Now that we've all seen and enjoyed the third installment in the Somm documentary series it is time to dive further into a discussion about its implications. This latest film was certainly lighthearted, witty, and easygoing in tone, but the results revealed at its conclusion are absolutely no joke. Well over 40 years ago the Judgment of Paris sparked a major boom in the California wine industry and there is every indication that Somm 3's 'Judgment of New York' could have an exponentially increased effect.
Back in 1976 Steven Spurrier's Judgment of Paris tasting event wasn't viewed as a big deal. Only one major media source bothered to cover it, and the final results of the tasting were only taken seriously in the United States. Multiple French publications came out after the fact describing the results as "laughable" once they had gotten wind of what transpired. Despite these factors the Judgment was undoubtedly the most influential single event in the world of wine in the last 100 years. It lit a flame in Napa Valley that has only continued to spread to the rest of the new world.
Spurrier's tasting way back when was a small and intimate affair with limited press, but Somm is currently the single most popular wine series in the world. People in every corner of the globe have tuned in to see Master Sommelier hopefuls train, practice, bicker, and eventually succeed in passing one of the hardest tests in existence. The power of the Somm platform is undeniable, and even major celebrities ranging from Cam Newton to P!nk have chimed in about how it has inspired them to pursue their interest in wine. Somm simply has reached far beyond anything Steven Spurrier could have ever dreamed of in 1976.
Now to discuss the important part - the results. In the 'Judgment of New York' featured in Somm 3 Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson sought to recreate the Judgment of Paris with a twist. This time, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, Wilson put together a lineup of six of the best Pinot Noirs he could find from across the world. He selected one wine from Argentina, two from Burgundy, one from Oregon, one from Australia, and one from California. He then gathered a panel of seven of the best tasters in New York to taste and objectively judge which wines from the lineup they viewed as superior. At the end of the night the results were tallied and a winner was decided.
Two wines ended up being tied in points and were crowned co-champions. The first wine selected was the 2015 "Champans" Volany 1er Cru by Marquis d'Angerville. This was not a surprise to most, as Marquis d'Angerville is a very highly regarded producer and this wine came from a well-established vineyard in one of Burgundy's more prestigious villages. The second co-champion, however, is what is really worth noting. The 2014 "Bloom's Field" by Domaine de La Cote out of the Santa Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County California also was credited with the highest score right alongside Marquis d'Angerville.
Santa Barbara County is well-known internationally for the high-quality Pinot Noir it puts out, but none of the tasters that night expected a wine from sunny California to compete stride for stride with the best of Burgundy. In a later scene, when the 3 highest scoring wines of the New York tasting were placed in front of Jancis Robinson, Fred Dame, and Steven Spurrier for additional critiquing, Jancis commented that Bloom's Field was the most Burgundian of the group. This is especially notable because the other two wines Jancis tasted alongside it were actual Burgundies!
Somm 3 has proven objectively and unequivocally that Pinot Noir does not have to come from Burgundy to be good, just as the Judgment of Paris proved many years ago that high quality Cabernet Sauvignon does not only have to come from Bordeaux. If a $70 bottle of Pinot from a small producer in Santa Barbara can hold up against a great bottle of Burgundy that costs more than double there is bound to be impact on the way these wines are produced, sold, and viewed. How significant that impact will be remains to be seen, but precedent suggests that it could be huge.
First, things could soon be changing in a big way in Santa Barbara County. This beautiful idyllic countryside was featured in the cult movie "Sideways" in 2004 and has seen near continuous development in recent years, but few critics seemed to consider it in the upper-echelon of Pinot Noir production. The results of this latest tasting will open many eyes and could result in an exponential increase in capital pouring into the region. The financial backers behind Caymus, Orin Swift, and Screaming Eagle already have sizeable land holdings here, and it shouldn't be long before more money pours in to grab a slice of the pie. As development ramps up and talented winegrowers and winemakers are drawn to this region expect to see the quality of juice coming out of Santa Barbara to get better and better. Given its close proximity to Los Angeles and its proven ability to produce world-class wine it seems to be only a matter of time until Santa Barbara is held in the same esteem as Napa or any of the other great new world wine growing regions.
The results of Somm 3 will not only have an impact on Santa Barbara directly, but its effects should be seen all over the world in regions where high quality Pinot Noir is grown. In a way this film has leveled the playing field and removed the pedestal that has been inflating Burgundy for years. If a wine from Santa Barbara can match Burgundy in quality then there is no doubt that wines from the Willamette Valley, Central Otago, or even Tasmania can do the same. Expect to see producers pushing the boundaries of where high quality Pinot Noir can be grown with a newfound confidence that they can produce wine on par with the best. New and unique regions will continue to be developed and explored with producers knowing full-well that making the best Pinot Noir in the world is more than just a pipe dream.
While the highlight of this New York tasting for us new world folk was certainly the confirmation of a worthy challenger to Burgundy, this is by no means a critique on the quality of Burgundian wine. Rather it should be viewed as an exposition of previously unquantified potential. Burgundy will always be the scale on which Pinot Noir is measured, but many of its greatest bottlings are completely unattainable to average wine drinkers. If the world's supply of great Pinot Noir increases it means more people can enjoy the magic and mystique of this inimitable grape. We're all for it and you should be too!
Photos Courtesy of Somm 3