On May 24, 1976, a youthful Steven Spurrier held a seminal tasting of French and American wine known as The Judgment of Paris.
On August 25, 2015, Mr. Spurrier, now a consulting editor at Decanter Magazine and Chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards, was once again involved in a singular judgement, this time in British Columbia. The Judgement of BC coincided with the 25th anniversary of British Columbia’s VQA wine category.
Vancouver sommelier and educator DJ Kearney moderated the tasting with sixteen other western Canadian tasters all tasting blind, a dozen chardonnay, followed by twelve syrah. Each flight contained six BC wines and six international labels. As DJ reminded our judging panel, “it’s not about winning or losing (for BC), it’s about a young industry finding its way by benchmarking.”
Wines were selected to be as fair as possible – all within the same realm of prices (no $500 Meursault in the lineup) and within a vintage or two of each other. We tasted blind, individually, ranking the wines from best through weakest. As well, we were to try and pick out the BC wines in the lineup.
I found it somewhat easy to pick out the BC wines, quickly calling out 4 of the 6. However, I incorrectly picked Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay for a Sonoma wine, and thought both Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay and Soumah Chardonnay as BC. My top wine of the flight was the structured, stony and savoury Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill, followed narrowly after by the finessed, seamless Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains. When the group scores were tallied, the BC wines landed in the final six slots. Even with that placing, all the chardonnay were very evenly matched. As Spurrier noted, “they were all homogeneous in the sense that they are all high-class international chardonnay.”
1. Soumah Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2013 | Yarra Valley, Victoria | $27
2. Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2012 | Auckland, New Zealand | $35
3. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 | Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa | $40
4. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2012 | France | $45
5. Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières 2011 | France | $86
6. Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
7. Tantalus Chardonnay 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $24
8. Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve 2012 | Carneros, California | $44
9. Mission Hill Chardonnay Perpetua 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50 (tie)
9. Quails' Gate Chardonnay Rosemary's Block 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30 (tie)
10. Meyer Family Chardonnay Micro Cuvée 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC |$65
11. Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $25
The syrah flight was trickier to peg provenance, though I correctly found four of the six BC wines, missing out C.C. Jentsch Syrah as well as Orofino Syrah Scout Vineyard. Styles varied considerably, and unlike the previous chardonnay flight, terroir and soils were foremost. Spurrier put it best. “It is hard to get the vineyard in chardonnay. It’s impossible not to with syrah.” My top wine was shared with the panel, the fresh, finessed, meaty and violet imbued C.C. Jentsch Syrah (also a recent platinum award winner at the National Wine Awards of Canada). From there I skipped over to the savoury, fine grained and precisely structured anise and blood orange of J.L. Chave Selections Crozes-Hermitage Silène before swinging back to BC. In this flight the BC wines shone brighter, with fairly even representation throughout the pack and three local wines in the top half.
1. C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
2. Langmeil Shiraz Orphan Bank 2012 | Barossa, South Australia | $68
3. Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 2013 | France | $66
4. Nichol Syrah 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $40
5. Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50
6. Ojai Syrah 2011 | Santa Barbara, California | $30
7. Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Sunrock Shiraz 2010 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
8. Orofino Syrah Scout Vineyard 2012 | Similkameen Valley, BC | $29
9. J.L. Chave Selections Crozes-Hermitage Silène 2012 | France | $40
10. Tyrell's Shiraz Vat 9 2011 | Hunter Valley, New South Wales | $49
11. Laughing Stock Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $38
12. K Vintners Syrah The Beautiful 2012 | Walla Walla, Washington | $70
Was it an interesting exercise? Of course. Was it the be all judgement? Of course not. We were capturing our collective opinion of these wines on this day, in this moment. In his closing remarks, Spurrier himself noted that “if we had held the Judgment of Paris on May 25, 1976, instead of May 24, the results would have been different.
My final judgment: BC needs to keep looking outward, tasting, comparing, and yes, benchmarking; only then can our youthful industry confidently compete on that global scale, knowledgably, with quality wine.