Judgement of London: The Global Diversity of Wine

At the London Wine Fair 2024. Photo:Anthony Upton 2024©

When I first heard about the Judgement of London, I was really curious to find out if it would be as sensational as the historic “Judgement of Paris” in 1976. Having read numerous articles on it, seen the Somm TV documentary, and watched the highly dramatised movie “Bottle Shock” on the topic, I was aware of the impact that that tasting had on the collective memory of enthusiasts and professionals alike.

The Judgement of Paris, a bold experiment by Steven Spurrier, forever transformed the wine industry, sparking a reassessment of traditional notions of quality and excellence. It shattered the perception of Old World wine supremacy and propelled the New World onto the global stage, a seismic shift that still resonates today.

However, as I learned more about the Judgement of London, it became clear that the event had a different mission. Although conceived as a homage to the 1976 Judgement, this event wasn’t about declaring a winner but celebrating the diversity and innovation that defines today’s global wine community. When I asked Hannah Tovey, Head of the London Wine Fair, about the event, she explained, "Steven Spurrier’s 1976 Judgement of Paris was the inspiration for this event. It was a seminal moment that catapulted Californian wines onto the global fine wine stage and upset the status quo. We wanted to revisit this with an up-to-date version reflecting today’s fine wine market, where European and non-European wines are equally prized.”

Sarah Abbott MW, Hannah Tovey, and Ronan Sayburn

Held on May 20th, 2024, the Judgement of London was a collaborative effort by industry luminaries. Spearheaded by Ronan Sayburn, Master Sommelier and CEO of The Court of Master Sommeliers, and Sarah Abbott, Master of Wine and Managing Director of Swirl Wine Group, the event featured a selection of 32 world-leading wines. These wines represented a harmonious blend of the best fine wines from around the globe. Sharing her insights into the selection process, Sarah Abbott said, “Our goal was to create a diverse lineup that reflects the richness and complexity of today’s wine world. From classic European terroirs to emerging regions in the New World, every wine tells a story, and it's our privilege to share those stories with our discerning panel of judges.”

The wines were decanted and served in Jancis Robinson X Richard Brendon glasses, tasted in pairs under exam conditions: eight pairs of white wines followed by eight pairs of red wines. Each pair featured a European wine alongside its Rest of the World counterpart, matched in style. Judges scored each wine out of ten, resulting in a grand total for each wine and a final overall score for Europe versus the Rest of the World. This format showcased the best of tradition and innovation, challenging preconceptions and igniting discussions on terroir, craftsmanship, and style. The panel of judges, comprising wine experts, renowned wine writers, and leading buyers, rigorously evaluated each wine based on its unique characteristics and overall quality.

The Judgement of London was initially planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. It wasn’t until 2024 that the event came to fruition. The tasting distinguished itself from traditional wine competitions by focusing on quality and expertise over quantity. Hannah Tovey emphasised this unique approach: “It’s about elevating the conversation surrounding fine wine and fostering a deeper understanding of its nuances and complexities”

The results, unveiled at the London Wine Fair on May 21st, 2024, showcased what the event had set out to achieve. That great wine can come from anywhere. The results were as follows:

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● Top Scoring White Wine: Pegasus Bay Riesling, Bel Canto, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand 2011
● Runner-Up White Wine: Polish Hill Riesling, Grosset, Clare Valley, Australia 2012
● Top Scoring Red Wine: Hermitage Rouge, Jean Louis Chave, Rhône, France, 2012
● Runner-Up Red Wine: Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France 2009
● Top Scoring Wine Overall: Pegasus Bay Riesling, Bel Canto, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand 2011

Judging in progress

The scores were remarkably close, with European wines scoring 2,621.5 points and Rest of the World wines scoring 2,604.5 points — a mere 0.65% difference. This near-parity highlighted the exceptional quality of wines from all regions, blurring the traditional lines between wines from Europe and the Rest of the World. Judges praised the event for the choice of excellent wines and enlightening tasting experience. Richard Bampfield MW noted the diversity and individuality of wine styles, while Dawn Davies MW highlighted the significance of blind tasting in eliminating
preconceptions, showcasing wines from both Europe and the Rest of the World as equals. Daniel Illsley and Anne Krebiehl MW emphasised the challenging yet rewarding nature of the tasting, with standout wines offering profound revelations.

After tasting the white wines, Jancis Robinson MW, in conversation with Academe du vin, noted that she found no sharp division between the wines as distinctively Old World or New World. With the communication and knowledge exchange between Europe and the Rest of the World, these lines have blurred, and winemakers worldwide are crafting great wines, expressing their terroir.

Steven Spurrier, a great friend of Sommelier India and a regular contributor to the magazine, always championed the quality and character of wine from all regions. He truly believed that fine wine need not only come from a small geographic zone. The Judgement of London, which paid tribute to his vision, proved that we need to be open to all the ways in which wine can be beautiful. The world of fine wine is incredibly diverse, fascinating, and multi-faceted, and it is important for the wine community to continue celebrating and promoting this diversity.

As I engaged with the judges and organisers, I couldn’t help but ponder the future of such an impactful event. I asked about the plans to expand or evolve the Judgement of London event in the future. The response from Tovey was illuminating. “Judgement of London will be a real one- off event. To gather 32 of the world’s best wines and 20 of the UK’s best palates in one room at the London Wine Fair is no mean feat. It is hoped that this event will have its own longevity, just as Steven’s original Judgement of Paris.”

The real takeaway from The Judgement of London, however, is that great wine can come from any corner of the globe. Ronan Sayburn observed that today’s wine world is much more level than 50 years ago, with no region being an underdog. Wines from the rest of the world now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their European counterparts. The event was never about declaring winners but about celebrating the artistry and craftsmanship in every bottle. It's a reminder that, despite differences, the world of wine is united by a shared passion for excellence and a deep appreciation for the beauty of wine.

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