May 24, 2006
The Latest Round

Thirty years later and California still rules.

On the 30th anniversary of a blind tasting in Paris when nine French judges found California wines more to their liking than French, a similar showdown reinforced those first impressions.

Indeed, California red wines were even more dominant yesterday than they were three decades ago, seeming to end at least for the moment widespread speculation that California wines can’t age as well as French.

In Paris, three of the top five red wines were French. At yesterday’s simultaneous blind tastings in London and Napa, all five top red wines were Californian.

Yesterday’s winning wine was the Ridge Vineyards 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, which finished fifth in Paris three decades ago.

The winning wine in Paris, the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, finished second yesterday.

Panelists in both Napa and London agreed that the Ridge was the day’s best wine, while the American judges ranked the Stag’s Leap second and the British panelists put it third, just behind the Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1970, which the Americans placed sixth.

The Paris tasting, widely credited for establishing California’s credentials on the world wine scene, also included 10 white wines, but that confrontation wasn’t repeated yesterday because whites customarily don’t age as gracefully as reds.

Instead, the competition’s sponsors, which in Napa was Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts, set up separate flights of contemporary wines from both countries made with chardonnay.

That is, the French whites were tasted together, the California whites similarly, without a face-to-face confrontation. The tasting was set up this way, said Peter Marks, the wine director for Copia, to emphasize the celebratory nature of the anniversary rather than the competitive side.

“We wanted to do justice to each area; it wasn’t meant for them to compete with each other. It would be like comparing apples and oranges, their styles are so unique right now,” said Marks.

In the French round, panelists in both Napa and London gave the highest marks to the Domaine Leflaive 2002 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Pucelles.

In the California round, the panelists from both continents gave the highest marks to the Talley Vineyards 2002 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay.

Results from a similar round involving young red wines were not immediately available.

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