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Kicking Them While They're Down

After you've added insult to injury, what is your next step? Do you pile on ridicule? I almost don't even want to blog about this, as it's really not my intention to poke my fingers in the eye of the French, whose wines and country I adore. But someone has, yet again, tried to do a comparative tasting between California and French wines and, yet again, California wines have come out on top.

The irony of the latest tasting is that it was engineered by the French, for the French, and in direct response to the last such tasting (the Re-Judgement of Paris, as it was dubbed) which was believed to have been faulty, or even, as some claimed, rigged. The prime complaint with the last tasting was that it was tasting a year (1976) that was a pretty mediocre one for Bordeaux wines. The suggestion being that had a good year been chosen, that the French wines would not have suffered such a defeat.

Well, in this latest tasting, a year that was excellent by everyones standard for both California and Bordeaux (1995) was chosen, and the results? Well, I won't editorialize. A double blind tasting of all the following wines conducted by wine experts from all over the world resulted in the following rankings:

1 Abreu (Madrona Ranch)
1 Beringer Private Reserve
3 Pahlmeyer Propriatory Red
3 Valandraud
5 Latour
5 Shafer Hillside Select
7 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve
7 Ausone
9 Leoville Les Cases
9 Phelps Insignia
11 Mouton Rothschild
12 Mondavi Reserve
13 Cheval Blanc
13 Palmer
15 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet
16 Trotonoy
17 Araujo
18 La Jota Anniversary Reserve
18 Le Bon Pasteur
20 Pride Reserve
21 Haut Condissas
22 Spring Mountain
23 Petrus
23 Rollan de By
25 Chateau Montelena
26 Mouton Rothschild
27 Monte Bello Ridge
28 Cheval Blanc
29 Dominus
30 Colgin
31 Margaux
32 Spotteswoode
33 Le Tertre Roteboeuf
34 Haut Brion
35 La Mission Haut Brion
36 Croix de Labrie
37 Screaming Eagle
38 Harlan Estate
39 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill

Read the full story.

Comments (15)

Michael wrote:
10.26.06 at 1:22 AM

Mouton Rothschild appears twice, at #11 and #26... I wonder if one is supposed to be Lafite?

brett wrote:
10.26.06 at 7:32 AM

There were some typos on the Decanter website's article.

Alder I wish you'd have editorialized a bit as I enjoy your comments. FWIW, I don't understand this desire to compare CA and French wine. A consumer's purchases should be based on his/her own preferences, not on the outcome of a tasting with some 10-20 tasters . . .

PS I do not buy French wine EVER. Even if I've had it at a tasting and enjoyed it.

Alder wrote:
10.26.06 at 8:10 AM


I don't understand the desire either, and don't really share it, which is why I'm not editorializing much on this one. But since you ask, it's very interesting to see where Screaming Eagle ended up on the list, isn't it?

Don't know why Mouton Rothschild appears twice. One is probably supposed to be Lafite.

Are you serious about not buying French wine?!? Why is that?

Antonio wrote:
10.26.06 at 10:54 AM

How can you say on one hand "A consumer's purchases should be based on his/her own preferences, not on the outcome of a tasting with some 10-20 tasters . . ." and on the other say, "I do not buy French wine EVER. Even if I've had it at a tasting and enjoyed it." If you liked the French wine you tasted at a tasting, wouldn't it be your preference to buy it? Or do you order Freedom Fries with your hamburgers? ; )

chris wrote:
10.26.06 at 11:28 AM

Personally, I've found that French wines are much harder to get into being somebody who's taste in wines were honed by California Pinot, Cab and Zinfandel. The Italian style seems to be much more "user friendly" to the California wine palette.

I don't know if it's that French wines are specifically designed for the cellar (some of the above mentioned tastings seem to indicate that California Cabs stand up to aging at least as well as Bordeaux) or that American wine producers are simply outdoing their French counterparts. In an industry so built around mythos and cachet, aren't these tastings just more ammunition for the school of thought to simply "drink what's good" and not what's expensive, cult, or French?

Gene wrote:
10.26.06 at 2:26 PM

Once again, it appears that everyone misses the obvious. This is a list of thirty-nine outstanding wines. I would be happy to drink any one of them or all of them, although I can't afford to pay $1400 for Screaming Eagle. The wines are pretty evenly distributed between France and California (too bad there were no Washington state wines). Is there a statistically significant difference between a score of, say,18.9 and 19.1, or 92.5 and 93.1? I've been to two other tastings where there were negligible differences among great wines, yet the wines with the highest, but not significantly higher scores, were touted as the winners. Who were the tasters? What was the methodology? I prefer my Latour and Palmer to be twenty years old when I drink them. I've found that many American wines don't last that long. Headlines: American Wines Win? Latour Beats Screaming Eagle? Harlan And Screaming Eagle Are Losers? The French and the Americans have learned a great deal from each other over the past twenty five years or so. The French picked up on our technolgy and we started making "Bordeaux-style" wine. Come on, let's just enjoy what's in the bottle. What the French really need to work on is the low end so they can compete in the global marketplace.

Jeff B. wrote:
10.26.06 at 4:55 PM

"PS I do not buy French wine EVER. Even if I've had it at a tasting and enjoyed it."

How very, very sad.



Kathy wrote:
10.26.06 at 8:13 PM


Good for you. If buying French wines is something you don't feel good about (or maybe you just don't care for them, you did not specify) then that is your right. It is not sad and you should not be ridiculed for your personal preferences.

Besides, I love CA wines and I am personally setting out to increase CA revenues by drinking a lot of great CA wine!


10.26.06 at 9:33 PM

Cheval Blanc also appears twice.
If someone says they never buy French wine EVER, even if they've tried it and liked it, without any explanation of why this approach has been adopted, why should anyone attach any significance or inportance to it. It's not unlike saying "I never bathe, even though I feel cleaner afterwards."

Jack wrote:
10.26.06 at 11:15 PM

I'm waiting for Screagle and Harlan Estate to issue a statement calling for a recount. Meanwhile, the Beringer-Blass PR folk are furiously changing their holiday advertising.
"Well, I won't editorialize." Um, what exactly are those first two paragraphs?

Lenn wrote:
10.27.06 at 6:18 AM

I have to admit...I hate when different regions feel the need to compare themselves -- and their wines -- to those of another.

Long Island vinters alwaysmention Bordeaux. Now the Hudson Valley is talking Burgundy (which is ludicrous).

Why can't these marketing types rely on the wine's quality instead of some spinned-up comparision that has barely a grain of truth?

Why can't French wine be good (and different) because it's French and California good and different because it's CA?

Does it really matter to anyone (except the marketing/sales types) which wines do better in a clinical blind tasting? If you enjoy French pinot better than California...but prefer Napa cab to Bordeaux...does it matter which is "better"?

Sorry...this is something I just hear so much "Our terroir is like that of INSERT REGION HERE"...and it's BS.

Alder wrote:
10.27.06 at 8:50 AM

As always, keeping me honest, Jack. I like to imagine myself as exercising restraint in refraining from editorial comments that offer opinion about the specific wines and where they fell in the order, and the psychology of the European judges.

But maybe I'm just kidding myself.

St.Vini wrote:
10.27.06 at 8:51 AM

"Why can't these marketing types rely on the wine's quality instead of some spinned-up comparision that has barely a grain of truth?"

Because quality doesn't exist in a vaccum, Lenn. One can hardly claim to be one of the finest wines without the (spoken or unspoken) implication that your wine is "finer" than most others.

There are valid points made here about the subtle and sometimes irrelevant differences between two wines, but I imagine one can learn from the differences found between Abreu and Diamond Creek, no?

If we can learn, we can improve. Few wineries fail to taste their wines in a comparitive set. This is really no differnt, just made public.


carlos Serafim wrote:
11.03.06 at 10:39 AM

The problem with French wines is that they don't have the quality that you can find with Californian wines in the sub 20 dollar category. You can still get some decent French wines for 20.00 but most are less than mediocre. Maybe they drink it all over there and don't export it. I don't even want to mention Oz, Italy , Spain or Chile. They are making great wines. The French can't compete at the lower end, consequently, they are losing market share at the next level too.

Ben wrote:
11.05.06 at 12:26 PM


I'm standing on the other side of the fence. I'm finding it more and more difficult to find Cali wines under $10 that actually taste anything like the grape that is on their label. Under $20 you can get varietal character, but the wines are pretty simple. There is so much wine under $15 from the south of France that offers much more bang from the buck. I guess it depends on where you buy your wine. If you buy from a Cali specialty store, you're going to find crappy French wine. If you're talking smaller production $19 Central Coast Pinot Noir versus some crappy Borgogne Rouge from a negoce, I guess I'd agree, but I'd say that's unfair.

All that being said, it just may be that you prefer a certain style that France does not always cater to. And vice versa for me.

There's my disagreement.

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