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California challenges France. A duel of giants

Roberson Wine, an English wine company that also has an online store that even sells to Sweden, presented the challenge: France against California. Inspired by the legendary tasting in Paris in 1976, or perhaps taking it mainly as a pretext, they presented a number of top wines from these two wine countries, both red and white. BKWine Magazine’s Carl-Erik Kanne participated in this gladiatorial combat.

Roberson – not to be confused with Robertson in South Africa – is a London-based wine merchant who for some years has also been selling online to Sweden with direct delivery to your door. (Quite a revolution in Sweden!)

The theme of this tasting was the famous “Paris tasting”, the so-called “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 where French prestige wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting saw themselves beaten by wines from California.

Wines from three of the producers who were in the “Judgement of Paris” were available in this tasting

Chateau Léoville Las Cases 1978, St. Julien, 2e cru (~210 euro (NB: all price indications are based on their Swedish internet retail prices)),

Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (~110 euro). Montelena was a winner in 1976, but it was with their chardonnay which was tasted against top wines from Burgundy at that time.

Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 (~52 eur). 1976 they were 9th in the category of red wines from cabernet sauvignon.

Chateau Leoville de Las Cases, gate to the vineyards

Chateau Leoville de Las Cases, gate to the vineyards, copyright BKWine Photography

So, which of the red wines “won” now? Well, the comparison was not quite fair since Léoville las Cases was represented by a mature 1978, while Montelena’s wine was much younger, a 2006.

Despite its relative youth the Montelena was noted for a dark colour, complex nose, lovely concentrated well-balanced flavour and very long aftertaste A really top wine that was a hair’s breadth in front of the 1996 Chateau Calon-Segur (~140 eur) and Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet 1997 (~115 eur) at the same table.

But the 1978 from Léoville Las-Cases still took the price as the table’s top wine, with ripe aroma and well-balanced compact fruit with a whole palette of primary and secondary flavours that you could chew indefinitely on without getting tired!

Of the other cabernet sauvignon wines, I would like to emphasize both Mount Eden 2009 (~64 eur) which had an amazing concentration of pure fruit, with good structure. Drinkable now but can be aged for several more years.

A Bordeaux that felt good to drink now was 2003 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose (~40 eur) with ripe aroma, nice fruit and good balance and structure with lovely long aftertaste.

In addition to the cabernet sauvignon comparisons there were also, of course pinot noir and the syrah lover did not have to be disappointed because there was both Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone, to compare with Californian Shiraz. A few examples below.

Domaine Eden and Wilde Farm

Domaine Eden and Wilde Farm, copyright CE Kanne

A pinot noir table presented three wines from Burgundy and three from California.

As a whole the wines from California felt more accessible than their counterparts from Burgundy.

I particularly liked the 2012 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir (~40 eur) with a nose typical of the grape, a fresh acidity and clean fruit of red berries with good structure and a lovely aftertaste. Well made.

Equally well-made was 2012 Wilde Farm, Bedrock Vineyard Pinot Noir (~41 eur)

The prize for elegance on the table went to 2000 Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets from Nicolas Potel (~52 eur) with its complex mature scent, balanced elegant taste and very long aftertaste.

Vineyard in Volnay, Burgundy

Vineyard in Volnay, Burgundy, copyright BKWine Photography

But one swallow does not make a summer the victory for pinot noir went to California.

On the white side there was a table with Chardonnay, three wines from Burgundy and three from California. Here the French took revenge with three really good representatives. 2013 St Veran from Domaine Guerrin (~18 eur) with fine acidity and minerality from the soil. 2009 Chablis Vieilles Vignes (~25 eur) by Daniel-Etienne Defaix had lovely acidity and minerality and a long aftertaste.

And finally the 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain (~64 eur) by Marc Colin who despite its youth was able to show many of the traits that make a white Burgundy hard to beat; butter on the nose, fresh acidity and well-balanced fruit / oak with a long aftertaste.

Le Montrachet vineyard in Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet, Bourgogne

Le Montrachet vineyard in Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet, Bourgogne, copyright BKWine Photography

Of the three Americans I only the 2012 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay (~49 eur) to came near the three Frenchmen with its fine chardonnay aroma, delicate acidity and smooth and pleasant fruit and long aftertaste. Unfortunately, the Montelena Chardonnay was not included.

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2012 (~53 eur) had an ample and pleasant nose of tropical fruit but was slightly too oaky for my taste.

Cakebread Cellars and Mayacamas

Cakebread Cellars and Mayacamas, copyright CE Kanne

A Riesling from California Tatomer Kick On Ranch Riesling 2012 (~32 eur) had to do without a French counterpart and did it with honour, a very well-qualified wine whose riesling tones remained long in the mouth.

The tasting was initiated with a Champagne Brut Arteis 2002 (~39 eur), a nice vintage Champagne with a fine mousse and good acidity, made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.

One could at the same table finish with two dessert wines namely Les Carmes de Rieussec (~20 eur) from Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes and an orange scented muscat wine from Quady Essensia (~17 eur) which was fortified and with its somewhat artificial orange nose had some difficulties to match the classic Sauternes, although the latter was young.

Some additional highlights:

2013 Tatomer Meeresboden Grüner Veltliner (~30 eur) proved to be a very well made and typical “Grüner” with both pear, pepper and a long pleasant aftertaste.

2013 Domaine d’Andezon Estézargues (~17 eur, AOC Cotes du Rhone) made from 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache. It was a fine representative of modern Rhône wines with good acidity and pure fruit rounded off by the grenache, with a pleasant aftertaste.

2009 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape (~34 eur) had nice nose of dark berries and white pepper, well-balanced palate with pure fruit and a long finish.

2010 L’Aventure Optimus (~71 eur): very dark colour indicating high fruit concentration which was confirmed by the taste that also had warmth and good acidity. Long pleasant aftertaste. This wine contains a whole palette of grapes, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel.

Some more wines to be laid down:

2009 Domaine Maubernard, Bandol (~20 eur) with concentrated fruit and plenty of tannins can be pleasant.

2012 Kutch McDougall Ranch Pinot Noir (~53 eur) dark young pinot noir that needs a few years in the cellar to come into its own.

In summary, this vendor is a good and convenient channel for accessing high-quality wines.

Convenience, of course, can have a price. A comparison with the internet’s average prices for the better-known wines, shows that the level may be considered reasonable given that delivery to the door and all taxes are included.

Here are Roberson Wine’s UK web site and their Swedish web shop.

Carl-Erik Kanne is a long time wine enthusiast and fervent wine taster. He reports from wine tastings and wine events in Stockholm for BKWine Magazine.

This post is also available in: Swedish

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  1. BKWine Brief nr 139, March 2015 | BKWine Magazine | - March 31, 2015

    […] Read Karl-Erik’s article and his verdict on BKWine Magazine: California challenges France. A duel of giants. […]

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