Otherwise, the mass appeal of Cab is a mystery. While truly great wines are made from it, most cheap Cabs are not very good, and most Cabs sold in America are under $15. For that kind of money, there are many better choices.
I always ascribed psychological factors to this: aspirational buyers and the halo effect from top scores for expensive Cabs.
But then, thanks to Maximilian Riedel, I actually tried a Cab and several other wines in a plastic urine sample cup. Under those conditions, the Cab kicked butt on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Here's how it happened: I finally attended one of Riedel's glass lectures, this one for members of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Riedel meant to prove to his audience that they should drink Chardonnay out of a Riedel Chardonnay glass, Pinot Noir out of a Riedel Pinot Noir glass, etc. Since our only other options were a tiny ISO standard tasting glass and a plastic urine sample cup, most people preferred the Riedels.
I was bored, so I started pouring the wines (all of them from Robert Mondavi Winery, but I didn't see the appellations) into glasses where they didn't belong. And that's when I had my revelation.
The Pinot Noir needed the Pinot glass; it wasn't good in the other glasses. The Chardonnay was best in the Chard glass*, but was palatable in the others.
* At home I later did a taste-off between Riedel's Chardonnay glass and Eisch's, and my wife and I both preferred the Eisch.
And the Cab -- well, the Cab actually tasted better out of the crappy ISO tasting glass, a glass essentially designed for Sherry that suppresses the aromas of practically everything else. It smelled a little better in the expensive hand-blown Bordeaux glass, but I was just as happy drinking it out of the $3 glass. It was also acceptable out of the urine sample cup (though I did prefer glass), and would presumably be just as good out of a used jelly jar.
So thank you, Maximilian Riedel. Now I know that if I'm a Cab drinker, I don't need to spend a fortune on your glassware!
Seriously, this was a major breakthrough for me. I never order cheap Cabernet; the cheapest Cabs I enjoy start at about $30 retail (maybe $60 wine list). For less money than that, I always order something else.
But I always drink wine out of a real wine glass, not a Mason jar or water glass, which perhaps separates me from the rest of America. If I was watching baseball and drinking wine out of a plastic team-logo cup, I now know I would be much more interested in cheap Cabernet.
Generalizing more, I wonder if hardiness has as much to do with Cab's worldwide appeal as its flavor. Wine is often shipped and stored in the wrong conditions. Maybe Cabernet takes a beating better than most. Inherent toughness in an agricultural product is a huge advantage: that's why iceberg lettuce outsells romaine.
But enough from me. Do your own experiment. Is your Cabernet really much better in your most expensive glass than in your cheapest? Try it and let me know.