In Minnesota, and this may surprise you, we have a plethora of good privately owned wine shops, within the greater Twin Cities region. Among the ones that TB likes and frequents are (in alphabetical order): Excelsior Vintage, France 44, La Dolce Vita, Solovino, and Wine Republic. All have their special interests. Note, TB did not include chains especially perhaps the largest in the U.S., which shall not receive mention.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Afterall, In I’ve Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash names Minnesota in the first verse and Chaska in the last. One email recently caught TB’s eye: a tasting based on the original Judgment of Paris tasting that elevated American wines to world class forty-two years ago. TB has written of this tasting and the book on it by George M. Taber, a journalist for Time magazine stationed in Paris He, like other reporters received a notice of this tasting to be held at the Intercontinental Hotel, a short distance from Time’s offices. Having nothing better to do he wandered in just before the tasting was to begin (for more details read the post, Vol. 3, No 16).
The idea to ‘recreate’ the tasting was the brainchild of Troy Seefeldt, who along with his wife Jen, did an exceptional presentation at La Dolce Vita wine shop in…Chaska, MN…exactly forty-two years after the famous event!
It was a blind tasting, with no clues, other than I and a few others who knew of the tasting. We were poured blind tastes in pairs, a French and an American. First, Sauvignon Blanc, then Chardonnay, then Merlot, and lastly Cabernet Sauvignon. To cater to novices (and I will be the first to state that I am not an expert on wine, but a lover and advocate of the noble grapes), a five category scoring sheet was provided, that made it fun for all with scores of 1-5 on each, and a 25 point perfect score:
CLARITY: All but Opaque; Polluted Lake; See Through; Translucent, and Sparkling
NOSE: Rotten Eggs; Vinegar Medley; Inoffensive; Impressive; Freudian Complex
BODY: Needs a Workout; Skinny & Flabby; Proportionate; Lean + Sinewy; Boldly Muscled
FLAVOR: Oenophilic Ick; Too Sweet; Amply Acidic; Balanced; Romancing the Tongue
FINISH: Bitter Swallow; Callow Gustation; Small Parting Gift; Extra Stamina; Dream Worthy
See…that isn’t so hard is it? Scores came in amazingly similar! This happened to TB when he took people whose idea of wine was followed by ‘cooler’, when he moved to Reno – the same year as the Judgment! Using the UC Davis 20-point Scoring System , they were amazed at how well they did, as was I, although the overall winner was a ringer I put in: Gallo Hearty Burgundy, but you can’t deny it was well made wine. Contrast to the 100-point system created by Robert Parker, which may have done more than anything else to improve the quality of wine than anything else I can recall. The downside to this was conformity for those coveted 90 point ratings, eliminating the artistry of the winemaker, and destroying any semblance to terroir. Note also that there are literally dozens of 100 point systems, having from 25-30 subjective points. Parker is very clear in what he likes: huge fruitbombs with tannins (yes, even for the subtle Pinot Noirs, which is why he was banned from Burgundy tastings). Others not so much and many of them promoting wines they are directly involved in or being compensated to evaluate. Let’s banish ALL 100 point systems…period! As a San Francisco wine critic once wrote: how can you trust my ratings if you don’t know what I look for in a wine? (For more on ratings see Vol. 3 No 6).
Lastly, note that the actual Judgment used 20 point scoring, however there were no rules on how those points were to be calculated. Since all ten judges were French, (sponsor Steven Spurrier, and his pupil, Patricia Gallagher scored the wines too but they weren’t tabulated…wouldn’t you?) there was a huge variation, much more than one might expect from experienced wine evaluators, since several tried to ‘game the system’ and mistook the French wines for the Americans, causing one judge, Odette Kahn, who gave obscenely low scores to the French wines to demand that her scores be removed…they weren’t! Also, I had the country wrong on one of the four pairings…and felt lucky on that.
Back to the wines for the tasting (of course, the cost of the original wines would have been prohibitive – if you could find them), so proxies were provided as follows along with my total points:
Sauvignon Blanc: Coteaux Du Giennois, 2017, 18; Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, 2014, 19
Chardonnay: Ch. Montelena, 2015, 17; William Fevre, Chablis, 2015, 18 (I did really bad in this category!)
Guillemin La Gaffelieere Grand Cru St. Emilion 2010, 16; Freemark Abbey Merlot, 2013, 20
Chateau Aney 2015, Haut Medoc, 22; Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 23
So, for better or worse, those were my scores. Like the original Judgment, it was a great experiment and loads of fun! Try it, you’ll like it!