So what makes this event, a blind tasting between wines from France and New Jersey, worth writing about? First, one of the organizers was George Taber, the only reporter present at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, the tasting that has become the model for everything since. Second, lots of people did write about it, which shows how far wine – and regional wine – has come. Third, the New Jersey wines held their own, which surprised more than a few people. More after the jump:
The tasting used the format pioneered by its famous forebear, says Taber – similar wines from each region tasted in a blind format, so that the judges didn’t know which wine was which. The French wines were impressive, as were the judges, and the preparations were rigorous (including a panel to pick that wines to compete).
The results? A French wine won in red (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) and white (Beaune Clos des Mouches), but the New Jersey wines weren't statistically far behind, and three of the four best whites were from the Garden State. Best yet (from my point of view, anyway), the New Jersey wines cost pennies on the dollar compared to their French counterparts.
This result attracted more than a fair amount of media, both in print and the cyber-ether. The Atlantic, about as snooty as the East Coast media elite gets, made fun of Jersey and the judging, and even The New Yorker weighed in: “So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better.”
Since the competition was held as part of the annual meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists, there’s a statistical analysis of what happened, written by Orley Ashenfelter, a Princeton professor and big-time international economist and, as Taber notes, heavy reading.
But it’s worth wading through the analysis, because it says the results were mostly irrelevant. Only the top-scoring white and the lowest-ranked red were significantly different from the other wines. In other words, if the tasting were held again, the results would probably be different, and a Jersey wine could have beaten the Rothschild.
What this means is anyone’s guess. Was the format flawed? Are New Jersey wines that good? Have French wines fallen that much?
“While New Jersey wines did not win in either category, they did better than a lot of people might have expected,” says Taber, who attended the DLW event in Colorado and was impressed by what he saw there. “I think it was only proof that winemaking in a lot of places such as Colorado, but not only there, is getting better as winemakers adopt international standards and practices.”
Taber is likely right. French wines aren’t any worse than they have ever been; probably better, in fact. But that’s also true for the rest of the world, given improvements in grape growing and winemaking over the past four decades. Fifty years ago, Europeans were the only ones who knew how to make great wine. That’s no longer the case, which is the biggest lesson from the Judgment of Princeton.
Photo courtesy of Get Frank in New Zealand, using a Creative Commons license