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The Judgment of Northleach. November 3rd 2017. 

   It started as some aimless talk on a bike ride with some fellow cyclist oenophiles. Chatting whilst breathing heavily, I was being asked about my preferences for a wine, what region I liked and what styles I drank. As these conversations usually go, it starts on one subject and finishes somewhere else. 

   Somehwere along the route, one of my fellow cyclists was expounding the virtues of decent Bordeaux whilst I was putting the side of California forwards. Some vague chat of a tasting was mentioned and it was left at that as the subject moved on again and the incline changed.

   Fast forwards some weeks and a few more rides and another of the cycling group pedals up to me mide ride to enquire about this Bordeaux v California tasting and can we get on with it. 

   It all really snowballed from there to a fully fledged tasting. Rapidly nicknamed the 'Judgement of Northleach' after the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976, this was to be our own version. Bordeaux's finest against similar level wines from California. The logistics and pretty much everything were taken on by my riding pal, I was given the job of selecting and sourcing the wines. 

   We worked to some very simple rules. There were to be 3 representative wines from Bordeaux and 3 from California. The budget didnt stretch to the very finest each had to offer, so 1st Growths and Monte Bello were out, we were limted to around £60 per bottle. There were going to be around 15 of us tasting with everyone except myself and pal tasting blind. We did the decanting beforehand so we knew the order of play. Everyone else didnt know the wines, merely that there were 3 from each country. 

   What a fascintating tasting it turned out to be. In order to prolongue the suspense for you, I wont divulge the wines or results until the end of this piece, but to say that everyone including myself finished the evening better educated, surprised and slightly squiffy would be an understatement. 

   There was a clear winner, with not only the most points but also the most people calling it their favourite. 2 wines were particularly disappointing. The second place wine ran the first close and realistically the first 2 placed wines had a significantly higher score than the rest of the bunch. 

   From my point of view, I loved the opportunity to put the two countries against each other. I'm happy to admit I'm a massive fan of good Californian Bordeax blends so I maybe went in slightly biased, but it was a great opportunity to sample some high end reds with good company and saturday morning lie in the next day.

   Every taster was given a score sheet, asking for notes on the appearnace, nose, palate and importantly a score out of 20 for each wine. We were keen to point out that tasters werent to score in order of preference, each wine was instead to be scored on its own merits. One could have been a 20 and the rest 10 pointers. 

   At the end, myself and pal compiled the scores for each wine and announced the winners to the smiling, slightly worse for ware tasters. 

   So dear reader, I know the supense is killing you so without further ado I shall annoucne the winners below. This is not the order they were tasted in, but starting with the winner down to 6th place and with a corresponding average score for each wine out of 20 (note the average score was compiled merely from the blind tasters, not the 3 of us who ended up knowing the wines beforehand)


   Drum roll please. 

1. Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. USA. Score 16.55

2. Roc de Cambes 2011. France. Score 15.82

3. Chateau Batailley 2011. France. Score 14

4. Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. USA. Score 13.55

5. Chateau Langoa Barton 2010. France. Score 12.82

6. Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. USA. Score 10.64


   So as you can see, like the 1976 Judgement, the far less scientific but no less important Judgment of Northleach was won by a Californian wine, the lovely Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

   My tasting notes for the Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (messy handwriting)

Nose: Lovely nose, lots of dark fruits, mulberry. Massive/quite yound nose.

Palate. Touch of bright red fruits, lots of candied fruits, nice earthiness. Lively, lots of depth. Balanced tannins.

   Some of these wines had some links to the original tasting. Ridge Vineyards make the phenomenal Monte Bello, the 1971 of which came 5 out of 10 in the original 1976 tasting. The Clos du Val itself appeared in the 1976 tasting, coming a respectable 8th. The Grgich is the winery of Miljenk 'Mike' Grgich, who was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena, the winner of the Chardonnay's in the Judgement of Paris. 

   The disappointments you ask? Well I expected both the Clos du Val and the Batailley to be better than they were, neither in my mind was worth the £60 odd per bottle. And we were all quite suprised at the varation between decanters. As you can see from the photo at the head of this piece, we had cobbled together various vessels to decant the wine into and each allowed the wine to develop differently, so repeated tastings of each wine from both decanters was necessary.

   Other than that it was a lovely event, I certainly enjoyed it and Im already looking forwards to the next one we're chatting about; Judgement of Northleach Part 2: French v US Chardonnay (this time with all the same decanters). Roll on the paracetamol!