Another Saturday in Paris, another MPA wine tasting. This time around John and I decided to take advantage of our Christmas vacation back home in the States. So we put together what was sure to be an intense, exciting, and potentially even a little bloody blind face off between French, American and Australian wine (3 syrahs and 2 gewurztraminers).
The inspiration was the famous (or infamous from the French perspective) “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting back in 1976. The best wines of California were paired up against the best wines of France and to everyone’s bewiliderment the US came out on top. The complete summary can be found at the very end of this blog.
In the case of the MPA Judgment of Paris there are many clear distinctions. First our focus was on value-driven wines no more than 20 euros or 20 US bucks. Second, we compared Alsace to California and the Northern Rhone Valley to California and Australia. The original Judgment of Paris paired up California against Bordeaux, focusing only on the who’s who list of bottlings.
And voilà, however much it pains me to say it (sarcasm), France came out on top with a very classic Old World style syrah from Saint-Joseph in the Northern Rhone Valley. Although, the only wine that really did not fair well was the Alsace Gewurztraminer. Overall I was very happy with how all the other wines performed. And a further look into the individual ratings shows interestingly enough that the Americans actually liked the French syrah even more than the French.
Of course this is all in good fun. At the end of the day who the heck cares?! If you really appreciate wine, then there’s no such thing as 1st, 2nd or 3rd, there’s only what you like. So drink what you like and explore as many different wine types and regions as possible!
The MPA Breakdown…
1st Place – French Syrah
2007 Saint-Joseph, André Perret, 16,50 euros
Appellation: Saint Joseph, Vallé du Rhone Nord
Source: Lavinia, Paris
MPA 13.9 Rating: Very terroir driven nose with aromas of leather, dampness, smoke, honey and fresh earth. A very, very smooth palate with a medium body, light tannins, balance and complexity. There are flavors of blueberry, blackberry, chocolate.
Robin, “easy listening version of the Australian shiraz”
Genevieve, “Paris metro”
Xiaoya, “flowers and cheese”
Kenny, “distant red candy Starburt or Skittles on the very backend of the nose”
Joseph, “metallic smell, tasted like water was added”
Kenny’s 16 Rating: Aromas of wet forest, smoke and leather with distant red candy Starburt or Skittles on the very backend of the nose. An acidic, medium-bodied palate with silky and subtle tannins and great balance. There are flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate, and blueberries.
2nd Place – American Gewurztraminer
2007 Hook & Ladder Gewurztraminer, $17.99 USD
Appellation: Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Source: Wine Vault, Columbus OH
MPA 12.5 Rating: Aromas of flowers, apple, lemon, and minerals. Very effervescent and acidic palate; and also dry, complex and bitter. Flavors of lemon, apple, pear and hot spice.
Sanj, “sense of terroir”
Miki San, “Tabasco”
Tim, “cane sugar”
Joseph, “drying pollinated leafs after rainfall”
Kenny’s 14 Rating: A subtle and acidic nose with a strong minerality, white pepper and mango. A very effervescent, dry wine with flavors of lemon and orange.
3rd Place – American Syrah
2006 Novy Syrah, Novy Cellars, $20 USD
Appellation: Sonoma County, California
Source: Andersons, Columbus OH
Wine Spectator 90 Rating: This is notably peppery, but joined by fresh plum and wild berry fruit that’s supple, graceful, complex and spicy, gaining length and traction on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 1,385 cases made.
MPA 12.4 Rating: Aromas of earth, spice, cherries, plum, blackberries, port wine, black licorice, oak, pepper and minerals. Full-bodied, acidic and sour with light tannins and a long finish. There are flavors of chocolate, smoke, plum, blackberries, hot spice, vanilla, oak, and black licorice.
John, “unpleasant and sour”
Casey, “smells like dirt”
Cynthia, “damp forest”
Kenny, “light barn nose and milk chocolate finish”
Miki San, “hot cocoa”
Kenny’s 15 Rating: Big alcohol on the nose with aromas of pepper, earth, light barn, black cherry and oak. A full-bodied, acidic wine with velvety tannins and flavors of smoke, plums, blueberries, sour cherry and a milk chocolate finish.
4th Place – Australian Shiraz
2006 2 Up Shiraz, $14.99 USD
Appellation: McLaren Vale, Southern Australia
Source: Andersons, Columbus OH
Wine Spectator 87 Rating: Creamy and generous with its currant and rhubarb flavors, finishing with a grainy texture and pretty layers of fruit and spice. Drink now through 2012. 15,000 cases imported.
MPA 12.3 Rating: A very strong and alcoholic nose with aromas of blackberries, oak, plum, and seaweed. An overwhelming, fruit forward, full-bodied, tannic palate with strong flavors of black cherry followed by plum, spice, licorice and vanilla.
Jeremy, “fish and leather jacket”
Kenny, “very fruiter”
Miki San, “Chinese herbal medicine”
Kenny’s 15 Rating: Black fruit, subtle earth and cedar on the nose. A very fruity and bitter, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blueberry, cherry, and lots of black licorice as well as a subtle background of citric zest.
5th Place – French Gewurztraminer
2007 Gewurztraminer, Willy Gisselbrecht, 10,50 euros
Appellation: Vin d’Alsace
Source: La Grande Epicerie, Le Bon Marché
MPA 11.6 Rating: Aromas of flowers, fig, peach, lychee, overripe fruit, and citrus. Sweet, bitter, soft and unbalanced, with flavors of apple, flowers and honey
Robin, “a little cloying”
Jeremy, “velvet honey”
Miki San, “green apple Jolly Rancher”
Joseph, “candy bar”
Kenny’s 13 Rating: Aromas of lychee, flowers and syrup. An off-dry wine with flavors of spice, lime and lime peel, lychee, flowers, and apple.
Blind Pick Winner
Nick Holman (Cynthia’s husband) takes the prize, accurately guessing all 5 bottles and their respective country of origin. John and I batted 1000 as well but naturally we’re disqualified from the fierce competition.
The Judgment of Paris
The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 or the “Judgment of Paris” was a wine competition organized in Paris on 24 May 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, at that time revered by wine merchants and experts all across France. The top French wine experts of the day were invited to participate in a blind tasting of the highest-quality chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from France and California. California wines rated best in every category, which caused surprise and utter bewilderment among the French critics as France was generally regarded as being the foremost producer of the world’s best wines. The San Francisco Wine Tasting of 1978 soon followed as a rematch of the same wines and vintages and once again California wines rated better. The 30th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris was held on 24 May 2006 with the same vintages and original panel of judges, plus an additional crew of new wine experts. Once again the California wines stole the show.
30th Anniversary Results:
1st Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971
2nd Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973
3rd Mayacamas Vineyards 1971 (tie)
4th Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard 1970 (tie)
5th Clos Du Val Winery 1972
6th Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970
7th Château Montrose 1970
8th Château Haut-Brion 1970
9th Château Leoville Las Cases 1971
10th Freemark Abbey Winery 1967
Implications to the wine industry:
George M. Taber from Time magazine was the only reporter present at the original tasting in 1976, since no one took the event seriously, thinking that the California wines would be embarrassed. Time immediately reported the results on a worldwide scale. However, the tasting was not significant for the French press who virtually ignored the story for three months until Le Figaro published an article titled “Did the war of the cru take place?” describing the results as “laughable,” and said they “cannot be taken seriously.” Six months after the tasting Le Monde wrote a similarly toned article. For as much as a year after the tasting, leaders of the French wine industry banned Spurrier from the nation’s prestigious wine-tasting tour, and Mr. Spurrier was even ushered out of a few of France’s more prestigious wine estates. Both countries are considered to have benefited from the tasting. California wines gained international appreciation, boosting sales and production. France further refined their winemaking practices, which some argue had become too habit driven as a result of so much history and tribal knowledge.
Two movies have been made about the tasting, “Bottle Shock” and “Judgment of Paris”, as well as a book, also titled “Judgment of Paris”, the latter two both authored by George Taber.
Naturally criticism abounds. For starters some claim that the vintage selection was poor for the French wine. However, when consulting vintage charts from US and French sources, both countries have very comparable vintage ratings within the timeframe in question. Additional critics state that it’s unfair or rather irrelevant to compare French wines to California wines, since the styles are so different. French wines are classified as Old World and are generally more subtle, acidic and expressive of their terroir. California wines are classified as New World and tend to be much more fruit forward and oaked.
Sources: Wikipedia.com & Winelibrary TV Interview of George Taber