The Judgement of Paris 40 years later

07 June 2016

Forty years ago The Judgement of Paris shook the wine world. Yesterday, at Sager + Wilde Paradise Row, that judgement was overturned. In this east London rematch, France was proven the favourite over California.

The original event was held by wine merchant Steven Spurrier in 1976, pitting French wines against those from California in a blind tasting by mostly French wine judges. Not only did a Californian Chardonnay (Chateau Montelena) take top spot against a wine from Burgundy, but a Californian Cabernet (Stags' Leap) came out on top against some top Bordeaux wines. As Spurrier explained, 40 years later in London: 'It was a watershed moment in wine.'

Last night's tasting reinterpreted the format somewhat, but remained a showcase of some of the best that the two countries have to offer. The tasting consisted of seven flights, each made up of two wines - one Californian, one French, both made from the same variety. An attempt was made in each case to match price too, and in some cases production methods (see below for a full list).

The wines were judged by a panel of 17 wine experts - names such as Julia Harding MW, Matt Wilkin MS, Gearoid Devaney MS and Spurrier himself. In addition, a restaurant filled with just over 50 guests also cast their votes. Like the judges, they were asked to select their favourite out of each pair of wines.

And when all the scores were combined, France emerged the winner, earning back some pride all these years later. In the audience vote alone, France won five out of seven flights. The judges selected four French wines as their favourites, with one tied flight.

The Riesling flight divided judges and guests, with the former choosing the French, while the latter preferred the Californian. In the Chardonnay flight, France was the top pick for both groups.

A pair of orange wines no doubt helped to bring the challenge into the modern day, but this was the most controversial flight too. Ultimately, both groups chose the Californian orange wine, however.

Moving into the reds, the French won convincingly when the judges were deciding, but guests by far preferred California's offering. The two were in better agreement over the both the Granache and Syrah flights, both choosing France. And while the judges were tied on the Cabernet Flight, the guests selected the French as their favourite.

On the exact 40-year anniversary of the event last month - 24 May - another recreation was held at 67 Pall Mall in London, but this time using wines from the original wineries. And the results were closer to the original on that occasion too, with California taking top spot in both red and white categories with wines from Stags' Leap and Chalone Vineyards respectively.
Wines in the Sager + Wilde Judgement of Paris 2016

Flight 1: Riesling
Tatomer, Kick-on Ranch Riesling 2013, Santa Barbara County
Domaine Ostertag, Heissenberg Riesling 2014, Alsace

Flight 2: Chardonnay
Kutch, Chardonnay 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains
Domaine Roulot, Bourgogne Blanc 2012

Flight 3: Orange Sauvignon Blanc
Scholium Project, The Prince in his Caves 2014, Sonoma Mountain
Sébastien Riffault, Saulétas 2010, Sancerre

Flight 4: Pinot Noir
Domaine de la Côte, La Côte 2012, Santa Rita Hills
Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint-Denis 2011

Flight 5: Grenache
A Tribute to Grace, Grenache 2013, Santa Barbara County
Tardieu-Laurent, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Speciale 2012

Flight 6: Syrah
Wind Gap, Armagh Vineyard Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast
Domaine Stéphane Ogier, Côte-Rôtie Syrah 2010

Flight 7: Cabernet Sauvignon
Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley
Château Sociando-Mallet, Jean Gautreau 2010, Haut Médoc

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