California vs. France redux

Thirty years on, California wines trounced Bordeaux wines in a rematch of a historic blind taste test credited with, in the words of one writer, reshaping the world of enology.

The original test was held in Paris. This time around, the Californias had the homecourt advantage in the competition held at COPIA: Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, in Napa, CA.

Napa Valley wines were judged best by the combined scores of two simultaneous panels, one in California and one in London. Judges at both venues gave top honors to a 1971 Ridge Monte Bello cabernet from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"Maybe it is final justification that it held through all these years and did well," Paul Draper, Monte Bello's winemaker, said to the Associated Press. "I'm truly delighted. Ten years from now, all of us and all the wines will truly be faded and maybe we can lay this to rest."

The highest-ranked Bordeaux was a 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which placed sixth of 10 wines tasted in the anniversary recreation of the historic "Judgment of Paris." Bordeaux wines took sixth through ninth places Wednesday, with a 1969 Cabernet from Freemark Abbey finishing last.

The rematch of wines from the "Judgment of Paris," billed as the most famous wine tasting in history, was held simultaneously in the heart of California's premier wine country and at Britain's oldest wine and spirits merchant.

"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."

Said Vanneque, who lives in Indonesia, to Agence France Presse. "I don't know if I will be able to go back to France. After a second time, they will kill me."

Ten judges sampled 10 unlabeled glasses of decades-old premium wines. Two of Vanneque's favorite blind wine picks were from Napa Valley.

"The one I thought was a Mouton was Clos du Val," he said. "The most surprising thing is they were all exceptional. I did not expect to have that much harmony among them all."

"There wasn't one wine that stood head and shoulders above the others," said taster Jean-Michel Valette, a master of wine at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa. "These are all world class."

The May 24, 1976, tasting 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 organizers noted that the judges re-evaluated the original reds, then tasted the modern reds and whites from both countries. For the most part, the judges were unable to distinguish the French and California wines.

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 with 77 points.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog


Sneak peek at Decanter wine awards

The results are in for the third annual international wine competition sponsored by Decanter, the prestigious British wine magazine.

The publisher will not reveal the full results until September, but I've obtained the gold medal list so you don't have to wonder for months.

• Katnook Estate Odyssey, Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, South Australia (Red) $50.

• Spier Vintage Selection Shiraz-Mourvedre-Viognier 2004, Australia Coastal Region (Red) $205.

• Auvigue Vieilles Vignes 2004 Bourgogne (White) $21.

• Bredon Brut NV Champagne (White) $21.

• Brown Brothers Patricia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Victoria (Red) $21.

• Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 1989 Champagne (White) $145.

• Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 1985 Champagne (White) $178.

• Comte Audoin de Dampierre Cuvée des Ambassadeurs NV Champagne (White) $39.

• Comte Audoin de Dampierre Cuvée Family Reserve 2000 Champagne (White) $99.

• D'Arenberg The Cadenzia, Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre 2004, South Australia (Red)$16.

• D'Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2004, South Australia (Red) $35.

• De Bortoli Show Liqueur Muscat NV, New South Wales (Red) $15.

• Dereszla Tokaji Imperium 2000 Tokaj-Hegyalja (White) $115.

• Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Valmur 2004 Bourgogne (White) $55.

• Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Riesling 2002 Alsace (White) $32.50.

• Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer 2002 Alsace (White) $52.

• Duval-Leroy Blanc de Chardonnay 1998 Champagne (White) $40.

• F.X. Pichler Grùner Veltliner Dürnsteiner Kellerberg 2004 Wachau (White) $48.

• G.H. Mumm Millesime 1998 Champagne (White) $40.

• Gauthier 1998 Champagne (White) $40.

• Giacomo Marengo La Commenda, Tenuta del Fondatore 1999 Tuscany (Red) $20.

• Grant Burge 20 Year Old Tawny NV South Australia (Red) $25.

• Grant Burge Shadrach 2001 South Australia (Red) $30.

• Green Point Shiraz 2004 Victoria (Red) $18.

• Gróf Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 1999 Tokaj (White) $55.

• Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2003 Constantia (Red) $26.

• Henri de Villamont 2002 Bourgogne (White) $30.

• Henriques & Henriques NV Madeira (White) $25.

• Houghton Chardonnay 2003 Western Australia (White) $18.

• Jean-Claude Boisset "Le Limozin" 2004 Bourgogne (White) $40.

• Longview Vineyards Duncan MacGillivray Yakka Shiraz 2004 South Australia (Red) $20.

• Mastroberardino Radici 2001 Campania (Red) $18.

• Michel Picard Les Chaumées 2002 Bourgogne (Red) $38.

• Mount Rozier Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Burr 2004 Stellenbosch (Red) $24.

• Möet & Chandon Dom Perignon 1998 Champagne (White) $100.

• Nicolis "Ambrosan" 2001 Veneto (Red) $35.

• Piper-Heidsieck Brut Divin Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne (White) $40.

• Piper-Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 1996 Champagne (White) $38.

• Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec NV Champagne (White) $38.

• Plantagenet Shiraz 2003 Western Australia (Red) $30.

• Quinta do Encontro Encontro 1 2003 Bairrada (Red) $135.

• Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2003 Dão (Red) $25.

• Royal Tokaji Mézes Mály, Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 1996 Tokaj-Hegyalja (White) $140.

• Royal Tokaji Natur, Essencia 1999 Tokaj-Hegyalja (White) $570.

• Shaw and Smith Shiraz 2004 South Australia (Red) $30.

• Simi Leonardo 2002 Broda (White) $67.

• Taittinger Nocturne Sec NV Champagne (White) $48.

• Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus NV Champagne (White) $50.

• Taylor's Marks & Spencer NV Port (Red) $18.

• Tenuta Oliveto il Leccio 2003 Tuscany (Red) $12.

• Terredora "Campore" Riserva 2001 Campania (Red) $25.

• Tyrell's Wines Vat 1 Semillon 1999 New South Wales (White) $50.

• Wakefield Wines St. Andrew's Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 South Australia (Red) $25.

• Weingut Bründlmayer Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenslein Lyra 2004 Kamptal (White) $40.

• Yalumba The Octavius, Old Vine Shiraz 2002 South Australia (Red) $55.

What's that? Oh, you're welcome.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog


Uncorking a tradition

It's popular to look for closure in every facet of life these days. When it comes to wine bottles, that's particularly true.

The debate over alternatives to traditional use of corks, for reasons of hygiene, environmental correctness, finances and the like, is been amped up as more and more quality wines are sealed with non-traditional materials.

Numerous New Zealand wineries have pioneered the use of screwcaps known as Stelvin closures. A co-extruded cork, with an expanded core of DuPont Elvax ethylene-vinyl acetate, sold under the name VinoTop recently was put into use by the Austrian company Anton Volpini De Maestri Packaging Enterprises. Alcoa even has come up with the Vino-Seal glass sealer that looks something like a decanter stopper (see photo).

The Whitehall Lane Winery near Rutherford, CA, in the Napa Valley, has become the first winery in the world to select the Vino-Seal, using it to seal 45,000 bottles of Whitehall Lane premium 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 3,000 bottles of its premium 2003 Leonardini Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

How do the folks who have to handle a large variety of wine for a living feel about non-cork bottle stoppers?

Opinions vary widely, but I came across an interesting take on the topic from the Parkers, Cheryl and Paul, who run the iconic Chez Sophie restaurant on the outskirts of tony Saratoga Springs, NY. The restaurant, currently in a former roadside diner but poised to move to a new hotel site in downtown Saratoga in time for the legendary Saratoga thoroughbred racing season, has been lauded by local and out-of-town critics for decades. One New York Times writer, for example, referred to it as "Three-and-a-half hours to France, by car."

The Parkers produce a homey periodic e-newsletter for friends and customers that deals with all sorts of topics. The current issues is on corks.

"Every now and then," they write, "Cheryl and Paul get a delivery of wine and find the bottles don't have corks. Especially in Alsace, winemakers are experimenting with the use of screwcaps. So far, every screwcapped wine we have received has been as tasty as the bottles we've received of the same vintage from the same producers with corks. And so far, none of the bottles has been spoiled, something that does happen occasionally with corked bottles.

"Nevertheless, Cheryl usually flips these bottles into the by-the-glass program, to use them up quickly without having to open them at the tables. When someone orders a bottle of these wines after tasting a glass, she finds it awkward to present the bottle at the table, mostly because she is a creature of habit, or at the very least, of traditions she has no real stake in perpetuating. What do you do with the top? Stick it in your pocket and run, or present it to the customer for examination? It took her a long time to learn to pull a cork gracefully, and it's a skill she doesn't particularly want to see become obsolete.

"Paul is less tickly about screwcaps. He thinks they're great, and thinks they are the way of the future so everyone, including his wife, should just get used to them."

One of the health issues involving corks is TCA, shorthand for a particular chemical that infects natural cork, resulting in a musty smell. That's one of the things that makes a wine become "corked."

Despite that, many traditionalists contend using anything other than cork cheapens the wine despite side-by-side tastings that show there is no difference in flavors of wines stoppered with screwcaps, artificial corks, glass or natural cork.

Modernists who would rather pay more for the wine than for the way it's stoppered point out that upwards of $1.50 a bottle is for the cork itself, given the ever-rising price of the natural product.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Mad Dogs & Englishmen join Fat Bastard

If that headline looks like a jumble puzzle, don't be fazed by it. It means just what it says: The creator Of Fat Bastard Wines has come up with a new naming gimmick.

Mad Dogs & Englishmen is a line of Spanish red and white wines created by Guy Anderson, the Brit who created the Fat Bastard line of French wines.

It includes three wines:

• The red blend, a Monastrell Shiraz Cabernet, sourced from Denominacion de Origen Jumilla, a hot, arid region in the southeast of Spain. It will retail for about $13.95.

• The reserve level, POSH Monastrell Shiraz Tempranillo, is also sourced from Jumilla, planned to retail at about $17.

• The Godello Chardonnay, a crisp white blend, is from the Bierzo region in the cool northwest of Spain. Projected retail price is $14.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.

The de-Napazation of Two-Buck Chuck

Bronco Wine Co., producer of the $1.99 Charles Shaw wine commonly nicknamed "Two-Buck Chuck," no longer will use "Napa" on labels of two if its wines.

The reason is simple. Bronco's Napa-named wines also contain grapes grown outside the Napa Valley.

The concession was made to settle a lawsuit brought by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control at the request of the Napa Valley Vintners trade group to enforce a 6-year-old state law requiring that at least 75% of the grapes used to make a bottle of wine must be grown in the county named on the label.

Winemaker Fred Franzia (seen here) of the family that owns Bronco, has lost numerous rounds in the state Supreme Court and other courts attempting to overturn the law.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, "The three brands in question account for $17 million of Bronco's $500 million in annual sales. Franzia will change its Napa Ridge label to Harlow Ridge, named after the street in Napa where Bronco runs a large bottling plant. The label will note that the grapes are from Lodi, Calif., a town south of Sacramento that is gaining recognition for its wines. Franzia said Bronco would use Napa grapes in its Rutherford Vintners and Napa Creek lines."

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.

Paging Douglas Green

Dear Mr. Dowd:

I live in Newton, MA. While visiting my son recently in Washington, DC, he offered me at dinner a Douglas Green shiraz that I liked and which was very inexpensive.

I have not been able to find it at the local liquor stores and it is illegal in Massachusetts to order wine shipments by mail. Would you know how can I find a store locally that carries it?

Many thanks.

Athanasius Anagnostou

Dear Athanasius:

Douglas Green is a South African winery that sells its wares at wine shops in most U.S. states, particularly in the East.

I suspect a few well-placed phone calls will turn one up for you. I'd suggest, for starters, trying Murray's Liquors, (two Newton locations) 747 Beacon St. (617/964-1550) and 675 Washington St. (617/332-1230) or Lower Falls Wine Co., 2366 Washington St., Newton, (617/332-3000).

You don't mention the vintage of the shiraz you liked, but 2003 was a good one and it usually retails for about $10 a bottle.

If those contact numbers don't help you locally, you may want to ask your son to order a few bottles and ship them to you. There's still nothing illegal about family members helping each other.

For those unfamiliar with Douglas Green, particularly the shiraz, it's an unblended, rich, velvety red with notes of prune, berry and spice. The lingering aftertaste makes it a good pairing with bold meat dishes.

Dear Mr. Dowd:

I am very grateful for your amazingly prompt and exceedingly useful advice.
Many thanks.

Athanasius Anagnostou

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.