… The tasting that changed the world!
In 1976 a young man called Steven Spurrier, a wine merchant based in Paris, decided to hold a blind tasting competition pitching some of France’s greatest wines against those of California. The panel of judges, which included nine esteemed French sommeliers, wine judges and vignerons, as well as an American and a British judge, would taste these wines blind. In other words without knowing their provenance, price or perceived quality. Steven thought the tasting would prove that France was the best and that it would help him sell more wine from his Paris shop. How wrong he was!
Out of the Chardonnays tasted, first, third and fourth place went to Californian wines, with a 1973 Château Montelena from the Napa Valley pipping a Meursault into pole position.
Of the red Cabernet blends tasted, a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars red came out top, beating famous, historic first growths such as Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild. Six out of the top ten were from California.
Although the French judges cried ‘foul play’ the results when they were announced rocked the wine world. So iconic it became, they made a film about it called Bottle Shock in 2008, starring Alan Rickman.
So, in 2015, we have decided to do our own ‘Paris Judgement’ tasting for Uncorked! (hereon in known as ‘The Lilley Judgement’ … you’ll find out why on page 4). We have long since known that our winemakers work hard to produce wines with real charm, personality and high quality. However, because we are small, few people ever get to hear about our wines, let alone taste them!
At the recent Three Wine Men shows in York and London, Sally and I had so many positive comments about the wines we showed – a cross section of our ‘classics’ from a wide range of our producers. Many were surprised at the quality of the wines as well as the value. Even Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin MW were really surprised at the breadth and depth of quality we had to offer. It was almost a case of ‘so where have you been all these years?’
In reality, we don’t have the marketing budgets like the big players. So we remain under the radar for many. Of course, 3D Wines is all about the experience of travelling to the vineyards and meeting the winemakers themselves. So, for a bit of fun, and perhaps to make a point on behalf of our talented winemakers, we pitched some of our classics against those of leading players in the wine industry – namely The Wine Society, Naked Wines, Majestic and Waitrose. We felt that these were amongst the most popular places to buy wine within the UK.
The Lilley Judgement
For our blind tasting we chose to work with one of the most experienced Masters of Wine in the world, Derek Smedley, who has been a MW since the 1960s and former co-Chairman of the International Wine Challenge. The tasting took place at Derek’s home in Lilley, Bedfordshire. Get it now?
By tasting the wines ‘blind’, Derek was not to know whose wines were whose – crucial in being objective and impartial. I too tasted all the wines blind. A 3D Partner, Tony Bennett, who also happens to be my brother (a fine, upstanding character) organised the pouring of the wines so that we would taste them objectively, without knowing what they were.
The wines were selected based on the fact that they are some of our most popular ‘classics’ – Chablis, Sancerre, Champagne, Beaune 1er Cru, Margaux and Chianti. They were tasted alongside the ‘equivalent’ best sellers from fellow clubs/merchants. Not all the wines were from the same vintage year, however. We were looking at the overall standards in quality rather than individual years.
The wines were poured in flights i.e. all the champagnes first, followed by all the Sancerres and so on. Thus we knew the ‘type’ of wine we were tasting for each flight, but not the specific wine producer. We awarded each wine ‘points’ based on our perceptions. We assessed amongst other things, the wines intensity of fruit, balance, complexity and length. We then ranked them in order, with total points out of 200.
(can we make our wines stand out? I’ve marked in red)
1st Champagne Brut, Waitrose (£19.99) 182 pts.
2nd Champagne Fresne Ducret Brut Origine, 3D Wines (£18.31) 181 pts.
2nd Champagne Jules Camuset, The Wine Society (£19.50) 181 pts.
3rd Champagne Jean Philippe Moulin, Naked Wines (£27.99) 175 pts.
1st The Society’s Exhibition Sancerre 2013, The Wine Society (£13.50) 183 pts.
2nd Sancerre Cuvée Caillottes 2013, Domaine du Carroir Perrin, 3D Wines (£12.58) 180 pts.
3rd Sancerre 2011, Domaine Villebois, Naked Wines (£15.99) 176 pts.
4th Sancerre 2013, Roger Neveu, Majestic (£12.99) 168 pts.
1st Chablis 2013, Domaine Vrignaud, 3D Wines (£14.04) 183 pts.
2nd Chablis 2013, Domaine Christophe et fils, Naked Wines (£15.99) 182 pts.
3rd Chablis Les Armes 2013, Waitrose (£11.99) 178 pts.
4th The Society’s Exhibition Chablis 2013, The Wine Society (£12.50) 176 pts.
5th Chablis 2012, Philippe de Mery, Majestic (£11.99) 168 pts.
Beaune 1er Cru
1st Beaune 1er Cru Les Avaux 2010, Domaine Jacob, 3D Wines (£20.46) 183 pts.
2nd Beaune 1er Cru Toussaints 2008, Domaine Morot, Majestic (£22.00) 181 pts.
3rd Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Couchereaux 2011, Maison Jadot, The Wine Society (£27.00) 178 pts.
1st Margaux 2009, Château Marquis d’Alesme, The Wine Society (£25.00) 184 pts.
2nd Margaux Cuvée 3D 2009, Château Mongravey, 3D Wines (£21.28) 182 pts.
1st Chianti Riserva‘345 2011, Monte Chiaro, 3D Wines (£15.14) 184 pts.
2nd Chianti 2013, Casale di Valle, Majestic (£9.29) 182 pts.
3rd Chianti Classico 2012, Stefano di Blasi & Federico Cerelli, Naked Wines (£12.99) 180 pts.
4th The Society’s Exhibition Chianti Classico 2012, The Wine Society (£11.95) 177 pts.
It was a small cross section of the wines we offer, but we felt they were representative of our quality overall. Delighted that our wines came 1st or 2nd.
We’ve had many good reports about our Fresne Ducret Champagnes of late (from Jancis Robinson MW in particular), so the combination of quality and value here was very pleasing in what is a remarkably competitive market sector. And of course, they provide an excellent visit experience (which we shouldn’t forget of course!).
Our exclusive Sancerre really shone (it’s our most popular white wine amongst our Partners, so no surprise perhaps). Our new Chablis from Domaine Vrignaud won its category with flying colours.
There were just three Beaune 1er Crus to taste (not easy to find in the UK). But they were all superb. Happily, our exclusive Beaune 1er Cru Les Avaux 2010 was really attractive with its elegant, creamy, seductive character. Our Margaux 2009 (a Cru Bourgeois) was pitched against just one other – a heavyweight noble classed growth (3rd) from the Wine Society. We both marked the Château Mongravey just a point behind the Marquis d’Alesme, which was a staggering result. Our Margaux was more ready to drink and charming than the brooding and richly concentrated classed growth. They were both wonderful though.
Lastly, Alessandro Griccioli’s beautifully-crafted and complex Chianti Riserva ‘345 really did outshine some lovely, classic Chiantis on show, which was again an excellent performance in another very competitive category. Alessandro’s technique of adding partially dried grapes to the fermenting vat (called Governo in Tuscany) really does add a special richness and texture to the wine.
All in all, Derek was very impressed with the tasting and felt that the 3D examples showed lots of character as well as class and consistently excellent wine making. We were as pleased as we were relieved!