Paris, Three More Times

May 22, 2006

This week, the Paris Tasting (aka the Judgment of Paris), returns for a yet another curtain call.

But that seminal event 30 years ago is not just being re-created, but turned into a three-ring circus with venues in Napa (at Copia), London and Sacramento.

This is still a story with legs, but wobbly legs, to me. The original tasting, where a pair of Napa Valley wineries bested the French in a blind tasting of Chardonnay-based whites and Cabernet-based reds, was indeed the tasting heard 'round world.

But now, 30 year later, the original whites are shot (the re-creation tastings will feature new vintages of the same wines), and the reds, like this Paris Tasting itself, are well past their prime, more like has-been boxers than buffed young studs. (New versions of the reds are also being poured at two of the tastings).

Moreover, whatever the outcome of the tastings this week, they have no bearing on the realities of the present market. That makes this re-creation a mere curiosity, yet another publicity stunt – much as it was 30 years ago.

On top of that, everyone knows what the wines are, so there is no element of surprise. And judges at two of the events – Napa and London – will apparently have an envelope at their seating, revealing the pouring order, should they need a sneak glimpse.

If you want a great read, though, check out George Taber’s account, Judgment of Paris. If you want consider what might have happened under another scenario, here’s another view.

If you’re in an office pool betting on the winner of the original reds, or want to place a bet with a buddy, put your money on the 1970 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard to win and the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, the original winner, a close second.

The 1970 Martha’s was a grand wine from a great vintage, and it is a wine with a track record for aging. It was one of Joe Heitz’s favorites, a wine of impeccable balance and complexity. The Stag’s Leap Cabernet was certainly deserving of winning; in its youth it had an amazing purity of fruit and was almost Burgundian in its supple texture.

If pristine bottles of both of these are poured, they should pull ahead of the pack and win going away. The other wines – both from Bordeaux and California – are not in the same class, primarily because they came from lesser vintages.

Bet on Martha’s.

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