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And The Winner of the Paris Tasting 2006 Is...

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 24, 2006 6:51pm ET

Ridge Monte Bello 1971.

It won first place at both the Napa and London tastings staged today.

In second place was Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, which was the big winner the first time the comparative tasting of Cabernet-based wines from Bordeaux and California was held in Paris in 1976.

Heitz’s Martha’s Vineyard 1970, my pick to win this time around, ran third, tying with Mayacamas 1971.

Fifth place went to Clos Du Val 1972.

That makes a clean sweep in the first five places for California Cabernets. (Not that it matters all that much.) All of the Cabernets, except Ridge, are from Napa Valley.

The '71 Monte Bello was never a great wine in my view, but the vineyard does have a track record for aging, so let’s give it its due. The wine is also reminiscent of Bordeaux, with Château Latour as the model.

The results of this re-creation of the original Paris tasting may rev up the debate over high-alcohol wines in the industry and in public forums. My recollection is that most of the wines, both from California and Bordeaux, fell into the 12.5 to 13 percent alcohol levels.

Let the debate begin….

Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  May 24, 2006 8:35pm ET
The 1971 Ridge Montebello has always been my favorite Ridge Cabernet, ranked closely to Eisele 71. I first tasted the wine in a blind comparative tasting at Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco upon release. It was an overwhelming favorite and winner of the tasting that included several Bordeaux first growths. A few of the tasters were concerned that the wine was so forward and drinkable, particularly for a Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. My preference is for this style, and as recent as last February, again enjoy the 71 Montebello. It continued to show magnificent fruit with great complexity, and a lenghty aftertaste. I am looking forward to enjoying several more bottles.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 24, 2006 8:40pm ET
That's interesting, Jim. I have only limited experience with the '71, in the 1980s a couple of times, so perhaps that taints my view. Glad to hear from someone who tasted it early on.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 24, 2006 8:51pm ET
One more thing. I guess one should never rule out a Paul Draper Monte Bello, for its balance. If you need help drinking one of those '71s, let me know...
Neil K Manger
Boyce, Va. —  May 25, 2006 12:07pm ET
I began to enjoy wines in the late '70s as a food service employee. One of our wine purveyors was moving and so I purchased his home cellar of roughly 3 cases. Included was the '73 Stag's Leap Cab. To make a long story short, I opened it in the late '80s and to this day consider it the finest Cabernet to grace my palate. At the time of purchase it was valued around $20 - $25. Priceless would have been a better description. I am pleased to hear that it has aged gracefully. I do not regret not holding onto it longer but wouldn't it be a dream to sample some today?!! Thanks for the report and for evoking a fond memory.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 25, 2006 12:15pm ET
You're welcome. Thanks to Warren Winiarski, I've enjoyed the '73 many times and it indeed is an amazingly supple and graceful wine. The last time I tried it (in the late 1990s) it still had youthful fruit flavors and hadn't run out of gas.
Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  May 25, 2006 1:44pm ET
It would be fun to share a bottle of the 71 Ridge Montebello. I will be in touch.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  May 25, 2006 1:52pm ET
James, can you talk a little about why you picked the 1970 Heitz's Martha's Vineyard to win? Is it because of the over-all quality of the vintage, or do Martha's Vineyard bottlings, from earlier times, age well? My own personal experience with the Martha's Vineyard wines ('89 on) is that they do not age well over time. I've had a few over the course of last year, and found them to be over-the-hill, tired and mediocre. But, perhaps the earlier wines were made with more aging and structure in mind?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 25, 2006 2:01pm ET
Hi Sao,As I mentioned earlier, this was a classic Martha's. I've had it many times and typically Martha's performs well in my 10 and 20 year Caberent retrospectives. 1970 was also a great Cabernet year and the other California wines the in Paris tasting came from lesser years, such as 1971 and 1972.If you've had over-the-hill bottlings, perhaps the wines were poor samples.
William Landreth
Irving, TX —  May 25, 2006 4:05pm ET
James, any chance on staging a Paris Tasting with their modern counterparts? I would be willing to travel to CA and hold it someplace like Cole's Chophouse or Maybe Press. What are your thoughts?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  May 25, 2006 5:59pm ET
Blind comparataive tastings are always fun, irrespective of grape, region or vintage. And they can be instructive. But I wouldn't read too much into the results, which can easily be blown our of proportion. I'll give it some thought, Bill.
Mack Roach
San Francisco, California —  July 11, 2006 12:14pm ET
I just bought a magnum of 1971 Monte Bello Cab in Vegas last weekend. I expect it to drink well.
Scott Duncan
March 23, 2007 1:19pm ET
I have always felt that the Spectator (your?) reviews of Monte Bello have been too low. We all have our prefered wines but it seems the ratings take the often early austerity at face value without regard for the history of developing and aging, as your mag. does for Bordeaux.Anyway, I love Monte Bello most years and feel it shows "place" better than most CA. cab based wines. That it showed well with both the 2000 and 1971 is testament to a great wine.Scott

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