An Awesome Judgment of Paris Inspired Blind Tasting #JOP40

The Pacific Point Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) does a Judgment of Paris inspired blind tasting

My wife and I founded the Pacific Point Wine Tasting Club in 2010.  Originally conceived as a neighborhood based wine tasting club, the club’s membership has grown dramatically. That’s primarily because friends of friends have joined the fun over the years. We’ve got a great core of 20 individuals at all experience levels who enjoy wine, and want to learn more about wine while having fun and making friends.  All of our tastings are done blind.

The Tasting

Since reading George M. Taber’s Judgment of Paris; California vs France and The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting The Revolutionized Wine several years ago, I thought it would be fun to participate in a similar tasting pitting comparable French and California (California Chardonnay v. White Burgundy; and California Cabernet Sauvignon v. Bordeaux) wines against one another. With all of the hype around the 40th anniversary of  the Judgment of Paris (“JOP”), which was held on May 24th, 1976, we decided to organize a similar tasting for our Pacific Point Wine Tasting Club.

JOP Judge Photo

Judges of the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The challenges of pulling off an authentic as possible tasting were finding reasonably priced wines that had a connection to the original 1976 tasting and determining if enough our PPWTC members had an appetite for participating in a tasting where the price point of the wines was significantly higher than our typical $25-$30 price range.

I decided on a $40-$60 price range for the wines, and sent out the Evite.

I hoped to get enough interest for an 8 bottle tasting (four Chardonnay, and four Cabernet Sauvignon; two each from California and France).

Then, I set about looking for the wines.

The affirmative RSVPs rolled in fast and furious.  So much so that I had to cut-off the tasting at about 20 individuals because there are about 25 one ounce pours to a bottle, and I wanted to some cushion for generous pours, or revisits.

Based upon the RSVPs, I decided to expand the tasting to 12 bottles.

The Wines

As you can imagine, the wines that were part of the original tasting are priced well above the $40-$60 price range. Therefore, I focused on finding similar wines from wineries that participated in the original tasting (primarily second labels, comparable bottles, or ownership), and/or wines from the same appellation.

Here are the wines, including their connection to the ’76 JOP (if any).

California Chardonnay

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White Burgundy

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Bordeaux

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  • 2001 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien; Clos du Marquis, introduced by Chateau Leoville Las Cases in 1902 was the first official, “Second” Bordeaux wine. 30th vintage anniversary of 1971 Chateau Leoville Las Cases was in ’76 JOP  ($60)
  • 2009 Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande, St-Estèphe; Chateau Montrose and Chateau Tronquoy Lalande owned and managed by the Bouyges brothers.  1970 Montrose was in the ’76 JOP – ($40)
  • 2012 Chateau d’Armailhac, Pauillac; It’s a long story, but Chateau d’Armailhac was previously part of the the massive vineyards that we know of today as Chateau Mouton Rothschild. 1970 Mouton Rothschild was in the ’76 JOP  – ($50)

California Cabernet Sauvignon

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How the tasting went down:

  • The tasting order of the wines was based on vintage; we tasted older vintages first.  If the wines were the same vintage, we tasted the wines based on alcohol level; tasting the lower alcohol wine first.
  • The Chardonnays were tasted first
  • Nineteen (19) tasters that completed scorecards (no partial scoring permitted)
  • Tasters were asked to grade each wine out of 20 points; Between 1-5 points awarded for each for aroma, body, taste, and finish.
  • Scores determined by highest median score (to mitigate the influence of outlying scores). Where the median score is the same, the highest average score was the tie-breaker
  • Tasters had the option of marking their score card to denote whether they thought wine was French or California (no influence on numerical scores. Just so they could go back after the reveal and see how they did)

The results of the tasting follow:

JOP PPWTC Judges

The PPWTC JOP Judges! Image credit: The King of Selfies; Jojo Ong!

Here are a couple of factoids from the results I found interesting:

  • The difference between the first and second place wine in the 1976 Paris tasting was only .05 (14.14 for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars; 14.09 for Château Mouton-Rothschild) Our tasting had similar scores and results. There was only .04 difference between the first and second place wines (14.24 for Ridge; 14.20 for Chateaus Tronquoy-Lalande)
  • I found it interesting that Mike Grgich had a hand in the winning Chardonnay for both the ’76 JOP, and our tasting.

Conclusion

Over the years the Paris blind tasting has been replicated a few times. There was a San Francisco tasting in 1978 (both white and red wines).  And there were decennial tastings (red only) in 1986and in 2006 .

The results showed that different panels of “experts” again preferred the California wines over their French competitors.

So, the fact that the results of our tasting was another California sweep wasn’t shocking. I was, however, mildly surprised the White Burgundy did as well as they did (taking second and third)

“The results of a blind tasting cannot be predicted and will not even be reproduced the next day by the same panel tasting the same wines. – Steve Spurrier, organizer of the 1976 Paris Tasting

I know that blind-tastings are inherently flawed and capricious. I don’t think the results per se are important (although, admittedly bragging rights are cool for the winners!)

But for a tasting like this, I think the alternative is worse.

I agree with Jancis Robinson, who wrote in her classic book How to Taste Wine, “It is absolutely staggering how important a part the label plays in the business of tasting.  If we know that a favorite region, producer, or vintage is coming up, we automatically start relishing it – giving it the benefit of the tasting doubt”  

Ultimately, what really matters to me is that the tasting was exceedingly fun and educational.  The juxtaposition of French and California wine was a great opportunity to taste the wines back to back.  I think that’s the best way to hone one’s palate for different styles of wine and decide what you like.  And isn’t discovering what you like what really matters?

I think so.

Happy 40th Anniversary California of the your glorious victory in the tasting that shocked  and forever changed the world of wine!

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Wine Of The Week: 2009 Ridge Buchignani Ranch Carignane

My wine of the week for May 5-May 11  is the 2009 Ridge Buchignani Ranch Carignane

The Winery

Ridge Vineyards  is a California winery with two estates, Monte Bello in Cupertino, and Lytton Springs in Healdsburg.  They are best known for producing single-vineyard premium Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (“Monte Bello”), Zinfandels, and Chardonnay.  Ridge was established by three engineers from nearby Stanford Research Institute (SRI).  They produced its first commercial wine in 1962 after purchasing the winery in  1960.

It wasn’t too long after that Ridge gained an international  rep when the  Ridge Monte Bello, under the direction of winemaker Paul Draper , took fifth place in the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976 against nine other French and California wines.  Here’s what’s really cool though, the 1976 Monte Bello unanimously took first place in The Judgment of Paris 30th Anniversary when it was tasted against the same wines thirty years later!

I came to know Ridge, when I naively when to the Monte Bello estate hoping to taste the 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay after reading it was the #2 wine in the 2007 Wine Spectator Top 100 list.  It was long gone.  But the other wines I tasted blew me away.  Every wine I tasted was balanced and elegant.  It’s not too often I go to a winery and every wine I taste gets an “A”!

The Wine

This wine is 100% “old vine” Carignane.  Carignane is not a grape varietal you find very often as a single varietal bottling.  That’s because it’s mostly used a blending grape (often with Syrah, and Cinsault) for its color,  and acidity.   It’s that acidity, along with its tannins that give Carignane a reputation for being a challenging grape to work with for winemakers.

Ridge first produced its varietal bottling of Carignane in 1999.  The grapes for this wine were sourced from Buchignani Ranch, which is located in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, an area renown for Zinfandel.  The vines are from 5 acres planted in 1927, 7 acres planted in the 40’s, and 4 acres planted in 1952.  All the grapes were hand harvested , fermented on native yeasts and aged 12 months in 100% air-dried American Oak (5% new, 35% 1-2 years old, and 60% 3 years old).

2009 BUCHIGNANI CARIGNANE

Cost: $26 Retail

Alcohol: 14.1%

My tasting notes follow:

Deep almost inky purple violet color with aromatic earthy, black fruit, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with well-behaved tannins and blackberry, black currant, and vanilla flavors, and a lengthy finish. 100% Old Vine Carignane. This is a very nice value at $26! – 91pts

Pairing with food

Pair with foods that traditionally work well with medium/heavy bodied red wines, like Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon.  Such wines work with fatty dishes because the tannins and acidity “cut” through the fat, and “weight” of the dish.  I think this wine would be fantastic with a charcuterie platter, beef stew,  jambalaya, a hearty chili or BBQ.

September Is California Wine Month

Governor Jerry Brown has proclaimed September 2011 as California Wine Month.  There are some interesting stats in the proclamation.

“Our state’s wineries create jobs for 330,000 Californians and revenue from retail sales of $18.4 billion, including $1.14 billion in exports sales to 122 countries…and bring an estimated 20.7 million tourist…each year”

This post from NorCal Wine Blog entitled “How Big is the California Wine Industry”  gives those stats some interesting context;

Those numbers sound pretty good. But, in the abstract, it’s hard to really understand their significance. I’ve tried to put the numbers into perspective by comparing them to others.

Compare retail sales of $18.4 billion to:

  • The entire GDP of Paraguay: $18.5 billion
  • 2010 U.S. movie box office revenue: $10.6 billion

Compare 330,000 jobs to:

  • The total combined employees of AdobeAmazonAppleeBayGoogleIntelMicrosoft andYahoo!: 326,500
  • The population of St. Louis, Missouri: 319,294

Compare 20.7 million tourists to:

  • The combined populations of New York state (19.4 million) and New Hampshire (1.3 million)
  • The combined populations of Belgium (10.9 million) and Sweden (9.4 million)
  • Total 2007 visitors to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida: 17 million
  • Total 2010 attendance for NFL games: 16.4 million
  • Total airline passengers served by San Francisco International Airport: 18.5 million

The proclamation has been an annual event the last seven years, generally timed to coincide with the start of the grape harvest season (2011 will mostly be an exception due to all the cool weather we’ve had this year).  There will various special events, tastings, tours, etc. throughout the month (Click here for a list of events).  And what better way to start the month than #Cabernet Day on September 1st.  After all, it was Cabernet (1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) that put California on the wine map at the legendary Judgment of Paris in 1976!