Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recreating Wine History

Checking my email recently, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes; Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro was staging a “Judgment of Paris” blind wine tasting. Unfortunately when I called in, the maximum of twelve attendees had already signed up. Rats! But with the promise of another possible tasting later, I put my name on the list. This time luck was with me, and the second tasting on August 8 was a go.

I have attended other wine dinners at Zinc, and been impressed with how well organized they were, so I was prepared for a fun evening. Zinc did not disappoint. Zinc’s Kevin Roessler, masterminded the event and greeted my wife and me as we climbed to the second level where a long table was set up and we joined the rest of the celebrants. Six glasses and notes on the wines were arranged at each place setting. Two whites in front and four reds behind had already been poured.

The 1976 Judgment of Paris

Revisiting the original 1976 Judgment of Paris, set up by Steven Spurrier, California winemakers Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena, and Warren Winiarski of Stags Leap Wine Cellars won top awards in the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon blind tasting respectively. Spurrier, an Englishman, ran the Academy du Vin, to teach oenology to English-speaking attendees, and sponsored the event to attract attention to his school.

The most attention he attracted was from the French wine judges, who harangued him for what, in their view, was the latest in a long series of offenses by the English. One could almost hear the beginning of a new Hundred Years War in their complaints of his sabotaging the French wine industry. Spurrier, on the other hand, was as surprised as they at the results. After all Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Meursault Charmes Roulot are some of the most prized red and white wines, respectively. How could the upstart Americans compete with that?

The Zinc Tasting

Duplicating the original wines would have been cost-prohibitive, even if all the wines were still available, but Kevin provided a very good set of replacements. The cornerstone was a 2000 Chateau Margaux, which was enough reason for me to be there. This cult wine, which easily goes for over $1,000, when you can find it, was from one of the great vintage years for Margaux. For the whites, he selected a Grgich Cellars 2006 Chardonnay and a P Matrot Charmes 2006 Meursault. Mike Grgich was the winemaker of the first place winning Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, so the lineages for both were good.

The Chardonnay wines were not hard to differentiate, although the French judges in 1976 were confounded by the similarities. The Chateau Margaux was also easy to spot with an earthy nose, redolent of tobacco and spice, and rich red and dark fruit on the palate. The tannins were sinuous, and the finish just kept going. I can see why this vintage has an average rating of 98 points, with a number of 100-point awards. I savored this one to the last drop, but felt it would be bad form to tongue out the glass.

The Other Wines

The Freemark Abbey 2002 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was also reasonably easy to spot, a classic Napa Cab. The problem I had was with the Chateau Bastide Dauzac 2005 Margaux and the 2005 Franciscan Magnificat, a Meritage blend. The Dauzac Margaux is a Cinquièmes Crus or fifth growth and didn’t taste like a typical Margaux and both wines had a significant dark cherry palate. I ended up swapping them on my tasting form. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

The food that accompanied the wines was well selected although I waited until after I’d tasted all the wines before indulging to keep my palate clear. This was a well-conceived and fun event, complete with high-quality wines and tasty complementary foods. Zinc is definately for wine lovers. Salud!

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