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05.24.2006

The Re-Judgment Of Paris Results In California Landslide

judgement.jpgEveryone can give a big sigh of relief. We won't have to go through that for another thirty years, and by that time all the angry people will be dead anyway. But for the next few months, there are going to be some REALLY angry people.

Today marked the 30th anniversary of the fateful Judgment of Paris, where European wine experts selected California wines in a double blind tasting over their French counterparts. Those of you who follow wine news with any regularity know that there's been quite a bit of hoopla these past few weeks about today's recreation of that 1976 tasting. The Rothschilds nearly boycotted the tasting, then there were moments when it seemed that the tasting wasn't going to be blind at all, and various people, including some of the judges cried foul.

In the end, however, it seems like it all went fairly well. Most of the original red wines were tasted blind (not double blind because everyone knew which wines were going to be involved) and evaluated by panels of judges on both sides of the Atlantic. Then the panels went on to evaluate flights of French wines and American wines from the original producers, but not together, and not blind.

The highest scoring wine after 30 years was the Ridge 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon (I raise a congratulatory glass to Paul Draper at Ridge), followed by the 1973 Stag's Leap, the 1971 Mayacamas, and the 1970 Heitz. The top five wines selected by the panelists in the blind tasting were from California.

Say what?

This really surprises me. Sure, I'm a fan of California wines. I also happen to think that well made California Cabernet can age fantastically. But to have the top five wines at the tasting be California wines is a real shocker.

Of course, I don't see this as a referendum on the quality of French wine in any way, but I'm sure some people will. This is presumably why a few of the French estates were so nervous about participating. Now, I'm sure they're just gonna be pissed.

News coverage by the Independent immediately following the event characterized even the organizer and world renowned wine taster Steve Spurrier to be surprised, quoting him as saying "This has come as a real surprise to me." Count me among the astonished.

The wines tasted blind today on both sides of the Atlantic were:

1972 Clos du Val Cabernet, 1969 Freemark Abbey Cabernet, 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, 1971 Mayacamas Cabernet, 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Blend, 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet, 1970 Château Haut-Brion , 1971 Château Léoville-Las-Cases, 1970 Château Montrose and 1970 Château Mouton-Rothschild.

If anyone attended the tasting, or knows anyone who did here in California, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the atmosphere in the room.

Here are the complete results from the blind tasting.

A note on the scoring system: each panelist force ranks the wines according to their preference. Points are then assigned according to the number of wines. So in this case the top wine for each panelist received 10 points, the second ranked 9 points and so on. The number of points is then added up and tallyed for the final count. This system is known as the Borda Count system.

CALIFORNIA JUDGES
#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (67 points)
#2 - 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (63 points)
#3 - 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard (62 points)
#4 - 1971 Mayacamas (60 points)
#5 - 1972 Clos du Val (53 points)
#6 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (46 points)
#7 - 1970 Chateau Montrose (39 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (36 points)
#9 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (35 points)
#10 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (34 points)

UK JUDGES
#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (70 points)
#2 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (59 points)
#3- 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (56 points)
#4 - (TIE) 1970 Chateau Montrose and 1972 Clos du Val (53 points)
#5 -
#6 - 1971 Mayacamas (52 points)
#7 - 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard (50 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (46 points)
#9 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (32 points)
#10 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (24 points)

Combining the scoring from the two judging panels gives us:

#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (137 points)
#2 - 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (119 points)
#3- (TIE) 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard and 1971 Mayacamas (112 points)
#4 -
#5 - 1972 Clos du Val (106 points)
#6 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (105 points)
#7 - 1970 Chateau Montrose (92 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (82 points)
#9 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (66 points)
#10 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (59 points)

Comments (21)

Josh wrote:
05.24.06 at 7:44 PM

I know its not proper to gloat, but I can't help indulging in a bit of schadenfreude right now.

Congrats Napa, you've done it again.

sudhi wrote:
05.24.06 at 7:52 PM

I'm curious about the scoring system. Is it based on 100 points? If so, apparently none of the wines are any good any more at this point.

Alder wrote:
05.24.06 at 8:05 PM

Sudhi. I've updated the post to include a note about the scoring system above.

sudhi wrote:
05.24.06 at 8:07 PM

Sorry. Just read the updated article about the scoring system. The points are in relative terms so we don't really know how good (or bad) the wines really are.

05.24.06 at 9:17 PM

Yeah, but what about the whites? :^)

Alder wrote:
05.24.06 at 9:28 PM

I'm with ya Steve. I would love to have seen their results for Chardonnays.

sudhi wrote:
05.25.06 at 1:36 AM

Don't you think most, if not all of the whites would be way over the hill at 30+ years old?

Alder wrote:
05.25.06 at 9:48 AM

Sudhi -- most likely they would be very different in character than most white wines we drink, however some whites have an extraordinary ability to survive, and can be quite amazing at that age.

charlotte wrote:
05.25.06 at 2:48 PM

I believe they didn't taste the older whites. Does anyone have a complete list of judges?

Tyler T wrote:
05.25.06 at 3:34 PM

One thing we should remember is that CA wines made in 197-whatever were made very differently than today (that is, less alcohol, lower pHs). Those two factors greatly influence aging potential. Thus I am not sure it is as big as a coup as we might hope since, in my opinion, most of today's CA wines will not age (>20 years?) very graciously.

Alder wrote:
05.25.06 at 4:16 PM

Tyler, your point is well taken, and certainly correct in that these wines do not resemble their current versions very much (even the Ridge which has gotten a little less restrained over time, so I hear) and are certainly very different from most standard California Cabernets these days.

Though one might say the same of the Bordeaux.

However, I'm not so sure that you can jump to the conclusion that the California Cabs of today won't age well. I'm no expert, certainly, but my understanding is that in addition to pH (acid), tannins are also a big component of how a wine ages. While there are certainly some wines which have softened their tannins and raised their PH in these "modern" times, the "blue chip" California wines that one would think of laying down in the first place still tend to have a good deal of both acidity and tannic structure. While they may be higher in alcohol, I'm not sure that has much effect on the wine's ability to age.

An aside: I also think higher sugar levels increas the aging potential of a wine, don't they? Does this mean that because some of the big reds produced today have a touch of residual sugar, that they might even age better?

Anyhow. Just some thoughts.

Alder wrote:
05.25.06 at 4:40 PM

Charlotte,

The answer to your question from the COPIA press release:

At COPIA the nine California panelists included Dan Berger, Anthony Dias Blue, Stephen Brook, Wilfred Jaeger, Peter Marks MW, Paul Roberts MS, Andrea Immer Robinson MS, Jean-Michel Valette MW and Christian Vanneque, one of the original judges from the 1976 tasting. Patricia Gastaud-Gallagher served as the USA Panel Chair. Special guest George Taber, author of Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine, was also in attendance.

At Berry Bros. & Rudd, the pre-eminent European contingent included France’s Michel Bettane, Britain’s Michael Broadbent MW, Michel Dovaz, Hugh Johnson, Matthew Jukes, Jane MacQuitty, Jasper Morris MW, Jancis Robinson OBE MW and Brian St. Pierre at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Steven Spurrier served as the UK Panel Chair.

Greg Walter wrote:
05.25.06 at 8:17 PM

I didn't attend either tasting, but I did hear that each judge had a list the wines included in each flight of the tasting. They did not have the order, but having a list of the wines for a professional taster would definitely take the "blinders" off.

Alder wrote:
05.25.06 at 9:06 PM

Greg,

Well, there was obviously no way for the tasting of the older wines to be truly double blind. Everyone there knew enough about wine to be able to recite the list of wines from the 76 tasting by heart. As for the later flights of wines, you're right, not only were lists provided but the wines were tasted by region only, so that no direct side-byside comparison would be made between French wines and California wines. People on both sides of the Atlantic were apparently a bit too uptight to allow that to happen.

V Boone wrote:
05.31.06 at 10:54 AM

Hey all,

I attended the tasting and was even able to taste the wines. The whites from the original tasting in 1976 were not made available at all.

Gordon Miller wrote:
06.01.06 at 8:38 AM

Just a quick comment about aging, acidity and tannin level play a big role in how a wine ages, but one of the overlooked aspects to this formula is polyphenol content. Polyphenols are the antioxidants that all the medical world are ranting about and by definition slow oxidation. If you extract alot of phenolic compounds you increase the antioxidant content and thus potentially preserve the wine longer or the cells of the person who consumed it.

Wine Fan wrote:
06.03.06 at 9:58 AM

Most California Cabs these days are made to be bombastic and drinkable now, but fade very quickly over time. But a few still make classic, long-aging Cabernet. In particular, Mayacamas has never changed their style.

Dave Tong wrote:
06.05.06 at 1:20 PM

"Congrats Napa, you've done it again."

Napa? NAPA? Ridge Monte Bello is from the Santa Cruz Mountains - that's a hundred miles from Napa. Napa got soundly beaten into second place.

mark wrote:
07.10.06 at 11:26 AM

Sadly the tasting proves very little. Sticking with the wines originally tasted in 1976 is a particularly poor effort at comparative evaluation. Why not have an educated moderator choose five wines from each country representing an outstanding vintage with a minimum age of 20 years? Taste the best of the best and compare, not a set of tricky wines from the tough, tannic vintage of 1970 in bordeaux. My god, the 1971 Leoville Las Cases? Even Leoville himself would not want to taste it, let alone enter it into a competitive tasting...why not the glorious 1986 Leoville, or for Mouton the 86, or Haut Brion 89?

If you want a real thrill, compare the best wines from the best vintages and enjoy the analsis and the results. It may actually mean something.

Alder wrote:
07.10.06 at 7:12 PM

Mark,

You are correct. These contests, no matter what the result, _prove_ nothing, except that the wines that were good, were actually good, and the wines that were not so good, were actually not so good.

On that day. In those years.

It is worth noting that in the original tasting, French wines came in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively, and those same wines fell much farther down the pack this time, lending some credence to those who suggest that, at the very least, the American wines aged better than expected, and better than those particular vintages of French wine (which, as you point out, may not have been the ideal vintages). But that is a niggling point.

The people (on both sides) who look at these contests as proof of something, or some sort of ultimate triumph invest far too much significance in the event.

NIck wrote:
03.31.07 at 12:06 AM

Dave, nice catch. The Santa Cruz appellation clearly won this competition with Ridges wonderful Cabernet,
not the Napa Valley. Unfortunately many people are missing some of the best wines in the world coming from some outstanding small boutique wineries all through Northern California. The uninformed thlnk only the overpriced Napa Valley wines the ones to buy.
Some world class award winning wines are coming out of Santa Lucia, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara area, Santa Cruz, and Livermore Valley to name a few. And you can get these wines sometimes at half the price of Napa wines, and the quality is as good if not better. The word is starting to get out however, and it is only a matter of time before these other appellatons get the respect they deserve.

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