A while ago in Greece Eris, the goddess of strife, didn’t get invited to the wedding of the Nymph Thetis to King Peleus, so she decided she would cause a little chaos by instigating a beauty competition between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite (respectively the goddesses of marriage, wisdom and love) to be judged by a young Trojan named Paris, writes.
Aphrodite won by offering Paris the world’s most beautiful woman Helen as a bribe, thus setting in motion events that led to the Trojan Wars.
A little more recently in 1976 Stephen Spurrier, a wine merchant with a shop in Paris, decided to hold a blind wine tasting to celebrate 200 years of American Independence by pitting the best wines of California against the best wines of France. In the wine world this particular Judgement of Paris has thankfully only caused a war of words.
Nobody expected that a French tasting panel would choose a Californian Chardonnay as the best white (Château Montelena) over many of the great wines of Burgundy, and even fewer could have predicted that a Californian Cabernet (Stag’s Leap) would win out over the great wines of Bordeaux; but so they did, and have done so in almost every restaging of the tasting using either the same wines or similar.
A good start to the day. Lots of wines open to taste. Open late. pic.twitter.com/2QTuvTOTYD— David Whelehan (@Whelehanswines) July 26, 2018
Spurrier has published a hugely readable memoir called Wine – A Way of Life, giving his own account of the tasting and the impact it had on the wine world and on his life. Spurrier visited Dublin this summer to help celebrate the launch of the Whelehans Wines Tasting Rooms and Wine School and to conduct another re-run of the Judgement of Paris.
The original wines from the tasting are unobtainable or past their best so this tasting focused on more recent classics, some of which David Whelehan imports. If you haven’t visited his shop I recommend it and you could make a day of it as there is an excellent restaurant and coffee shop attached.
France won on this occasion with Drouhin Clos des Mouches 2016 winning the Chardonnay, Domaine Michel Noëllat Echezeaux 2014 (€150) winning the Pinot Noir but the excellent Yalumba Signature 2008 Cabernet did give the New World one win out of the three. Below are a selection of some of the best wines stocked by Whelehans Wines and I would urge you to visit and have a chat with David, Martina or Gavin.
This is from near Poitiers (south of Tours) and as crisp and aromatic as many a Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon, packed with green apples and bright gooseberry fruits and a perfect mid-week treat. There is another Haut Poitou I also like called Vive la Loire - widely available in the likes of O’Donovans, World Wide Wines & O’Driscolls.
The Mâcon region in Southern Burgundy makes a lot of wine and while I’m rather indifferent to most supermarket versions this is in a different league. Aromatic and ripe with floral and white peach aromas, textured and mouth-filling with pleasing balance and elegance and as suited to a creamy pasta as cuisse de grenouille (frogs legs) with a parley sauce.
Muscadet rather disappeared for a few years with the arrival of New World Chardonnay but it has made a comeback. I love this floral zingy version made from old vines, packed in zesty freshness but also a mineral stony core perfect for shellfish, Dover Sole or a humble fish and chip supper.
This wine came second at the Whelehan’s Wines’ blind tasting and I marked it 19/20. Mornington Peninsula is just south of Melbourne and well suited to Pinot Noir thanks to its cool ocean breezes. This gorgeous wine is packed with complex earthy ripe cherry fruits with layers of textured fruity complexity, as fine as many a Burgundy at three times the price
The Fixin vineyard in the Côtes de Nuits sits right beside Gevrey Chambertin but their wines are significantly less expensive. This is a textbook example of red Burgundy with soft blueberry and cherry aromas and a hint of earth, complex and developed on the palate with more cherry and supple complex layers of red fruits.
Château Montelena was the winning Chardonnay in 1976 and was my second favourite Chardonnay at the Whelehans’ tasting. Ripe tropical fruit and Cantaloupe aromas, textured, supple, complex and dense. Green Spot Whiskey aged in Ch. Montelena casks is also worth seeking out.