know because I used to believe it, too.

Of the 29 Wine Spectator lists published to date, a white wine has earned the top spot only twice:  Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay in 1996 and Chateau Rieussec Sauternes (dessert wine from Bordeaux) in 2004. Which means, of course, that a red wine has held the first position on 27 of the 29 lists. Clearly, red wines are superior to whites.

A Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet blend has been granted number one status on 15 of the 29 lists, or 51% of the time.  Obviously, Cabernet is the best red.

Pinot Noir, traditionally a light to medium-bodied red wine, has been chosen as the number one wine only once.  All other reds that have topped the list – Syrah/Shiraz, Brunello, Chateauneuf-du-Papes, Vintage Port, Super Tuscan – sit very squarely in the full-bodied camp.  And, although Pinot Noir is by comparison “lighter” than all of the other reds listed, Kosta Browne, whose Pinot was the one chosen for top honors in 2011 produces the variety in a “bigger” style.  Big reds are better than lighter reds.

If you tend to believe the bold italic statements are true, I don’t blame you.  “Best of” lists, the fact that red wines command higher prices on average than whites, and a whole host of other societal and cultural cues reinforce these ideas.  But, this blog is here to rebut them.  I am here to tell you they simply aren’t true.  It’s like saying roses are better than orchids or cats are superior to dogs.  You may prefer one or the other, but preference does not equate to fact.

I realize that red wines will likely continue to dominate these types of lists and that alone will continue to influence many people’s perceptions of them as superior.  However, my hope is that there are enough of us out there who are curious to try new things, who think tasting and learning about a variety of wines is more fun than drinking the same thing all the time, who are willing to let our own sense of pleasure dictate what we drink, to change that perception.  I hope wine drinkers and the wine industry will follow the lead of last night’s Golden Globes and finally appreciate the diversity we have to choose from.  There’s so much exciting wine out there.  And most of it is a lot less red than you think.

Ready to start exploring?  Stay tuned for my next post – White Wines to Seek Out in 2017.