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Paris, Three More Times

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 22, 2006 10:04am ET

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.

Ryan Dougherty
Napa, CA —  May 22, 2006 2:20pm ET
James,
Thanks for bringing some perspective to the spectacle of the 1976 tasting and to what it means in the Napa Valley today. I recently visited one of the "winning" wineries, where one can find replicas of their triumphant wine erected like altars throughout the tasting room. While it should certainly be a proud moment in the history of both wineries, it seems to overshadow many of the other great California wineries (and wines) of the 60s and 70s and give the impression that 1976 was somehow a "Year 0" for California wine. If anything, perhaps this anniversary of the Spurrier tasting should allow some reflection on the "race" leading to London, rather than just on the finish.
Bryan So
CA —  May 23, 2006 12:43am ET
Did the Napa winemaking style between 1973 and current vintage change a lot? What does the 1973 SLV taste like in 1976? How different is it from, say 2002 SLV as tasted today?

How about the same question asked about Bordeaux red featured there?
Mark A Fisher
Dayton, OH —  May 23, 2006 9:34pm ET
James: Welcome to the blogosphere! You indicate in your post that judges in Napa will have an envelope at their seat revealing the pouring order. That information directly contradicts what Steven Spurrier told me via email two days ago (see Sunday's entry on Wine Sediments at www.wellfed.net/winesediments ). Spurrier said the envelope will list the wines to be tasted but will NOT reveal the pouring order, so that judges will not know which wine is in their glass. I notice you do not attribute your information to a named source in your blog posting. If the methodology you describe is the one that is used for the tasting (and it may well be), you can be certain I'll go back and ask my source, Mr. Spurrier, to explain. If the methodology is as Mr. Spurrier described to me, and the judges will NOT know which wines are in their glasses when the wines are tasted, I do hope you'll pose the same question to your source, and I hope you'll let your blog's readers know the outcome of that conversation. Thanks and cheers!Mark Fisher
Mark A Fisher
Dayton, OH —  May 24, 2006 7:09am ET
Mr. Laube: You indicate in your post that judges in Napa will have an envelope at their seat "revealing the pouring order." Since that information directly contradicts what Steven Spurrier told me via email three days ago and which I published Sunday on Wine Sediments, I went back to Mr. Spurrier to see whether the methodology had changed. Mr. Spurrier replied this morning (5-24-06) that there has been no change: The envelope that will be at each judge's seat will list the wines to be tasted in ALPHABETICAL order but will NOT reveal the POURING order. Therefore, judges will NOT know which wine is in their glass. Personally, I think that is a key distinction, and one that your readers would want to know. Thanks and cheers! Mark Fisher
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 24, 2006 11:39am ET
Mark,I'm glad the judges won't know the exact pouring order; they already know the wines! There have been many discussions among organizers about how to proceed with the tasting and I haven't followed it blow by blow. I still find fault with the whole concept, given what we know about the wines made today in both regions. The newer vintage tasting from the original red wine producers is once again dicey, giving that some 2000 Cabernets (a tough vintage) will be poured against 2000 Bordeaux (a great year). What's the point?

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