My Favorite wine…this week anyway (July 5, 2023)

2021 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay

Calistoga, CA

Regular price: $42.99

Sale price: $29.99

The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, now popularly known as the Judgment of Paris, took place on May 24, 1976. Arranged by the British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, the advance opinion was that the Americans were due their comeuppance and when placed side by side against the ‘best wines in the world’, the newcomers would be seen as inferior. Of course, the opposite occurred, with both a California Chardonnay (Chateau Montelena) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) judged as winners. This outcome produced much joy in the US wine industry, and outrage and disbelief in the French. 

There have been several ‘re-takes’ over the years; in 1978 in San Francisco; and again in Paris in 1986, with similar results, the Californian wines were judged best. So, California wines were the winners, both in their youth and then again with some age. Theoretically, the argument is then  settled, the top wines from California are certainly on a par with those from France. 

However, I tend to view the results from a different perspective. Rather than focusing on France v. California, I look at the Judgment of Paris as a clash between tradition and science, with sunshine providing the winning edge.

The California wine industry, at that time, was populated by scientists; new and young college graduates with degrees in chemistry, botany and biology. The French industry was tradition-bound; winemakers learned their craft from their fathers and fore-fathers (both figurative and actual), repeating what had been done for generations before. In France, innovation was frowned upon. In California, innovation was everything. Added to this ‘cultural’ clash was the very real presence of the sun. The best vineyard sites in France get the most sunshine, and the best vintages are those when the summer is hotter and drier than others. Of course, in California, the sun is always shining and the summers are always hot and dry. 

California didn’t ‘beat’ France; science and sunshine bested tradition and clouds. 

Which brings me to Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay. Located at the historic Larkmead Winery, originally built in 1884, Rich Frank continues to honor the land’s legacy and its providential sunshine by producing well-made wines that are clearly ‘Napa’. This Chardonnay, from cooler Carneros, is rich and full yet not overwrought. It’s a complex mosaic of fresh fruit and savory oak and invigorating acidity, each present, complimenting rather than competing. For fans of sun-washed California Chardonnay, this wine hits the mark. (PW)