Tucked away in a corner of prime Berkshire countryside may be a strange location to remember an incident that literally rocked the wine industry. Yet when you consider The Vineyard Hotel in Stockcross is pretty much all about the fruit of the vine, then it all makes sense.
The particular incident in question happened on the 24th May 1976 when a blind wine tasting was held in a small Paris hotel. Thirteen of France’s most revered wine experts were gathered together to in a competitive blind tasting featuring some of the best white and red French wines versus some unknown Californian wines.
To the horror of the assembled throng, the Californian wines won and ultimately condemned French wine supremacy to the history books.
The Vineyard Hotel has a highly impressive wine pedigree, owned by legendary winemaker Sir Peter Michael. It offers an homage to The Judgement of Paris by recreating its own blind tasting to accompany its quite fabulous seven course tasting menu compiled and produced by Head Chef Robby Jenks.
It’s a novel way to experience two very classy wines during each course, one French the other Californian, and you try to pick which is which.
I just had to give it a try.
No sooner had my Roquefort cheese and raisin amuse bouche arrived, when sommelier Francesca materialised armed with a 2015 Frescobaldi Remole Toscana Bianco . The crisp full bodied Italian was a perfect starter to get my competitive palate oiled and in the mood.
This was a tense moment as Francesca delivered the first pairing. A white duo to accompany my Quail ravioli, watercress sauce and truffle first course. She artfully placed the paper wine mats upside down concealing each provenance before delicately seating each wine glass on top.
“Do I taste and sip or sip then taste” I ask her in a hushed whisper.
“Whichever you prefer, but just enjoy.”
A very good answer that contained no clues for me whatsoever.
Both wines were delicious as was the quail dish but I got a distinct leaning for the left one and for no apparent reason chose it as Californian. Turning over the mat revealed it was from Sir Peter’s own Californian vineyard no less; L’Aprés Midi (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015. But the loser was still a very good Pouilly-Fuissé Sophie Cinier 2014.
Marinated scallops, gazpacho, Chorizo and peach was up next with another white duo placed carefully by Francesca with a knowing smile. I could argue I was distracted by the genius of the food to properly focus on the wines, but I lost this one. Stupidly picking a classic Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex 2014 as Californian when in fact it was a lovely 2013 Chardonnay from Benovia.
Whilst I have to admit I’m not a lover of foie gras, this next dish served as a ganache with gooseberry and brioche ice cream was a total triumph. This time around the goal posts changed. No duo of wine, just one black wine glass.
” You have to guess the wine colour.” Whispered Francesca.
“White and French” I said to myself and turned the mat to reveal a Dirler-Cadé Riesling Grand Cru 2008 Alsace.
My favourite dish came next, a wonderful Devonshire cod with cauliflower, curry and coconut. Reds this time and surprisingly the yanks won it for me. A Garry Farrell Pinot Noir 1998 over a 2004 Château Phélan Ségur Bordeaux.
I was really warming to the task now as a loin of lamb, turnips, baby gem, girolles and lamb jus appeared like heaven on a plate. My two new reds gazed up at me almost flirtatiously. I swear I heard them whispering pick me, pick me. I picked and lost again. Another Peter Michael wine L’Esprit des Pavots 2013 was called French over a Nuits-St-Georges 2012 from Tribourg.
Oh the shame.
We were in the home stretch now and another single black glass accompanied by an intense dish of exotic and passion fruit with anise crumble. It was perhaps a little too easy to pick white over red here but I needed all the help I could get. Still, the Muscat Beaume Venise 2009 from Coyeux was an absolute delight.
In a final flourish, my dessert plate was triumphantly presented; chocolate ganache with almond sable and cocoa ribs croquant. A twin set of dessert wines patiently awaited but by now I was just enjoying the ride and frankly loved both of them equally. The fact that one was a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles and the other a 1998 Semillon from Barsac was neither here nor there.
The Judgement of Paris Tasting Menu was an epic triumph for me. Full marks to Robby Jenks and The Vineyard for creating such a memorable wine fuelled culinary journey. Unlike that fateful day in Paris, we just get to drink some belting wines without worrying about the fallout.
All images except Robby Jenks (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about the Judgement of Paris Tasting Menu
The 7 course Judgement of Paris Tasting Menu is £89pp Wine pairings £95pp
The Vineyard Hotel
T: 01635 528770
Rooms from £247 including breakfast based on 2 guests.