A Judgment of Paris-y kind of tasting

The “Judgment of Paris” is one of those things that anyone the least bit tinged with wine will most likely never let go of. Big events in wine are often only big to wine people, but when it comes to something like this, it was the first wine-type-thing to have happened that people outside of the trade could relate to, especially if from the USA. “California better than France? Okay, sounds great!” So then, we continue to talk about it, ad nauseam.

Last week I was attending the Wine Writers Symposium. Steven Spurrier was the keynote speaker who happens to the man that pulled all of this together. A couple of fun bits he mentioned was that the quite lousy 2008 film, “Bottleshock” that was a supposed account of the event was as terrible as it was largely due to the filmmakers not realizing that Steven was still alive and not really giving a shit as to how much they got wrong. Spoiler alert: pretty much everything. Also, there are many that are convinced Steven did this to make a name for himself as it did indeed do that but initially it made his life quite difficult given that he was based in Paris, selling French wine and thus, people were pretty pissed at him for how it played out.

But I think one of the most interesting points was in how Steven was able to sum up what happened and what has continued to happen with each subsequent anniversary tasting wherein newer wines are taken into account given that those originals from the 1976 tasting’s vintages are largely quite “tired”. He stated that back in the 1970s, the French had simply gotten lazy whereas the Californians were the underdogs and were trying harder which is why they outscored them.

In what was a 30th anniversary tasting in 2006, the recent French wines mopped with the floor with the recent Californian wines. Why? Because the Californians had in turn gotten lazy as was seen with vintages post 1998 wherein big money was coming in and big, dumb fruit became the norm. Thankfully, this has largely started to even out and perhaps as we trundle towards the 50th anniversary tastings, we’ll see what mettle both sides of the Atlantic as truly made of, although these days, there are countless regions producing top-tiered wines.

So given that Mr. Spurrier hung out with us for a few days, we did a tasting of many recent wines from wineries that were part of the original 1976 tasting–we also got some old archive gems as well. This was an absolute treat for three reasons. The first is that I, nor most anyone I know could ever afford these wines. Secondly, even if I could afford them, trying to get access to them in Spain would prove painful. And then lastly, I’ve largely avoided tasting Napa for some time now given the big, dumb fruit years and so seeing what’s been produced recently was a tremendous eye opener for myself as I would also assume, everyone else in attendance. Also, it went a long way to confirming that 2014 was a damned nice vintage.

Château Montelena – Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011
Toasted lemon peel over starburst chew, sandalwood, and gravel minerality. Medium plus acidity, oak still quite prevalent in the mouth but juicy with a long finish. Still tastes a bit boxed in by cellar work but will come into its own.
**+ 91+

Clos du Val 2014 – Stags Leap Hirondelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Plum and dark cherry, chocolate, herbal spices, anise, licorice. Juicy and fresh in the mouth, crisp strawberry, bit of jammy stick, alcohol and spice in the finish.
** 91

Freemark Abbey – Rutherfood Bosche Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Dark cherry, fig, tea leaf, smoky reductive notes, bottoms out a bit. Fleshy and balanced tannins in the mouth. Good, developed fruit that will continue to evolve.
** 92+

Spring Mountain Vineyard – Spring Mountain Elivette Blend 2014
Very light cranberry, strawberry compote fig, flint. Juicy, bright fruit. Very, very closed however and needs a solid five more years to then explode.
*+ 89+

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Big boysenberry with very pronounced fig and dark cherry, light sawdust. Round and elegant in the mouth, buttery, smooth, sweet fruit and a long finish.
***+ 95+

Heitz Wine Cellars – Napa Valley Linda Falls Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Closed dark cherry, smoky reduction, toasted cedar and orange peel, fennel, and sage. Fresh and lively in the mouth, great acidity and a long finish.
**+ 92+

Mayacams Vineyards – Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Strong dark fruit and fig, highly undeveloped yet. Good cherry compote in the mouth, wall of tannins that simply needs considerable more time.
**+ 90+

Spring Mountain Vineyard – Spring Mountain Elivette Red Blend 2005
Good deal of color evolution. Red and dark fruit bramble, eucalyptus, bay leaf, herbs de Provence. Fresh and lively on the palate with good red fruit predominantly. Seems to be on the fade.
** 93-

Château Montelena – Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Evolved but still brick red in the rim. Red cherry and cured strawberry, dark fruit tinge with figgy bits. Wonderfully fleshed out in the body. Tannins nearly integrated. Long life ahead.
**+ 94+

Mayacamas Vineyards – Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Dark cherry, fig, reductive notes, very heavy and intensely closed. Good fruit on the palate but a bit overwhelmed by the tannins. Either in the hole or fading.
* 89-

Freemark Abbey – Rutherford Bosche Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Toasted red fruit, orange peel, dark cherry, stoniness that drifts to smoke. Round red fruit on the palate. Tannins still massive and alcohol is overwhelming.
** 90

Heitz Wine Cellars – Napa Valley Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Bricking red at the rim. Light red cherry and raspberry with a bit of matchstick reduction, eucalyptus. Still excellent fruit and acidity on the palate. Will evolve even more.
**+ 94+

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
Very defined rim evolution. Light red fruit but mostly herbal, bay leaf, sage, delicate and curled, buttery a touch still. Wonderful fruit in the mouth, defined red cherry and lively freshness and balance.
*** 96

Clos du Val Napa valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1979
Drifting to orange at the rim. Licorice and red fruit notes, stony, Cognac, figgy, subtle with herbal notes on the palate. Tannins still pushing it along and starting to fall off but still excellent.
***- 95-