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May 24, 2006 09:28 PM

California wins again in Judgment of Paris redux

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Shock of shocks, in the 30th Anniversary re-creation of the Judgment of Paris tasting, the 1971 Ridge Montebello reportedly has finished first in dual Napa and London tastings. Second place went to the 1973 Stag's Leap and tied for third were the Mayacamus and 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard. The best french showing was by the 1970 Mouton, which finished sixth.

Curiously, I had the privilege of tasting the Ridge Montebello out of magnum a few days earlier and it was not a wine that i would have expected to finish first. While the wine still had good color and decent structure, it was definitely past its peak and showing its age with its tea leaf quality, contrary to one of the descriptions offered by one of the judges. It was a wine i thought that english tasters would appreciate for its mature complexity, as they apparently did, but so did the California tasters.

while i am happy for the california vintners, i do not look forward to the next stage of sticker appreciation. in case no one has looked lately, the latest vintage of the 2001 Heitz Martha's Vineyard is $225. i am sure they believe it is justified as most super seconds are close to $200, and first growth even more expensive.

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  1. "This has come as a real surprise to me," said Mr Spurrier, casting a doubletake at his tasting notes. "The Ridge Monte Bello was my top wine ­ warm and spicy with no sign of age, as fragrant as a fine Bordeaux, elegant and beautifully balanced."

    In second place, some considerable distance behind, was the 1973 Stags' Leap ­ a shock in itself, given recent reports that it had deteriorated. The third spot went jointly to the 1971 Mayacamas ("concentrated, bursting with fruit and youthful," according to Mr Spurrier) and the 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard.

    1. How much bottle-to-bottle variation might one expect, particularly between a 750ml and a magnum? Could age or treatment explain some of the differences between what you and the judges tasted?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        I would generally expect a magnum to age better than a 750ml. However, that's assuming the conditions for aging were exactly the same for both, which they may not have been...

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          the magnum came from the winery, as did the 750's served at the tastings, which i presumed have been stored in identical conditions at the winery all these years. if anything, the wine from the magnum should have been the "younger" of the two. i can only attribute it to bottle variation and that the english bottle must have been absolutely pristine.

          don't get me wrong, the 1971 ridge montebello was a very nice and interesting wine; its just that i've had older bordeauxs that had more life and complexity, and that's why i didn't think the ridge would have finished first. perhaps the 70 mouton and montrose needed more time to open up, but then everyone completed under the same conditions and the ridge won fair and square and in the process, proved the ageability of well-made california cabernets.

          french bordeaux or california cabs? I'll take both, and vive le difference!

        2. Zzzzzzzz....

          And people wonder why Americans don't drink more wine.

          Who cares???? Wines cage matches are an absurd study. Just drink the stuff. Oh wait, 99.99999% of people in this country will never taste those wines.

          1 Reply
          1. re: maggie

            American's drink a lot of wine, consumption went down per capata in 1994, but has been rising ever since. We will never match the Europeans per capata, but as a country, we drink a whole lot of wine.

            As to those wines, they are talking about the elite wines and sure most folks won't ever get to try a 1971 Ridge MB. But I've drunk Monte Bello from 1985, 86, 89, 90, 94, 95, 96, and 99 so far (admittedly I don't drink if often, but it is certainly easy to get if you are willing to pay for it.) All have been excellent and some superb and many still have years and year ahead of them.

            However, one does not have to spend the money that Ridge gets for MB to obtain excellent American wines. Considering the exchange rate, and the price of the better French wines, your dollar goes much further with American wines.