Calgary Wine Life: Co-op Wine & Spirits Judgment of Paris Tasting, Part 2

24 10 2011

The official checklist of what was poured, for the low low total retail price of $3800.

If you missed the excitement of the white wine portion of Co-op’s Judgment of Paris re-enactment, or me harshly slagging a $300 bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy, click here for Part 1 of this post.  While you had a whole day to absorb the notes and results from the white flight before moving onto the reds, we had about 15 minutes, which was spent running to McDonalds and powering down cheeseburgers and Quarter Pounders (note to wine retailers:  if you’re conducting a 5 hour tasting featuring 20 wines, don’t wait until the end of the tasting to serve food).   Then it was time for the main event.  Generally speaking, I think white wines are tragically underappreciated as compared to reds and shouldn’t be automatically classified as a vinous undercard; that said, some of the J of P red wines are among the most famous on Earth and were clearly the star attractions of this show.  I was particularly excited for the opportunity to try two of the five First Growth Bordeaux — Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut Brion (combined bottle price for both:  $1500), which, at least from a reputation/prestige/marketing standpoint, constitute the creme de la creme of the wine world.

All but 2 of the J of P contestants, ready for battle.

Stomachs full of takeout, pens and notepads at the ready, we sat down in front of 6 Napa Cabs and 4 top red Bordeaux as the gun sounded on another hour of blind speed tasting.  Just like yesterday, below are my actual transcribed handwritten tasting notes and scores from the night of the tasting, followed by a reveal of what bottle I was tasting (which we didn’t discover until after the fact) and the overall group’s rank of the wine.  As a reminder, scores are out of 20 points, with 3 points for sight/appearance, 5 for nose, 7 for palate and 5 for finish.  Game on!

  • Red #1 — Tasting Notes:  “Nearly opaque purple, thin lighter rim.  Sweet blackberry nose, oak/wood.  Spiking alcohol, high tannin; not ready to drink yet?  Bitter, tight from midpalate onward.  French?”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 3.5 Nose + 3 Palate + 2 Finish = 10.5/20.  My Ranking:  9th]

    The Reveal:
     2006 Clos Du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $73.99.  Final Group Ranking:  10th

    Comments:  Not French.  I guessed this might be from Bordeaux because it didn’t have the sweet, ripe dark fruit on the palate that is the trademark of good Napa Cabernet…turns out it was just bad Napa Cabernet. Maybe it was just an off bottle, maybe it was at an unfortunate ebb in its drinking window; regardless, it got things off to a very rough start.
  • Red #2 — Tasting Notes:  “Darker, thicker, more glass-coating than Wine 1.  More complex nose:  cassis but also olives, earth — more expressive, more “together” than Wine 1.  Not as full or tannic.  Tobacco/cedar notes — French.  Still has a ways to go before its peak.”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 4 Nose + 5.5 Palate + 3 Finish = 14.5/20.  My Ranking:  T-5th]

    The Reveal:  
    2007 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Paulliac — Bordeaux, $927.99.  Final Group Ranking:  5th

    Comments: This one WAS French — was it ever!  That price is not a typo, by the way.  This is officially the most expensive bottle of wine I’ve ever tried.  While I ranked the Mouton-Rothschild in a tie for 5th, that placement is a little deceiving, as I had 6 wines ranked T-2, T-2, 4, T-5, T-5, T-5 with one point between them in their scores.  There is no question this wine would be better in 2016 (and 2021, and 2026) than it is now.
  • Red #3 — Tasting Notes:  “Definitely Cali.  Black fruit, sweetness, cola on nose; minty, highly tannic, concentrated on palate.  Long pure finish.  Tom thinks maybe Ridge Monte Bello?”  [My Score:  2.5 Sight + 3.5 Nose + 4.5 Palate + 4.5 Finish = 15/20.  My Ranking:  4th]

    The Reveal:
      2002 Heitz Cellar “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $213.49.  Final Group Ranking:  9th

    Comments:  I am a huge fan of Heitz Cellars (who have the friendliest and most comfortable tasting room in Napa Valley) and was honoured to get a chance to try their top wine, even though I didn’t know what it was at the time.  The group rating for the Martha’s Vineyard is lunacy; if I had scored this half a point higher it would be in my silver medal position.  Gorgeous and iconic Napa Cab.
  • Red #4 — Tasting Notes:  “Gorgeous deep lacquered colour.  Sweet dark fruit (black currant) on nose, but not alone:  dust, petroleum?  Coconut but also less ripe fruit; more bitter than nose suggests.  Finishes closed.”  [My Score:  3 Sight + 4.5 Nose + 4.5 Palate + 2.5 Finish = 14.5/20.  My Ranking:  T-5th]

    The Reveal: 
     2007 Leoville Las Cases St. Julien — Bordeaux, $321.99.  Final Group Ranking:  7th

    Comments: This was the only bottle of the 20 in the J of P that I awarded a perfect score for sight/appearance:  what an amazing-looking wine.  It nearly got a perfect Nose score too but then stumbled noticeably in the Palate/Finish categories, likely because we were opening it well before its peak.  If anyone out there has a 2000-ish Las Cases that they care to give me for sample purposes, I’d love to see what this wine is building up to.  (Worth a try.)
  • Red #5 — Tasting Notes:  “Black currant Wine Gum nose; slight sourness/linament note.  Tastes exactly like it smells.  Slightly barnyardy too.  Meh.”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 4 Nose + 4 Palate + 3 Finish = 13/20.  My Ranking:  8th]

    The Reveal: 
     2005 Stags Leap Wine Cellars “Cask 23” Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $230.99.  Final Group Ranking:  T-2

    Comments:  Even though Stags Leap took home the original Judgment of Paris red crown in 1976, I was very surprised that this (relatively) mediocre effort was the runner-up of the masses in 2011.  I thought it was fine, but nothing about it really stood out to me, and to win a redux of the most famous tasting of all time, standing out is probably a good idea.
  • Red #6 — Tasting Notes:  “Crazily glass-coating — high alcohol?  Not as aromatic; slightly stinky.  Not fruity on palate, just hugely tannic and acidic:  lots of structure without much flavour.  Wait till next decade?  Probably expensive but not good now.”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 2 Nose + 2.5 Palate + 2 Finish = 8.5/20.  My Ranking:  10th]

    The Reveal:   
    2007 Chateau Montrose Saint-Estephe — Bordeaux, $169.69.  Final Group Ranking:  8th

    Comments:   My top 8 wines were separated by 4.5 points; this wine was 4.5 points lower than my 8th wine.  In a tasting of premium reds, the Montrose didn’t even show up.  In retrospect, I don’t know if waiting a decade would help this wine; its main problem was that it was lacking in fruit, and time will only exacerbate that deficiency, even though it would also soften the wine’s austere flavour profile.
  • Red #7 — Tasting Notes:  “Deep, lush garnet colour through core and rim.  Bubblegum fruit, blueberry/blackberry; minty.  US.  Analysis aside, it’s delicious, but still has strong structure.  Blockbuster wine with eternal finish.”  [My Score:  2.5 Sight + 3.5 Nose + 6.5 Palate + 5 Finish = 17.5/20.  My Ranking:  1st]

    The Reveal: 
     2007 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $47.29.  Final Group Ranking:  2nd

    Comments:  Holy crap.  This wine was so good that it made me stop thinking about it while tasting and just enjoy the ride.  It was one of the most pleasurable wines I’ve had in a long time, but it was still a serious Cabernet with all the “stuff” you would look for in a high-end red.  I was amazed to see it revealed as the cheapest wine of the flight by far:  at $47, it’s TWENTY TIMES CHEAPER than the Mouton-Rothschild at $927.  The Freemark was my runaway winner:  at 17.5 points, it was a full 2 points above second place; conversely, 1 point separated the SIX wines following it.  It was also the only 5/5 Finish I gave out.  Basically what I’m telling you is:  go buy the 2007 Freemark Abbey Cab.  Right.  Now.
  • Red #8 — Tasting Notes:  “Clear aged, garnet colour — older?  Cola, tobacco, cedar, red fruit on nose.  Metal, big tannin; pure and lush but could still age.  One of the ’02s.  Bordeaux?  Haut Brion?”  [My Score:  2.5 Sight + 4.5 Nose + 5 Palate + 3.5 Finish = 15.5/20.  My Ranking:  T-2]

    The Reveal:   
    2002 Chateau Haut-Brion Graves — Bordeaux, $571.99.  Final Group Ranking:  6th

    Comments:  Booya!!  Even though this looks way more impressive than it actually is (we were given the vintages of each of the blinded wines before we started tasting, which greatly helped the process of elimination), I still more or less legitimately called this wine blind.  More importantly, it was excellent; definitely my Bordeaux standard-bearer of the night.  You’ll note that the group overall wasn’t buying what France was selling — the 4 Bordeaux reds finished 5, 6, 7 and 8 out of 10 — but I thought this was a remarkable wine.  Not $572 remarkable, but still.
  • Red #9 — Tasting Notes:  “Thick, dark, glass-coating.  MINT, eucalyptus — hedonistic and amazing.  Big structure, lots of tannin, but flavour still pops.”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 4 Nose + 6 Palate + 3.5 Finish = 15.5/20.  My Ranking:  T-2]

    The Reveal: 
     2005 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $74.49.  Final Group Ranking:  4th

    Comments:  After Grgich’s Chardonnay was an unmitigated disaster in the white flight, it was nice to see its Cabernet come through big time on the red side.  Thanks to the huge mint/eucalyptus levels in its flavour profile, this almost tasted like a Coonawarra Cabernet from Australia to me, but it definitely came to play.  This was the only substitution from the 1976 J of P lineup, replacing the Mayacamus Vineyards Cab.
  • Red #10 — Tasting Notes:  “Purply colour, NICE Cali nose:  tons of cola, grape; very ripe.  Most tannin of all the reds, but still lots of sweet fruit.  HUGE wine.”  [My Score:  2 Sight + 4.5 Nose + 4 Palate + 4 Finish = 14.5/20.  My Ranking:  T-5]The Reveal:  2007 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon — Napa, $141.49.  Final Group Ranking:  1st

    Comments:  Can you believe it?  2 flights of tasting, 20 wines worth around $3800 all in all, the best of Napa, Bordeaux and Burgundy blinded head to head, and Ridge Vineyards comes through with the overall group victory in both the white AND red categories!!  As mentioned above, my T-5 ranking looks harsher than it is, as it’s only one point out of second place on my scoresheet.  The most impressive thing for me about the Ridge was that, unlike some of the other Napa wines tasted beside it, it seemed like it could age and improve for a long long time.  What a standout performance for Ridge against the very best in the world…wow.

Once my 20th wine of the night had been downed, sorted and ranked, my top 3 Judgment of Paris reds were (1) the 2007 Freemark Abbey Cab (17.5/20), (T-2) the 2007 Mouton-Rothschild (15.5/20) and (T-2) the 2005 Grgich Hills Estate Cab (15.5/20).  The group’s red palate was heavily tilted toward Napa Valley, as Cali wines finished 1-2-3-4 in overall voting (Ridge, Freemark Abbey, Stags Leap,  Grgich).  Interestingly, in both the red and white categories, it seemed to pay off for a wine if it was later in the random tasting order:  the group’s top 4 overall reds were Wines 10, 7, 5 and 9, and its top 4 overall whites were (get this) Wines 10, 9, 7 and 8.  Were people more influenced by their most recent taste memory?  Were they not able to go back and taste from the beginning (due to lack of time or empty glasses) before turning in their scores?  Not sure, but I tasted through both flights multiple times and came to similar conclusions with respect to the ultimate victor, so full marks to Ridge for a dominant showing against the highest level of competition.  And while there were a few hiccups along the way, kudos to Co-op for the level of sheer vision it took to put this ambitious a tasting together.  The Calgary wine scene is better off with people thinking big, and in my experience at least, this was as big as it gets.




8 responses

24 10 2011
YYCWine (@yycwine)

There must have been a fold in the space time continuum when a sub $50 2007 Napa Cab eats a back vintage 2002 first growth Bordeaux for lunch.

24 10 2011

My co-taster Tom blinded the Freemark Abbey #1 as well, so it’s not just me. I loved the Haut Brion and have nothing bad to say about it, but the Freemark deserved the title on Saturday. Hard for the First Growths to fully live up to their reputation and price point in this format, I think — how dominant would they have to be to justify a $550-$950 price tag?

25 10 2011
Tom Booth

yycwine, your comments indicate that you are surprised that less expensive red and white Californian wines showed better than their French counterparts. I’m not sure I understand your surprise: wasn’t that the lesson learned in the original JoP tasting 35 years ago? Plus, unlike the original JoP, this was a North American audience with North American palates (of varying sophistication, no doubt). Finally, with respect to the reds, all of the Bordeaux were from the utterly worst vintages in the past decade, versus very successful vintages for Napa Cabernet (especially 05 and 07). This is why I love blind tastings: they prevent me from drinking the label and put value in perspective.

25 10 2011

So, for one who doesn’t know Napa Valley wine too well (drank mostly South African and Australian wine thus far) … what would be a good start?

I’m thinking one day you should go down to tour the SA wine valleys if you ever have a chance – they’re gorgeous and the tastings are dirt cheap. Plus, if you run into some monkeys crossing the road, even more fun.

25 10 2011

The tough thing about Napa is that there are very few “entry level” wines; since the land is so expensive and everybody is employing high-end production methods, the resulting wines are almost exclusively pricy. However, if you’re looking for an idea of what Napa is all about without paying a ton of cash, maybe keep an eye out for Cameron Hughes wines, which are widely available for $25 or less. His Napa wines will either state “Napa Valley” or one of its sub-regions (Atlas Peak, Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, Carneros, etc.) on the label. He buys grapes, juice or wine from growers/producers and bottles it under his own label and is able to keep costs down, but the product is normally fairly solid. If you search for “Cameron Hughes Lot 179” on this site’s search page, you’ll see my review of my favourite of his wines, which is still available at Co-op wine stores in town and is a steal for the price. Cheers!

25 10 2011
YYCWine (@yycwine)

My opinion is just that and is neither here nor there. I fully agree that the value proposition on first growth Bordeaux is a stretch, even for a millionaire. But, if the wines were tasted blind and their retails were off the table at the time of tasting, then I still find it surprising that a wine that earned 93 points from Suckling w/ WS and 92-94 points from Parker that is entering its peak (drinkability) could earn a score of 15.5 points out of a possible 20. This equates to a score of 77.5 points ( utterly undrinkable on the 100 point score scale).

25 10 2011

I don’t think the conversion between the 20-point scale and the 100-point scale is as direct as you suggest. If it was just a matter of multiplying the 20-point score by 5, the Chateau Montrose would have scored a 42.5 out of 100, which is obviously not what my score above is meant to suggest (I’ve never once seen a score in the 40s [or 50s, or 60s] on a 100-point scale, though I’m assuming anything scoring that low would basically have to be vinegar). It’s rare to see any wine scored out of 100 rated lower than 80, so it doesn’t make sense to suggest that one which got over three quarters of available points on the 20-point scale would miss this threshold entirely. I’ve heard it said that the 20-point scale basically allocates the top fifth of points that actually get used on the 100-point scale, although I wasn’t scoring that literally…to me, however, 15.5/20 certainly clears 90 points out of 100, which gets the wine into the same neighbourhood as your esteemed references.

25 10 2011

P.S. In order to avoid any “lost in translation” issues between the 20- and 100-point systems, I would put some more stock in my actual comments about the Haut Brion — when I’m using words like “excellent” and “remarkable” and “standard-bearer” in my notes, it’s probably safe to say my score isn’t suggestive of 77.5 out of 100.

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