At last week's 2016 Colorado Governor's Cup wine competition I, in my capacity with the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, organized a wine tasting I'm calling "The Judgment of Denver." For those that do not know, in 1976 British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind tasting with French wine judges (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers). The wines were broken into two flights; in the first flight, the judges rated 10 Chardonnay, 6 from California and 4 from Burgundy and in the second flight, they rated 10 Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines, 6 from California and 4 from Bordeaux, France. In each of these flights a California wine, a then relatively little known wine region, was declared the winner. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top red and Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay bested some of France's best – and most expensive – wines. The results were published to the world in TIME magazine and forever changed the American – and global – wine industry.
Each year at the Governor's Cup we do a calibration tasting to have the judges calibrate their palate/scores to benchmark wine (that benchmark isn't always high). This year, I decided to model the calibration portion of the competition after the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" because it was the 40th anniversary of that original blind tasting and Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, was once again one of the judges. These two facts seemed like good enough reason to reenact the tasting once more – multiple retastings of the original wines and a New Jersey vs. French wine tasting have been reported on many times.
At the Denver tasting, 16 wine judges1 (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers) from around the U.S. tasted Colorado wines against French and California wines in a blind setting. The French and California wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including the winning producers: Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Unlike the Judgment of Princeton, no First Growth Bordeaux were in the mix. Hundred dollar French and California wines are worthy enough competition! Prices of the French and California wines were $30–$110/bottle. I selected Colorado wines that would not appear in the Governor's Cup competition later that day. Prices of the Colorado wines were $15–$50/bottle The results were as similarly surprising as the original tasting. Although, the winner in each category was a California wine (Chalone Vineyard for the whites and Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds) CO wines are at the same level qualitatively.