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Judgement of London: celebrating wine not origin

In tribute to Steven Spurrier’s landmark Judgment of Paris tasting 48 years ago, a blind tasting of 32 internationally renowned wines revealed some surprising results. Did Europe or the Rest of the World triumph? Wine certainly did, and that’s all that matters, says Decanter's Content Manager Tina Gellie, who was one of the judges.

It was a blind tasting where wine worlds blurred rather than collided; where ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ felt obsolete against nuance, texture, elegance and balance.

Following four hours of judging 32 wines – eight pairs of whites and eight pairs of reds – by a panel of 21 Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers and other UK wine experts, the margin of difference between Europe and the Rest of the World (ROW) in the Judgement of London came down to just 0.65%.

Scroll down to see the pairings of European and Rest of the World wines

Judgement of London judges

Judges and organisers of the Judgement of London tasting at the London Wine Fair on 20 May 2024. Credit: AnthonyUpton.com

A level playing field

Europe triumphed, its 16 wines earning a total of 2,621.5 points (an average of 7.8 out of 10 for each), against ROW’s 2,604.5 points (7.75/10).

However, top white and overall top-scoring wine went to a New Zealand Riesling: Pegasus Bay’s 2011 Bel Canto from Waipara in North Canterbury. The runner-up white was another ROW Riesling: Grosset’s 2012 Polish Hill from Clare Valley in South Australia.

Rhône and Bordeaux took the plaudits in the reds, with Domaine J-L Chave’s 2012 Hermitage the top scorer, ahead of 2009 Château Mouton Rothschild.

Held at the London Wine Fair (LWF) on 20 May, the Judgement of London was a tribute to the late Steven Spurrier, Decanter’s consultant editor and columnist for 27 years, and instigator of the 1976 Judgment of Paris.

Whereas that tasting 48 years ago saw ‘New World’ California Chardonnays and Cabernets triumph over more famous ‘Old World’ Burgundy and Bordeaux, this take aimed to reflect the modern fine wine landscape.

Conceived by LWH director Hannah Tovey, who met Spurrier when she started her wine career at Decanter, the Judgment of London brought together a broader spectrum of wines from across Europe and beyond.

Ronan Sayburn MS, Decanter World Wine Awards co-Chair and CEO of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Sarah Abbott MW, founder and director of the Swirl Wine Group, selected the wines for the tasting, 80% of them sent in directly from the producers.

Each pair comprised a European wine and a ROW counterpart matched by style – mostly by grape variety or blend but several pairs by texture. Producers had the choice of which vintage to send in, so long as it was between 2005 and 2020.

Sarah Abbott MW, Hannah Tovey and Ronan Sayburn MS

Sarah Abbott MW, Hannah Tovey and Ronan Sayburn MS, organisers of the Judgement of London.

Assessing the inherent qualities

Ahead of the tasting Abbott encouraged the judges not to focus on ‘whether wine A was better than wine B’ – or to ‘pull out the party tricks’ of trying to guess the identity of a wine, but to ‘get into its soul’ and assess it purely on its inherent qualities.

Sayburn agreed, and in his address to the judges he emphasised that ‘finding a winner or loser was not the purpose of this tasting’.

Rather, it was to show how producers in the ‘so-called New World’ are now making wines better adapted to their own climates, clones and communities, rather than just trying to emulate traditional European styles. And with that has come greater elegance, balance, length, intensity and distinction.

‘Back in 1976 it was the underdog – California – versus the establishment – France,’ Sayburn said.

‘The underdog won, but things have changed a lot. Now there is no New World and Old World distinction; terminology like that is being rightly dropped as there is a much more level playing field in the world of wine. The lines are definitely blurred.’

Abbott said Spurrier was not canonical or conservative in his wine tastes; indeed he delighted in discovering beauty and diversity everywhere he went, so this modern tribute to his original 1976 event was fitting one.

Judgement of London wines: My take

While the top two reds and whites, and the overall top scorer, were revealed at the LWF on 22 May, all the judges had their personal favourites – some very much at odds with the general consensus when the judging finished and we all had a debrief.

I was thrilled to see Pegasus Bay in top spot, and in fact gave the same score to the Grosset Riesling, Cervaro della Sala and Tahbilk Viognier. In the reds, I also gave my top mark to the triumphant J-L Chave Hermitage, but the Promontory and Qvevri Saperavi were my personal runners up over the Mouton Rothschild.

Some pairs I scored identically, such as the Felton Road and Louis Jadot Chardonnays and the Livio Felluga and Au Bon Climat white blends, but in general I preferred the ROW whites and the European reds.

It was a fascinating exercise, and a humbling experience in many cases; blind tasting always is. I was convinced the Tahbilk Viognier was an aged Hunter Valley Semillon and was vice versa on the origins of the sweetly fruited 2017 Dujac Bonnes-Mares and firm, lean 2019 Storm Pinot.

So out with the Old – and New – World and other such dated concepts, and in with terroir, beauty, elegance and excitement. Great wine really does come from all corners of the world.

Judgement of London white wine line up

Judgement of London: White wine pairs

Listed in order of tasting

Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia 2012
Trimbach, Clos Ste-Hune Riesling, Alsace, France 2008

Antinori, Cervaro della Sala, Umbria, Italy 2018
Kistler, Les Noisetiers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California, USA 2018

Louis Jadot, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France 2017
Felton Road, Block 6 Chardonnay, Central Otago, New Zealand 2017

Au Bon Climat, Hildegard, Santa Maria Valley, California USA 2020
Livio Felluga, Terre Alte, Friuli Colli Orientali, Italy 2020

Sauvignon Blanc
Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan GCC, Bordeaux, France 2017
Peter Michael Winery, L’Apres Midi, Sonoma County, California, USA 2014

Top white and Top overall Pegasus Bay, Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand 2011
Franz Hirtzberger, Singerriedel Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria 2019 (magnum)

Tahbilk, Viognier, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia 2011
Domaine Gonon, Les Oliviers, St-Joseph, Rhône, France 2020

Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado, Dão, Portugal 2014
David & Nadia, Skaliekop Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa 2019

Red wine glasses at the Judgement of London

Judgement of London: Red wine pairs

Listed in order of tasting

Pinot Noir
Storm, Ridge Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay, South Africa 2019
Domaine Dujac, Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, Burgundy, France 2017

Pinot Noir
Meyer-Näkel, Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder GG, Ahr, Germany 2019
Hirsch Vineyards, San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California, USA 2019

Cabernet Sauvignon
Promontory, Napa Valley, California, USA 2019
Runner-up red Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 1CC, Bordeaux, France 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon
Château Léoville Las Cases, St Julien 2CC, Bordeaux, France 2009
Viñedo Chadwick, Alto Maipo, Chile 2015

Trinity Hill, Homage Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand 2018
Top red Domaine J-L Chave, Hermitage, Rhône, France 2012

Qvevri Wine Cellar, Saperavi Qvevri, Kakheti, Georgia 2019
Clonakilla, Shiraz-Viognier, Canberra, New South Wales, Australia 2015

Torbreck, Hillside Vineyard Grenache, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2016
Clos Mogador, Gratallops, Priorat, Spain 2019

Cabernet Franc
Clos Rougeard, Saumur-Champigny, Loire, France 2018
Gran Enemigo, Cabernet Franc, Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina 2018

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