The Judgment of Europe

Spain holds its own, but Cali beats France once again.

The risk of relying on the wine-buying advice of other people is that your spouse or significant other may suddenly conclude that you’re no longer qualified to buy the wine. And, indeed, ever since I began enlisting the assistance of others in buying wine for this column’s tasting sessions, my wife has concluded that she likes it better when I rely on people whose wine expertise exceeds my own.

So when my regular wine-buying pal Fredi was unavailable for this week’s column, the responsibility for buying the wines fell to his wife, Wendy. Happily, she and I share a palate. And we also both respect for the opinions of David Sharp, the proprietor of the North Oakland wine shop the Wine Mine.

For this week’s tasting, David helped Wendy assemble a low-budget version of the Judgment of Paris — the famous 1976 wine face-off in which California wines bested their French counterparts in a blind taste test. You might call ours the Judgment of Europe, since we paired three Californians against two wines from France and one from Spain. California bested France once again, but Spain held its own.

Because our dinner went better with whites, we started with the reds. The first contest was between two field blends. The night’s hands-down winner was the 2006 Ten Mile Broken Road ($8.99), a blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Carignane. Fredi thought it was bold and fruity, with a fantastic nose. Judy and I appreciated its peppery tang. Wendy and I thought it was the night’s best value. Fredi was the only person to prefer the 2007 Chateau De Nages Costieres De Nimes Reserve ($9.49), a Rhone blend. He loved its light nose and elegant body, and found it delicious with crab. Kathy, Mark, and Wendy found it lacking in flavor.

Our second contest was among two fruity reds. I loved the 2007 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel ($9.99), which danced on the tongue like a crisp Viognier. Wendy thought it had an appealing flavor of dirt, but Kathy only registered the dirt, and not the appeal. Judy said the 2008 Altovinum Evodia Old Vines Garnacha ($7.99) reminded her of communion wine — but in a good way. Fredi detected strawberries and fruit, and we all found it a great complement to a strong blue cheese we were eating.

Once we started dinner, we shifted to a pair of unoaked whites, and once again California slaughtered France. Since we were eating crab, our note-taking suffered, but everyone except Judy liked the sweetly fruity 2006 Bacage Chardonnay ($9.99), and thought it paired nicely with the crab. As for the 2008 Pierre Spare Alsace One ($6.99), only the Europhile Fredi had anything nice to say, calling it citrusy and well-balanced.


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