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Category Archives: Judgment of Paris

Review: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This is the first review in my Judgment of Paris wines series. I came up with the ridiculous idea of sampling recent vintages of each of the 10 reds and 10 whites represented in the famed blind tasting of 1976. This will probably take a couple of years to complete, but they say it’s good to have goals, right?

Freemark Abbey was one of 11 wineries representing Californian wine at the 1976 blind tasting event. In addition, Freemark Abbey has the distinction of being the only producer to have wines represented in both the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) and whites (Chardonnay/White Burgundy) competitions. The wines entered were hand-selected by the organizer, Steven Spurrier. Each of the wines chosen were considered the best of the best, and was selected over hundreds of others. So even though the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon placed 10th out of 10 entries, it’s still a very impressive showing.

FMA_logo_GT

Photo Credit: FreemarkAbbey.com

 

Freemark Abbey has no connection to nuns or monks, or any religious institutions for that matter. Nevertheless, the winery has an intriguing past, with many notable mileposts. Freemark Abbey Winery’s history dates back to 1886, when Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built a redwood cellar on the site, becoming the first female winemaker in the Napa Valley. 12 years later, in 1898, a friend of Ms. Tychson named Antonio Forni bought the winery. He renamed it Lombarda Cellars in honor of the Italian town of his birth. Forni constructed the winery building which still stands today. The current name came about in 1939, when three southern California businessmen bought the winery. Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert “Abbey” Ahern combined their names to form Freemark Abbey. Of course the role Freemark Abbey had in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact that event had on the Napa Valley, remains one of the winery’s crowning moments.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2012

Here’s my review of this historic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

I decanted the wine for a little over an hour. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, and cassis, with soft oak. As the wine opened up, the luscious aromas filled the room, and some light violet scent emerges. On to the tasting! This is a rich, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blackberry, cassis, black plum, mild oak, and pepper. The tannins are soft and smooth. The berry and oak flavors continue into the medium-long finish, with the addition of some baking spice and dark chocolate. There is also a little lingering alcohol on the finish. Paired well with grilled ribeye and roasted rosemary potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Total Wine & More: $32.99

So, one down, 19 to go! Now it’s on to the next one. Wish me luck!

 

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Judgment of Paris: 40 Years Later

Dateline: Paris (May 24, 1976)

It was 40 years ago this week that Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris, held a wine tasting event, the results of which shocked the wine world. Spurrier gathered nine expert judges, all of them French, for a head-to-head blind tasting of the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy against relatively unknown wines from California. Spurrier and an associate, American Patricia Gallagher also participated in tasting and judging the wines. At the time, the commonly held belief was that French wines were the standard of quality, and anything else was inferior. The tasting was originally intended to simply generate publicity for Spurrier’s wine shop and school. Therefore, there was not a lot of outside interest in it, and only one journalist attended the event; George M. Taber, from Time Magazine (Taber, 2005).

Producers_from_Judgement_of_Paris_wine_tasting

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There were two separate competitions: White Burgundy vs. California Chardonnay, and Red Bordeaux vs. California Cabernet Sauvignon. In each category, there were four French wines, and six from California. The outcome is now well known – a California wine won top honors in both categories. The event changed the landscape of the Napa Valley, figuratively and literally. Taber later compiled the experience in his book: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Tasting that Revolutionized Wine (Taber, 2005). It is a fascinating and educational account, not only of the tasting event, but also of the history of wine in France and the Napa region. The tasting was also dramatized in the movie Bottle Shock in 2008. It’s worth seeing if you haven’t, but keep in mind this is a motion picture dramatization, complete with editorial and creative license. If you want to really explore and learn about the history, I recommend reading the book!

Judgment of Paris Taber

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Below are the results of the famous 1976 tastings, in order of their ranking:

White

  1. Chateau Montelena, 1973, Napa
  2. Meursault Charmes Roulot, 1973, Burgundy
  3. Chalone Vineyard, 1974, Monterey County
  4. Spring Mountain, 1973, Napa
  5. Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drophin, 1973, Burgundy
  6. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1972, Napa
  7. Bâtard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, 1973, Burgundy
  8. Domaine LeFlaive, 1972, Burgundy
  9. Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972, Napa
  10. David Bruce Winery, 1973, Santa Cruz Mountains

Red

  1. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, 1973, Napa
  2. Château Mouton Rothschild, 1970, Bordeaux
  3. Château Haut-Brion, 1970, Bordeaux
  4. Château Montrose, 1970, Bordeaux
  5. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, 1971, Santa Cruz Mountains
  6. Château Léoville-Las-Cases, 1971, Bordeaux
  7. Mayacamas Vineyards, 1971, Napa
  8. Clos Du Val Winery, 1972, Napa
  9. Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, 1970, Napa
  10. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1969, Napa

Among my more cockamamie ideas, it occurred to me that it might be fun to taste each of the wines featured in the Judgment of Paris. Of course, I’ll have to purchase current vintages, but so be it. Many of the châteaux and wineries represented in the competition continue to produce stellar wines, and their prices and scarcity reflect the prestige. Others have remained more affordable and are readily available. In 2004, Chalone Vineyards was purchased by global conglomerate Diageo, which took the brand in the direction of mass-produced table wine; neglecting its historic importance. Fortunately, earlier this year the winery was purchased from Diageo by Foley Family Wines. Spokesman Bill Foley says that Foley Family Wines will work to restore the estate’s reputation and highlight its place in history (Worobiec, 2016).

As much as I’d like to, I won’t be able to recreate the blind tasting, but instead will have to purchase and sample the wines individually over several months. This may prove to be an insurmountable challenge, simply due to the availability (or lack thereof) and cost of some of the famous French wines. Nevertheless, other than those that are clearly out of my range (Château Moutin-Rothschild, for as much as $1,100 for recent vintages, comes to mind) I am determined to seek out and taste them all! Watch for reviews coming soon!

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Works Cited

Taber, G. M. (2005). Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner.

Worobiec, M. (2016, February 8). Foley Family Wines Buys Chalone Vineyards. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from Wine Spectator: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/52727