The Judgement of St. James

By Avenue Head Sommelier, Andres Ituarte – 

The first time I heard of Steven Spurrier I was in sommelier school back in Canada during the mid-2000s.  The ‘Judgement of Paris’  which he organised in 1976 – when Californian wines were rated higher than French by a group of experts in a blind tasting – shocked the wine world and is one of the most famous episodes in wine history.  As Steven said: “In the early 1970s California winemakers were trying to make the best possible wine they could whilst the French were resting on their laurels.”  Before the Judgement, California was seen more like the Wild West than a serious wine region; but afterwards everyone sat up and took notice.

You can imagine how excited I was when I found out that the man himself (pictured above and below) had agreed to come and host a dinner at Avenue on 6 May, to re-live the original Judgement.

We teamed up with Jasper Morris MW, buyer for Berry Brothers & Rudd next door, for the event.  To do things slightly differently to the original, we decided that rather than just comparing red Bordeaux and white burgundy with Californian counterparts, we would expand the styles of wines involved to include pinot noir and syrah too.  Chef and I then got cracking on a menu to complement the wines.

There was a fantastic buzz on the evening.  After a champagne reception, the group headed through to the private room for what everyone had been waiting for: the Judgement of St. James.

Everyone present would be told which wines they were tasting but not which were which.  The atmosphere in the private room was magical all night.  What an evening it was as our guests listened to the stories of a true legend – how he bought his wine shop in Paris, spent time travelling round Napa and orchestrated the Judgement tasting – while tasting some phenomenal wines.

It was a knowledgeable group and I think most people were able to identify the wines as we went through, until the last pair which threw everyone – the ‘91 Ridge seemed to everyone to be the ‘96 Chateau Palmer.

What was my own judgement, I hear you ask?  I’m afraid I am sat firmly on the fence.  All eight wines (pictured below) showed superbly well and it was great to compare and contrast the style of each one – picking favourites from a line-up like this was just too hard to do.

Menu & Wines

Clam Chowder in sour dough, littlenecks clams, paper bag ‘crumbled’ bay crackers

Roasted Turbot with bok choy, cardamon and vanilla dressing

2009 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy

2009 Ramey, Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, California

Rabbit with black truffles and asparagus

2006 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Charmes-Chambertin-Les Mazoyeres, Grand Cru, Burgundy

2010 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Know Alexander, Santa Maria Valley, California

Char grilled rack of lamb, roasted with quinoa and cilantro gremolada

2008 Domaine Thierry Allemand, Cornas, Les Chaillots, Rhone Valley, France

2008 Qupe, Syrah, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Sonnies, Edna Valley, California

Farmstead Cheese with walnut and raisin bread

1996 Chateau Palmer, Margaux, Bordeaux, France,

1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz County, California

Coffee & petit fours

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Photo credit: Jess Dismont