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Bordeaux – Napa Valley Shootout

Musings on the Vine October 16, 2004

A group of Musings supporters came together and tasted the following (the tasting notes are my own):

Wine 1: 1991 Heitz Cellars “Trailside Vineyard”

Garnet, ruby color, well-faded brick robe with a pink disc. Tight, earthy nose with herbal hints. Eucalyptus, vanilla and black cherry aromas. Ripe, full-bodied with lean acidity and firm tannin. Well-balanced with black cherry, chocolate, cocoa and black pepper on the palate. Long finish with a tight aftertaste. Drink in 7+ years.

Wine 2: 1987 Spottswoode

Garnet, ruby color, well-faded robe and pink-clear disc. Pruny, mineral nose with herbal, leather, briar patch and tobacco leaf notes. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate tannin. A little tired but OK balance. Sour cherry with leather and dried herbs. Tired finish. Drink now.

Wine 3: 1987 Forman

Opaque garnet robe with a crimson, red disc. Wet stone, mineral and lightly herbal nose. Full-bodied with soft acidity and supple tannin. Well balanced and smooth with cherry, black currant and wet stone on the palate. Moderate length. Drink now.

Wine 4: 1990 Château Léoville-Barton

Well-faded garnet robe with a brackish disc. Tight nose with black currant, mineral, mint and tobacco notes. Charming, full-bodied with soft acidity and firm, tight tannin. Well balanced with a dark fruit core and chocolate, limestone, gravel and eucalyptus hints. Long finish, although tight – needs time. Drink in 7+ years.

Wine 5: 1990 Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron

Dark, opaque garnet robe with a pink disc. Blackberry and currant nose with jammy, fruity notes. Full-bodied with soft acidity and moderate tannin. Well balanced with a dark fruit core and eucalyptus and wet stone hints – smooth. Drinking now.

Wine 6: 1990 Château Haut-Brion

Well-faded garnet, brick red robe and a well-faded disc. Earthy nose with hints of briar patch, leather, and tobacco. Full-bodied with soft acidity and firm tannin. Well balanced with a dark fruit core and roasted game, chocolate, wet stone and dried herb hints. Sweet and juicy with a long finish and hints of vanilla and cocoa on the aftertaste. Drink in 5+ years.

The Results:

The wines were tasted blind and in no particular order. The wines had been opened and decanted about 45 minutes prior to the actual start of the tasting. The duration of the tasting period was approximately 40 minutes, followed by another 90 minutes of open discussion. The results were as follows:

By Wine:

Wine

1st
(3 points)

2nd
(2 points)

3rd
(1 point)

Total

#1

0

1

1

3 pts

#2

0

0

2

2 pts

#3

0

2

1

5 pts

#4

1

1

0

5 pts

#5

3

0

0

9 pts

#6

2

2

1

11 pts

By Region:

Napa Valley: 10 pts

Bordeaux:     25 pts

In an upset of the famous 1976 Spurrier tasting, our group picked France as the modern victor by a better than 2:1 margin.

The following is a reprint of the results from the original 1976 tasting (reprinted from About.com)

1976 Paris Wine Tasting - California Trumps France
An Upset in the World of Wine

Up until the mid 1900s, French wines were thought by many to be the best on the planet. The White House served French wines from the days of George Washington right up through Lyndon B. Johnson. John F Kennedy was a big fan of the French wines. It wasn't until Johnson took office that the decree was made - only American wines would be served at the White House. At the time it was thought to be a nice gesture but not necessarily a great culinary one. Many believed, still, that the French had the best wines in the world. The turnaround in wine knowledge began when wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a Paris Wine Tasting in 1976. He did this as a publicity stunt, assuming that the French wines would easily win. Spurrier has said, "I thought I had it rigged for the French wines to win." 1976 was the bicentennial for the United States, and Spurrier, who ran a wine school, was hoping to gain some attention by comparing the US wines to the French.

The nine tasters were all French wine experts. They included famous culinary writers and the secretary general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes. The tasting was done blind, so that none knew what was being poured.

First, the whites. The comparison was with chardonnay - matching French Burgundy against US Californian chardonnays. The winner was the Napa Valley 1973 Chateau Montelena, to the shock of all present. It beat out the 1973 Meursault-Charmes Burgundy to win. Third and fourth place also went to Californian chardonnays 1974 Chalone Vineyard and 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard.

On to the reds. Spurrier knew that the Californian white had won, and panicked. Against tradition, he let the French tasters know that not only had they chosen a Californian wine for the top prize, but also that 3 out of 4 of the top whites had been Californian. Since many wine drinkers consider red wines to be of even more importance than white, the French tasters were even more determined to choose a French red for the winner this time around.

The tasting progressed. The tasters, sure they could pick out the French wineries, began to make disparaging remarks about some of the "lesser quality US" wines. When the results were unveiled, the winner, to the chagrin of all present, was the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - from Napa Valley, California.

While the French did their best to hide the tasting results, a journalist from Time magazine, George Taber, was present and wrote it up. The news made front page headlines in the United States, and a world, which had long ignored the quality of US wines, woke up and took notice.

In May 1996, on the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington added a bottle of red and a bottle of white to their permanent collection, commemorating the Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap in its records of history.

1976 Paris Wine Tasting - The Wine List
What was tasted in 1976?

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting was organized by French wine tasters, and was meant to capitalize on the US bicentennial publicity. The tasting was done blind, and organizers expected the French wines to win handily. Here are the results.

Chardonnays

From the US:
1973 Chateau Montelena - 1st
1974 Chalone Vineyard - 3rd
1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard - 4th
1972 Freemark Abbey - 6th
1972 Veedercrest - 9th (no longer in operation)
1973 David Bruce Winery - 10th
From France:
1973 Meursault-Charmes - 2nd
1973 Beaune Clos des Mouches - 5th
1973 Ramonet-Prudhon Batard-Montrachet - 7th
1972 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet - 8th

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabs were tasted second, and judges were explicitly trying to choose French wines at this point

From the US:
1973 Stag's Leap - 1st
1971 Ridge Montebello Vineyard - 5th
1971 Mayacamas - 7th
1972 Clos Du Val - 8th
1970 Heitz Cellars 'Martha's Vineyard' - 9th
1967 Freemark Abbey - 10th
From France:
1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild - 2nd
1970 Chateau Haut-Brion - 3rd
1970 Chateau Montrose - 4th
1971 Château Leoville-Las-Cases - 6th

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