Celebrating the Wine not the Origin: A Look at the Judgement of London

By | 25 May 2024

The wine tasting was a fusion of diverse flavors where the distinction between ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ seemed insignificant in the face of the nuance, texture, elegance, and balance.

After an exhausting four-hour judgement of 32 wines – divided into eight pairs of whites and eight pairs of reds – the difference between Europe and the Rest of the World (ROW) in the Judgement of London was a mere 0.65%, as determined by a panel of 21 Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers and other UK wine specialists.

Europe emerged victoriously, garnering a total of 2,621.5 points which equaled an average of 7.8 out of 10 for each of its 16 wines, a slight lead over ROW’s 2,604.5 points or 7.75 out of 10.

However, the top white and the highest-scoring wine overall was a New Zealand Riesling: Pegasus Bay’s 2011 Bel Canto from Waipara in North Canterbury. The second-place white wine was another Riesling: Grosset’s 2012 Polish Hill from Clare Valley in South Australia.

Among the reds, Rhône and Bordeaux won plaudits, with Domaine J-L Chave’s 2012 Hermitage as the top scorer, followed by 2009 Château Mouton Rothschild.

The Judgement of London, held at the London Wine Fair (LWF) on 20 May, was a tribute to the late Steven Spurrier, Decanter’s consultant editor and columnist for 27 years, and the mastermind behind the 1976 Judgment of Paris.

Whereas in that tasting 48 years ago ‘New World’ California Chardonnays and Cabernets outshone more renowned ‘Old World’ Burgundy and Bordeaux, this event sought to showcase the current fine wine scene.

Conceived by LWH director Hannah Tovey, who met Spurrier when she started her wine career at Decanter, the Judgment of London brought together a broader spectrum of wines from across Europe and beyond.

Ronan Sayburn MW, Decanter World Wine Awards co-Chair and CEO of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Sarah Abbott MW, founder and director of the Swirl Wine Group, selected the wines for the tasting, 80% of them sent in directly from the producers.

Each pair comprised a European wine and a ROW counterpart matched by style – mostly by grape variety or blend but several pairs by texture. Producers had the choice of which vintage to send in, so long as it was between 2005 and 2020.

Sarah Abbott MW, Hannah Tovey and Ronan Sayburn MS, organisers of the Judgement of London.

Ahead of the tasting Abbott encouraged the judges not to focus on ‘whether wine A was better than wine B’ – or to ‘pull out the party tricks’ of trying to guess the identity of a wine, but to ‘get into its soul’ and assess it purely on its inherent qualities.

Sayburn agreed, and in his address to the judges he emphasised that ‘finding a winner or loser was not the purpose of this tasting’.

Rather, it was to show how producers in the ‘so-called New World’ are now making wines better adapted to their own climates, clones and communities, rather than just trying to emulate traditional European styles. And with that has come greater elegance, balance, length, intensity and distinction.

‘Back in 1976 it was the underdog – California – versus the establishment – France,’ Sayburn said.

‘The underdog won, but things have changed a lot. Now there is no New World and Old World distinction; terminology like that is being rightly dropped as there is a much more level playing field in the world of wine. The lines are definitely blurred.’

Abbott said Spurrier was not canonical or conservative in his wine tastes; indeed he delighted in discovering beauty and diversity everywhere he went, so this modern tribute to his original 1976 event was fitting one.

While the top two reds and whites, and the overall top scorer, were revealed at the LWF on 22 May, all the judges had their personal favourites – some very much at odds with the general consensus when the judging finished and we all had a debrief.

I was thrilled to see Pegasus Bay in top spot, and in fact gave the same score to the Grosset Riesling, Cervaro della Sala and Tahbilk Viognier. In the reds, I also gave my top mark to the triumphant J-L Chave Hermitage, but the Promontory and Qvevri Saperavi were my personal runners up over the Mouton Rothschild.

Some pairs I scored identically, such as the Felton Road and Louis Jadot Chardonnays and the Livio Felluga and Au Bon Climat white blends, but in general I preferred the ROW whites and the European reds.

It was a fascinating exercise, and a humbling experience in many cases; blind tasting always is. I was convinced the Tahbilk Viognier was an aged Hunter Valley Semillon and was vice versa on the origins of the sweetly fruited 2017 Dujac Bonnes-Mares and firm, lean 2019 Storm Pinot.

So out with the Old – and New – World and other such dated concepts, and in with terroir, beauty, elegance and excitement. Great wine really does come from all corners of the world.

Listed in order of tasting


Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia 2012

Trimbach, Clos Ste-Hune Riesling, Alsace, France 2008


Antinori, Cervaro della Sala, Umbria, Italy 2018

Kistler, Les Noisetiers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California, USA 2018


Louis Jadot, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France 2017

Felton Road, Block 6 Chardonnay, Central Otago, New Zealand 2017


Au Bon Climat, Hildegard, Santa Maria Valley, California USA 2020

Livio Felluga, Terre Alte, Friuli Colli Orientali, Italy 2020

Sauvignon Blanc

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan GCC, Bordeaux, France 2017

Peter Michael Winery, L’Apres Midi, Sonoma County, California, USA 2014


Top white and Top overall Pegasus Bay, Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand 2011

Franz Hirtzberger, Singerriedel Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria 2019 (magnum)


Tahbilk, Viognier, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia 2011

Domaine Gonon, Les Oliviers, St-Joseph, Rhône, France 2020


Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado, Dão, Portugal 2014

David & Nadia, Skaliekop Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa 2019

Listed in order of tasting

Pinot Noir

Storm, Ridge Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay, South Africa 2019

Domaine Dujac, Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, Burgundy, France 2017

Pinot Noir

Meyer-Näkel, Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder GG, Ahr, Germany 2019

Hirsch Vineyards, San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California, USA 2019

Cabernet Sauvignon

Promontory, Napa Valley, California, USA 2019

Runner-up red Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 1CC, Bordeaux, France 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon

Château Léoville Las Cases, St Julien 2CC, Bordeaux, France 2009

Viñedo Chadwick, Alto Maipo, Chile 2015


Trinity Hill, Homage Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand 2018

Top red Domaine J-L Chave, Hermitage, Rhône, France 2012


Qvevri Wine Cellar, Saperavi Qvevri, Kakheti, Georgia 2019

Clonakilla, Shiraz-Viognier, Canberra, New South Wales, Australia 2015


Torbreck, Hillside Vineyard Grenache, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2016

Clos Mogador, Gratallops, Priorat, Spain 2019

Cabernet Franc

Clos Rougeard, Saumur-Champigny, Loire, France 2018

Gran Enemigo, Cabernet Franc, Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina 2018

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