When I received the invitation from Eduardo Chadwick to attend a tasting of vintages from his three flagship wines—Don Maximiano, Seña, and Viñedo Chadwick—to be held in January 2004 at the recently opened Ritz Carlton in Berlin, I accepted with pleasure. Only on arrival the afternoon before did I learn that different vintages of these wines would be compared blind to similar vintages of First Growths from Bordeaux and the top Super Tuscans, the other common theme being that all the wines were Bordeaux Blends. René Gabriel from Geneva and I sat on either side of Eduardo at a table in front of ranks of 40 or so of Europe’s most respected palates. There were 16 wines, and when the results were finally read out, starting with the 8th wine upwards, I noticed that Eduardo smiled and visibly relaxed when it was announced that Seña 2000 had tied for fourth place with Château Margaux 2001. Château Lafite-Rothschild 2000 was third, but he had already received the recognition he was after, so he was hardly paying attention when it was announced that Seña 2001 was ranked second and Viñedo Chadwick 2000 was first.
Perhaps nobody in the room was more stunned than Eduardo, and this event was immediately christened The Berlin Tasting, tipping its hat the The Paris Tasting of 1976.
What Eduardo Chadwick was looking for in 2004 was recognition that his wines, and by extension the best wines of Chile, could measure up to the benchmarks of the European wine world. This was exactly what I was after in 1976, having been so impressed by the Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons that had been brought into my Academie du Vin in Paris by their California producers. California was unheard of in France as a producer of quality wine, although their vineyards, like those of Chile, dated back over a century, so I thought it important to show a selection to a group of nine carefully chosen top French palates one afternoon at Paris’s Hotel Intercontinental in May 1976, coincidentally the bicentennial of the American Revolution. The tasting was at first planned to be just these wines, but then I realised that only one of those present— Aubert de Villaine (co-owner of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti)— would ever have tasted California wines before, having married a girl from San Francisco. Therefore, as did Eduardo in 2004, I selected classic benchmark white Burgundies and red Bordeaux from similar vintages to be compared in a blind tasting, so that if the quality from California were to be recognised, it would be so against its French peers.
Like Eduardo, the last thing I expected was a Napa Valley wine to emerge top in both categories of ten wines. I would have been happy with, say, a third and a fifth, for this would have given California the recognition I thought it deserved. As it was, the tasting, described as “The Judgment of Paris” in his article in Time Magazine by Paris bureau chief George Taber, was viewed as a watershed event for the wines of California, whose reputation quickly aroused international interest.