Steven Spurrier, Decanter magazine’s consulting editor and chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards, visited B.C. for the first time last week.
If that name rings a bell, it’s not only because the gent has been on the front lines of the global wine industry for 50 years now, but because he became quite famous for organizing an event known as the Judgment of Paris that was held on May 24, 1976. The Judgment was a high-profile blind tasting pitting California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against their French counterparts, and French judges shocked the world (and themselves) by scoring Californian wines highest in each category.
In the spirit of that monumental tasting, Vancouver wine luminary DJ Kearney and the B.C. Wine Institute organized a Judgment of B.C. tasting at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, where 16 local wine professionals and journalists (myself included) blind-tasted B.C. Chardonnay and Syrah, two of our most acclaimed varieties, against global icons. Spurrier provided commentary, context, and a vote in the judging process.
“Benchmarking is important,” Kearney reminded us as we were about to begin tasting. “It lets us know where we stand in the world as an industry.” We were instructed to taste through the flights of 12 and judge each wine on its own merits, not trying to discern whether each could be a B.C. wine or one of the international icons, and then rank them 1 through 12 in quality, with Number 1 being our top pick of each flight.
“It’s important to keep in mind,” Spurrier said as we began to swirl our glasses, “that the Judgment of Paris happened on May 24, 1976. If it had happened on May 25, the results would have most likely been different.” His point was that our exercise was not meant to be the be-all, end-all commentary on B.C. wine, but simply an evaluation of how things stand at a particular moment in time.
Well, now that the results have been released, no one will suspect the B.C. panel of rigging the thing. Once the results had been tabulated, the Chardonnays were announced to the judges from the top-ranked wine on down. Jaws around the room began to drop by the time the fifth-best wine was announced and no B.C. wines had placed.
Hey, they were all fantastic wines, but I know I had a tougher time judging the Chardonnays, and others said the same. While they were all the same variety, there were monumental differences between them, some fermented and aged in new oak that dominated the palate, others with hardly a whisper of wood. Some carried rich, ripe tropical fruit, while others were more mineral and subtle. It was impossible for personal taste not to have presence in the subconscious.
“I’m quite disappointed about the Chardonnay results for B.C.,” Spurrier told me later. “In fact, I’d ranked the Meyer Family Chardonnay as my second choice.”
The Syrahs were a different story; I’m happy (and voted fairly in line) with the final results. The B.C. Syrahs were noticeably expressive, charismatic, and delicious—easily considered peers to the icons they stood beside.
Again, a different time and place, and the results could have been different, but for a modern industry barely 25 years old, I think B.C. has a lot to be proud of.
I’ll have more on Spurrier’s visit next week, but here are the results. Regardless of ranking, I wholeheartedly recommend all of the wines listed below.
- Soumah 2013 Chardonnay Single Vineyard
Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia; $26.99, B.C. Liquor Stores
- Kumeu River 2012 Chardonnay Hunting Hill
Auckland, New Zealand; $34.99, B.C. Liquor Stores
- Hamilton Russell 2014 Chardonnay
Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa; $39.49, B.C. Liquor Stores
- Jean-Marc Brocard 2012 Chablis Premier Cru Montmains
Burgundy, France; $44.99, B.C. Liquor Stores
- Bouchard Père & Fils 2011 Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières
Burgundy, France; $85.99, B.C. Liquor Stores
- Blue Mountain 2012 Chardonnay Reserve
(Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $29.90, Blue Mountain Winery
- Tantalus 2012 Chardonnay
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $23.39, Tantalus
- Robert Mondavi 2012 Chardonnay Reserve
Carneros, California; $43.99, B.C. Liquor Stores
- (tie) Mission Hill 2012 Chardonnay Perpetua
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $50, Mission Hills Winery
- (tie) Quails’ Gate 2013 Chardonnay Rosemary’s Block
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $30, Quails Gate
- Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay Micro Cuvée
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $65, Meyer Family Vineyards
- Haywire 2013 Chardonnay Canyonview
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $24.90, Okanagan Crush
- C. C. Jentsch 2013 Syrah
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $29.90, C. C. Jentsch
- Langmeil 2012 Shiraz Orphan Bank
Barossa, South Australia; $65 to $75, private liquor stores
- Domaine Vincent Paris 2013 Cornas Granit 60
Rhône Valley, France; $65 to $75, private liquor stores
- Nichol 2012 Syrah
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $40, Nichol Vineyard
- Le Vieux Pin 2013 Syrah Cuvée Classique
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $49.90, Le Vieux Pin
- Ojai 2011 Syrah
Santa Barbara, California; $30 to $35, private liquor stores
- Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2010 Sunrock Shiraz
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $30.49, Jackson-Triggs Winery
- Orofino 2012 Syrah Scout Vineyard
Similkameen Valley, B.C.; $29.90, Orofino Vineyards
- J. L. Chave Selections 2012 Crozes-Hermitage Silène
Rhône Valley, France; $38 to $43, private liquor stores
- Tyrell’s 2011 Shiraz Vat 9
Hunter Valley, Australia; $48 to $52, private liquor stores
- Laughing Stock 2013 Syrah
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $38, Laughing Stock
- K Vintners 2012 Syrah the Beautiful
Walla Walla, Washington; $69.99, B.C. Liquor Stores