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American Wine Blows Away French in Classic Re-Match

Posted by perle0 on 2006-05-25 23:40:57 (5767 views)

It was 1976. For the first time ever, in a blind taste test, American and French wines were compared head-to-head (or is that nose-to-nose) by judges of both nationalities who didn't know what nationality they were tasting.

The American wines won and stunned the wine world, especially the French, who had taken for granted their position as the finest winemakers in the world. The tasting, known as the Judgement of Paris, made clear to the whole world that California wines were the equal of--if not superior to--the best wines France could offer. This event marked the beginning of serious wine competition from outside Europe, first California, then other states, then Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and the list keeps growing. Thirty years later, how does this rivalry stack up?

At a 30-year rematch of this famous blind tasting, California wines and French wines were once again compared directly without any knowledge which was which. The result?

Though the French were confident that they could re-take the honor of world's finest vintners, California wines won by a landslide, taking first through fifth place. France could only claim a 6th -place spot, won by a 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. The number one wine was a 1971 Ridge Monte Bello cabernet from Napa Valley.

This time around, though, there was a difference. The red wines included in the original match-up were re-tested, and the California ones won again. (Whites were not re-tested because they don't age well enough to be good 30 years after harvest.)

More modern wines, however, were not tasted entirely blind. French vintners convinced the organizers not to compare young French wines to the same vintage of California wines, because the California wines mature differently, more quickly and with different results. This is true, and the organizers agreed.

However, that meant that wines were identified by location before comparison, though wineries were not identified. Tasters knew they were getting a French Bordeaux or a California cab. This takes a bit of the significance away from the tasting--though the repeated rout of the French wines when the older wines were re-tested confirms that the first blind tasting was no fluke, as the French sometimes suggested.

The moral? Good wine is good wine, no matter where it comes from. The French make some great wine, and some less-great wine. So does California, not to mention many other wine-making regions discovered and still undiscovered. More than any other factor, the value of any wine is still this: does it taste good? Beyond that, we can ask, is it a good value? Is it consistent, so that you can predict that you're likely to get a quality wine from a given region and caliber of winemaker? If these factors are positive, who cares where the wine comes from? Less and less today, most buyers don't. That's a good thing. Who will pay hundreds for a fine French or California wine when you can get an Australian, South African, or South American wine of similar quality for much less?

More details.

Some great background.

A whole book about the original tasting.


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