Forty years ago, a controversy rocked the wine world, when French wines were ranked lower than Californian wines in a blind taste test.
The competition (known as "The Judgement of Paris") was organised by a British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who only sold French wine and smugly believed that the French wine would win. He assembled a group of French judges in their capital city, who then blind tasted and ranked 18 fine wines.
It was with shock and dismay that the Californian wines ranked higher. The judgement has been repeated every ten years, and unfortunately for Spurrier and the French, the Californian wines keep wiping the floor with Bordeaux's finest.
So, Fromthegrapevine thought it would be interesting to recreate its own competition. Taking 28 wine loving participants in the Savernake Street Social Hall, we present.... The Judgement of Swindon.
Our tasters - 28 members of the public who came along to raise funds for the Eastcott Community Organisation's activities - would probably not describe themselves as experts, but are all self confessed fans of wine. Unlike the original Judgement of Paris, we concentrated only on the red wines. Could our guests detect the quality, as well as the country of origin?
They were asked to give each wine a score out of 5 based on the following scale -
A score of 1 = wines that they dislike and would never want to taste again,
A score of 3 = wines that they like and may buy depending on the price
A score of 5 = wines that they love and would want to buy again regardless of the price.
This is what happened;
Wine 1 - Hang Loose Cabernet Sauvignon, Majestic Wine. £8.99 (£6.99 on mix six)
For a wine at the cheaper end of the market, this was warmly received, with many scores around 3.5 and 4. Described by Majestic Wine as "a classic American Cabernet, this wine emits punchy notes of blackcurrant, a slick spoonful of vanilla and dusting of regal spices. It's the gluggable red to bring buckets of Cali' sun to your sofa through winter."
Many tasters commented how difficult it was to score the first wine, having no basis for comparison.
TOTAL SCORE: 80 / 140
Wine 2 - Marquis de Belleville Bordeaux Superior 2014, Majestic Wine, £7.99 (£6.99 on a mix six)
Described by Majestic Wine as "a middleweight claret with a good balance of ripe plum and berry flavours, with plenty of concentration. Tannins are fine-grained and provide a smooth yet ample feel. A great all round quaffing claret, ideal with simple, rustic cuisine."
The tasters in general were less impressed, with several scoring this wine as only 1, and very few scores higher than 3. Many could tell that it was a budget wine, and as a direct price comparison, it couldn't stand up to the popularity of the Hang Loose wine above.
TOTAL SCORE: 58.5 / 140
Wine 3 - Chateau Carones St Gemmes 2014, Majestic Wine, £16.99 (£14.99 on a mix six)
Described by Majestic Wine as one that "boasts everything you'd expect of the finest claret", the tasters weren't blown away by the wine. It was the first to display characters of oak ageing, with woody spice and complexity, but we clearly had a hard crowd to please. There were a handful of tasters that scored this 4, but just as many that scored it just 1. It's safe to describe this as a "Marmite wine" - pleasing some but being abhorrent to others. Which for its price tag is a disappointing blow to the French.
TOTAL SCORE: 68.5 / 140
Wine 4 - Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Waitrose, £17.99 (There's 25% off until 14th May 2019)
This wine was the darkest of the six when poured and Waitrose describe it as having "juicy freshness with aromas of cassis and summer-pudding fruit. Notes of cedar and tobacco align with firm, velvety and integrated tannins, making it ideal with rich meat dishes."
Our judges were impressed with this wine, with around half scoring it 4 or higher, with just a handful finding it mediocre and scoring it 2. The wine soared into the lead. Buy it here.
TOTAL SCORE: 87 / 140
Wine 5 - Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley California, £7 Asda (has recently been on offer at £6)
Beringer are the oldest continually operating winery in America, and I was hesitant in serving such a budget wine after the Frei Brothers above, which I knew was likely to score well.
I needn't have worried, with the guests becoming noticeably more animated when tasting this wine, and it became the first wine of the night to achieve scores of 5. Five guests scored it a five, with a further eleven guests scoring 4 or higher. A surprise hit of the night, which is what I love most about blind tasting.
TOTAL SCORE: 92 / 140
Wine 6 - Chateau Grand Médoc, sourced in France, Price £7 - £32
One of the friends of Savernake Street donated bottles of wine from the Medoc to the evening. It is not a wine that can be bought in the UK, and on foreign websites we have seen it ranging from £7 to £32.
Regardless of price, the tasters were not impressed. Whilst a few scored 3.5 - 4, there were many more that only pitched it as a 1 or 2.
TOTAL SCORE: 60.5 / 140
The accumulated scores appear below and reveal that the Californian examples scored much higher than the Bordeaux wines, with all three taking the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. The Beringer for only £7 (£6 when purchased for the evening) was a real hit, and if our volunteers were going to splash out on a bottle costing over £15 then they all agreed they would have no hesitation reaching for the Frei Brothers Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon in future.
This was only a scaled down version of "the judgement", carried out for a fun evening, and I don't think our findings will rock the French.
If you'd like to take part in a judging session, we hope to repeat the Judgement of Swindon with white wines in 2020.
Scores (totalled across all tasters)
1st Place - Beringer Cab Sav - California - 92 points
2nd Place - Frei Brothers Cab Sav - Sonoma California - 87 points
3rd Place - Hang Loose Cab sav - California - 80 points
4th Place - Chateau Carones St Gemmes 2014, Haut Médoc - 68.5 points
5th Place - Chateau Grand Médoc, Haut Médoc - 60.5 points
6th Place - Marquis de Belleville Bordeaux Superior - 58.5 points
Californian total - 259 / 420
Bordeaux total - 187.5 / 420