French and California winemakers marked the 30th anniversary of the storied Paris tasting with another sip-and-spit showdown.
California won — and by more than a nose.
Native wines took the top five of 10 spots, with a 1971 Ridge Monte Bello cabernet sauvignon from the Santa Cruz mountains coming out on top in a May 24 tasting.
"Today was a snapshot in time and all the stars were aligned properly. We had a lot of fun," said Peter Marks, director of wine at Copia, the Napa Valley wine and arts center where the New World end of the tasting was held. A European panel of tasters met at a London wine merchant to give their rating.
The May 24, 1976 tasting known as the Judgment of Paris is considered a milestone in the American wine industry because it shattered the perception that the New World was capable only of producing cheap bulk wines.
It was put together by Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant who owned a shop and wine school in Paris. Spurrier, now a wine consultant, also was co-organizer of Wednesday's rematch.
The tasting was in two parts, with judges re-evaluating the original reds and then tasting a variety of modern reds and whites from both countries. (Whites don't generally age well and weren't part of the re-enactment.)
Back in '76, it was a complete surprise when California wines outclassed the French. A Stag's Leap 1973 cabernet sauvignon was top red and another Napa Valley wine, a Chateau Montelena 1973 chardonnay, took top white.
Tellingly, the judges were unable to distinguish the French and California wines, although they thought they could.
Spurrier staged a re-tasting for the 1986 anniversary, and California wines again took top places, although the No. 1 red then was a Clos du Val 1972 cabernet sauvignon.
The 30-year anniversary tasting sparked controversy, with some wineries on both sides of the Atlantic reluctant to have their new vintages tasted blind, a high stakes game in which someone has to come out last.
In a compromise, the re-enactment tasting was blind, but the new wines were identified by country so there was no direct competition.
Top French white was a Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru des Pucelles 2002 Domaine Leflaive; for California it was a Talley Rosemary's Vineyard 2002. Top French red was a Chateau Margaux 2000 and the leading California red was a Ridge Monte Bello 2000.
"It's just beautiful," said Christian Vanneque, who was a judge at the '76 Paris tasting and again Wednesday in Napa. "It shows that these California wines ... did win also the test of time."