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US comes top - again

Published:  23 July, 2008

The much-publicised 1976 Judgement of Paris' re-enactment - held simultaneously in London and Napa - once again came out heavily in favour of California's finest, which won the top five places, and generated widespread press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic.

Arguably more controversial than the tasting results was the switch from the original venue - Waddesdon Manor, in Buckinghamshire, owned by Lord Jacob Rothschild - to Berry Bros & Rudd's London offices.

The two first growth-owning branches of the Rothschild family put up fierce opposition to the re-enactment and having the Rothschild name associated with it.

Steven Spurrier, organiser of both the original tasting and the re-enactment, commented: 'Baronness Philippine complained vociferously that she did not want her wine compared to Californian wine.

'Her stance is strange because she has a major interest in Opus One... In making a final decision whether to hold the event at Waddesdon, we took into account both Rothschild families' scepticism about the validity of the blind tasting and decided to held it at Berrys.'

He said he was 'very' surprised by the result and had expected France to hold 'three of the top five'.

He added: 'It is plain that Bordeaux 1970s haven't lasted. They weren't making great wine in those days, masses of production and not much selection for second wines. On the other hand, Napa was trying really hard. Paul Draper had worked a year at Latour before starting Ridge and so he made a Latour at Ridge.'

As well as a tasting of old wines, the event saw young wines from California (red and white), Bordeaux (red) and Burgundy (white) tasted semi-blind (so the origin of each was known) and then ranked in country-specific order.

Jasper Morris MW, one of the London tasters, praised Ridge as 'truly exceptional and still very much alive', but commented that the best of the 1970 Bordeaux vintage, such as Latour and Giscours, may have fared better.

As for the flights of recent wines, Morris said that in general he prefered the Bordeaux and the white Burgundys, 'although many of the US wines were also exceptional, like the 2000 Ridge', and that the French had possibly made a mistake in not wanting their wines in competition.

Another taster, Jancis Robinson MW, writing on Jancis, commented: 'The sort of California Cabernets being made in the early '70s had the capability to live for 30 years or more. Whether those being made today will last as long I personally doubt.'

Neil Beckett analyses the results...

The 30th anniversary Judgement of Paris tasting was more meaningful as a commemoration than most commentators had expected, the result almost as surprising as that in 1976.

Beyond the New World wins again' headlines, the detailed figures afford interesting insights into the margin and nature of the victory, and the degree of unanimity across the transatlantic divide.

The ten original red wines were tasted blind by both nine-member panels, each taster ranking the wines from 1-10; one point was awarded to the first-ranked wine, two points to the second, and so on, with the lowest score winning.

Although almost everybody on the UK side (including organiser Steven Spurrier) had expected Bordeaux to triumph this time, the chteaux had refused to supply the wines, which had to be sourced from third-parties.

But while the California owners themselves thought that their wines were well past their best, they pluckily played along, sacrificing some of the last bottles from their own stock.

Provenance, therefore, may have favoured the California wines, but none of the tasters seemed to think the Bordeaux wines were out of condition, and the results suggest that they were not skewed in this way.

Ridge Monte Bello was the clear and convincing winner on both sides, the gap in the total score between it and the second-placed wine, Stag's Leap, being greater than that between any other consecutively placed wines.

Ridge came out even better on the UK than on the US side, scoring 29 and 32 points respectively; in the UK it was 11 points clear of the second wine there, and in the US, four points.

Stag's Leap was a clear second overall, but the margin was much tighter: it was second-placed in the US, but only by one point, while it was third-placed in the UK.

Only a marked difference of opinion on the Mouton-Rothschild prevented it from being runner-up: second in the UK with 40 points, it was sixth in the US with 53, and ended up sixth overall.

There were equally divergent rankings and scores for two other wines - Heitz (third overall) and Montrose (seventh) - but a fairly strong consensus on four others - Clos du Val (fifth), Haut-Brion, Loville-Las Cases and Freemark (eighth, ninth and tenth).

Although the top five wines overall were Californian (five of the six Californian wines tasted) - and this clean-sweep in the top half is what has stolen the headlines - the victory was not quite as overwhelming as this suggests.

In the UK, two of the four Bordeaux wines - Mouton and Montrose - came second and fourth-equal respectively, and in the overall ranking Clos du Val edged Mouton out of a place in the top five by only one point.

Nevertheless, the overall scores were otherwise fairly well dispersed, and with one or two important exceptions there was an impressive degree of unanimity among the tasters, rather than the radical variation revealed in Decanter's transatlantic tasting several years ago.

If the Judgement of Paris tasting confirmed the quality of top California reds, this cross-channel, transatlantic rematch provided proof positive of their longevity - at least of those made in the '70s.