Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Judgment of Paris Anniversary Tasting Highlights French and California Wines

We offer our version of the historic Judgment of Paris tasting in which California wines earned their place on the world stage.

The shockwaves on May 24, 1976, started in Paris and rippled around the world. On that day in a blind tasting, French wine experts judged red and white wines from California superior to first-growth and other renowned bottlings from Burgundy and Bordeaux. We set out to stage our own event on the 48th anniversary of the original tasting.

There were two blind tastings in what has become known as the Judgment of Paris, one of top-quality Chardonnay and the other of red wines. Organized as a publicity stunt by British wine merchant Steve Spurrier, many expected a bad showing by the US wines to accelerate the downfall of American vineyards, instead a Napa Valley wine rated best in both categories.

California long had a reputation for unremarkable wines, sometimes marketed with misleading labels like Burgundy, Chablis, or French Colombard. The Judgment of Paris was the shot heard ‘round the world. In an instant, California wine producers learned they could compete with the well-established French wineries. Winemakers across the globe realized their potential as well.

My good friend Arthur Barham (of Merlot2MuscadineMerlot2Muscadine) was inspired after watching Bottle Shock, the 2008 movie that dramatized the Judgment of Paris tasting from the perspective of Bo Barrett of Napa’s Chateau Montelena. We spoke and agreed a JOP anniversary dinner would be a marvelous opportunity for our first full-fledged collaboration.

We decided on a smaller group of four couples (compared to some of our other soirees) and the focus would be a celebration of French and American wine with gourmet food pairings. The event would be held at Arthur and Mary’s house. Each course would feature a California and French wine.

Oh, yes. To kick the event off in style, we would feature sabrage, the opening of sparkling wine with a saber. It was Arthur’s brainstorm to do a double sabrage with each of us opening a bottle -- one French, one American -- simultaneously. It could either be a spectacular prelude to dinner or an embarrassing “fail” circulated on social media. You can see the results here:

We decided to dig deep into our cellars to pick our French and American wines.  The double sabrage featured Korbel Brut (US) versus Bourgeois-Boulonnaise Champagne Premier Cru Tradition Brut. Both are made with the méthode champenoise. The Premier Cru Champagne is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the Korbel has Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Pinot Noir.

The appetizers, courtesy of Sanjay and Michelle, were Chicken Reshmi Kabab, Paneer Tikka, and Gobi Manchurian (deep-fried marinated fried cauliflower florets, onions, chili, and soy sauce). These paired well with the bubbles and the latter was a spot-on match with the next two wines. On the French side, we served an old favorite, the Château Paradis La Grande Terre Côteaux Aix en Provence Rosé 2023. For the American side, we offered the Curran 2022 Grenache Gris from Santa Barbera. This was my first taste of the Curran and I loved the pale rose quartz color and white raspberry flavor.

A most unique salad, La Salade Mentonnaise, was served next. Menton is the Lemon Capital of France and this salad featured plenty of citrus with fennel, orange, artichoke, pine nuts, lemon zest, and orange vinaigrette. Prepared by Amy and Tony, this was a light and playful pairing with the 2020 Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du- Pape Blanc and the Chateau Montelena 2021 Chardonnay. Chateau Montelena was an original participant in the Judgment of Paris and bested the French opposition.

Petite Steak Bites with Béarnaise Sauce, baked polenta & roasted asparagus was the featured entree. We paired this (prepared by yours truly) with a beautiful Chateau Beau-Site Saint Estephe 2016 and a 2015 Pursuit Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Both wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, although the Bordeaux has 60% Cab and the Pursuit has 81%. Each wine was decanted for two hours.

The red wine lovers had been waiting for this dish, steak and two great red wines! I sipped the Bordeaux first, and the Beau-Site (named because its vineyards are on one of the Medoc’s highest points) began with rich flavors of blackberries, plums, and leather. The Pursuit offers more of a new world character, with bold waves of black cherry, plums, and baking spices predominating along with subtle cigar box notes.

As we continued sipping the red wine and revisiting the others, we compared notes and debated the merits of each wine. Meanwhile, Arthur was preparing dessert: a mouthwatering Grilled Fruit Kabob Medley with Chantilly Cream.

Early on Arthur and I had discussed what wines to serve with the final course. I suggested that after having eight wines, we should go with just one dessert wine (from anywhere). After all, the original Judgment of Paris wasn’t a dessert wine contest.

The final wine was the 2019 Paxxito from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. This is one of Arthur’s favorite dessert wines and I was bowled over by it during a visit to the winery earlier this month. It was a palatial ending to a memorable wine dinner.

Who won the judgment this year? The Americans seemed to hold a slight edge
but with many crossovers. One guest who spends every summer in Europe was a strident supporter of France. How fortunate we can freely enjoy wines from both countries.

Thanks to all who attended and to compadre Arthur for this great collaboration.


Arthur Barham said...

A great article and an even greater event - our first "official" collaboration, all who attended deemed it a success and from the co host vantage point I would have to concur, what a great opportunity to show off the depth and abundance of our personal wine collections and showcase the culinary talents of our friends, many thanks for your support, cooperation, inspiration and motivation along my wine journey, looking forward to our next collab, cheers to you and Kathy!

Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Thanks, Arthur. A wonderful celebration of food and wine. Always a pleasure to share a wine adventure with a great friend and knowledgeable wine expert. Cheers to you and Mary!