As invites go it was certainly one to catch your attention. Would I like to go to a “secret squirrel” collaboration between Douglas Blyde and The Vineyard at Stockcross? Well it was enough to convince me to catch the 11am train to Newbury to find out what was so secret about these squirrels. Little did I know I was about to play an elaborate game of Trumped Wines….
Richard Siddle had a ringside at the recent “Judgement of our Times” tasting that pitted Donald Trump’s wines against some of the best from California. What could possibly go wrong…
You may or may not have seen the recent publicity surrounding what has been dubbed the “Judgement of our Times”. Namely the blind tasting held recently at The Vineyard in Stockcross, near Newbury, which pitched seven top Californian wines against those from President Trump’s own winery in Virginia.
It all ended in what has been deemed a humiliating defeat for Trump – a 7-0 drubbing in fact. It seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that he appears to have as delicate a touch when it comes to winemaking as he does in global diplomacy. But then as a teetotaller he has as much experience as a wine drinker as he does being a political leader.
The event has already been widely reported across the drinks press and in the London Evening Standard, which is not surprising considering its drinks editor, Douglas Blyde, was the brains behind the whole idea. Aided and abetted by James Hocking, wine director of The Vineyard Cellars, the specialist Californian wine distributor and part of the Vineyard hotel chain owned by Sir Peter Michael.
It was their cunning ruse to put Trump’s wines up to the test against some of his peers from California. Seven wines, all tasted blind, scored and matched against a seven course menu.
Now this is where I have to declare my interest. For I was one of those members of the trade invited to take part. Not that I or any of my other guests had any idea of what was afoot mind.
We were simply asked if we would like to go to an exclusive event at The Vineyard and enjoy a tasting menu with fine wines. Ever the investigative journalist in search of a good story, and a free lunch, I duly accepted.
The whole event turned out to be a sort of modern day re-incarnation of Steven Spurrier’s famous Judgement of Paris tasting which saw Californian wines embarrass a line up of top French wines in a blind tasting held in Paris way back in 1976. Now as we know that particular tasting has gone down in folklore, not just in the wine industry, but was even turned in to a Hollywood film, Bottle Shock, with the late Alan Rickman taking on Spurrier’s role.
The event helped make Spurrier’s name, turn him in to a pariah amongst some French producers, and has been a talking – and selling point – for Californian wines to this day.
I doubt the Trump tasting will have such a legacy. But in Blyde it certainly has a modern day dapper equivalent of Spurrier, equally willing to stir things up and ambitious enough – or should that be cheeky enough – to even try and put on such an event.
He’s also very good at keeping a secret as we really had no idea what was going on until the big reveal at the end of the lunch and tasting.
What’s more it was all played out in front of the beautifully painted mural depicting the Judgement of Paris which is the centre piece of the main private dining room at The Vineyard. And still we (I) didn’t twig.
Sing for my supper
For my part I have to admit my heart sank when I realised I was going to have to sing, or at least “work” for my supper. Now you might think 10 years in the wine trade is long enough to be confident about your own palate and wine tasting skills and whilst I might now be able to lord it amongst my close friends, I immediately shrink in to my shell when asked to taste alongside the real professionals in the wine trade. Particularly ones that included head sommeliers and the head wine buyer for the world’s finest wine shop.
What was worse is you had to actually write down the wine you preferred and put it in to a sealed box before the final count for each wine was revealed. So no waiting to see which wine the guy from Hedonism put his hand up for, or waiting until the sommelier from The Vineyard showed his hand. All the time probed by Captain Blyde to say which one you preferred and why. Each request neatly swerved by reaching for a mouth full of bread roll.
I am also a bit wary about the whole concept of judging wines over another for as I am sure even the worst winemakers don’t set out to make a rubbish wine. Even Donald Trump. It reminds me of that scene from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian which plays out as:
Brian: “Don’t pass judgment on other people, or you might get judged yourself.”
Passer-by: “Who, me?”
Passer-by: “Ooh. Thank you very much.”
Fortunately the majority of the wines in the line up were so strikingly different that even a shrinking tasting violet like myself was able to suss out which one I should be voting for. The one that tasted like a wine rather than a glass of bourbon.
That said, I did break ranks and vote for what turned out to be Trump’s Cru Fortified Chardonnay that we were told was Chardonnay juice blended with grape brandy and then aged in former Jack Daniels barrels. I mean who would do that? That has to be worth a vote, if just for a laugh (sorry, serious taters). But then I did not think my verdict would end up in the Evening Standard, or realise we were the ones being Trumped.
But otherwise I can proudly say my votes fitted in with the rest of the panel. Or at least proved to myself that my dislike of Donald Trump stretches beyond his politics.
So there you have it. Californian wines are better than Donald (it was a “fake tasting”) Trump. But I am not sure that is an exhaustive list.
As far as I am aware there has been no official Trump response – or tweet – to his 7-0 defeat in the Judgement of our Times. But I am not planning on travelling to the US any time soon and the Talented Mr Blyde certainly shouldn’t.
For the record The Trump Winery is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (made famous by deliberate comedy greats, Laurel and Hardy) and is the largest vineyard in the state. If anyone is to blame then it should really be Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s son.
For now Trump’s wine treasures can only be found in the US as he has failed to strike a trade deal to sell his wines in the UK, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. But there is said to be a lot of interest from Russia.
But if he does, trust me, the Jack Daniels aged wine is the one that will fly.
Thanks to Douglas Blyde and James Hocking for making it all happen and organising such a fun event. And, of course, to my esteemed tasting panel: Paul Michael, The Vineyard Hotel & Peter Michael Winery; Juel Mahoney, Wine Woman and Song (click to read her version of affairs); Alastair Viner, head buyer at Hedonism; Romain Bourger, head sommelier at The Vineyard Hotel; and Mike Meyers, head sommelier at Lucknam Park.
We were the day that Trump’s wines were Trumped.
- As a side note I once over heard Steven Spurrier lamenting the fact that he had been played by Alan Rickman in the film Bottle Shock. I could not help but ask him he would have preferred to have taken his role. He quickly dismissed my suggestions of Hugh Grant – “too pretty – or Jude Law – “too fey”. But sadly he could not come up with an alternative. I, on the other hand, am not that fussy and am quite happy to put on the record that I would gladly have Grant or Law playing the nervous taster stuffing himself with bread rolls in any forthcoming movie.
A Judgement of Our Times at The Vineyard
Thursday 6th April, Menu
2010 Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Charlottesville, VA
2013 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA
Mushroom risotto, parmesan and wild garlic
2014 Donelan Family Wines “Venus”, Sonoma County, CA
2015 Trump Viognier, Charlottesville, VA
Foie gras parfait, rhubarb, pistachio and brioche
2013 Benovia Winery La Pommeraie Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, CA
NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA
Pigs fillet, pickled white cabbage, roasted onion
2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Charlottesville, VA:
2013 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
Seasonal farmhouse cheese platter, fennel bread
2013 Peter Michael Winery L’Esprit des Pavots, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, CA
2014 Trump Winery New World Reserve, Charlottesville, VA
And the wines and their prices….
2010 Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Charlottesville, VA RSP £39.60
2013 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA RSP £28.24
2014 Donelan Family Wines “Venus”, Sonoma County, CA RSP £44.80
2015 Trump Viognier, Charlottesville, VA RSP £28.05
2013 Benovia Winery La Pommeraie Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, CA RSP £41.07
NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA RSP £39.60
2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Charlottesville, VA RSP £28.05
2013 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA RSP £25.03
2013 Peter Michael Winery L’Esprit des Pavots, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, CA RSP £69.60
2014 Trump Winery New World Reserve, Charlottesville, VA RSP £67.65