Sunday, June 24, 2012

Judgment of Princeton shows that NJ is about more than just Jersey Shore

When I initially saw the program for the recently concluded American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE ) Annual Meeting, I noted a segment titled Judgment of Princeton which was to be chaired by George Taber of Judgment of Paris fame.  I had not heard much about NJ wines previously and so did not feel that they had the relative pedigree of the Napa wines that went up against the French (and won) in 1976. This was, in my mind, David versus Goliath; and Goliath would win this one.  Turned out it wasn't that cut and dried.

Prior to the results being announced, Dr Orley Ashenfelter, Joseph Douglas Green Professor of Economics at Princeton University, and AAWE President, covered the ground rules for the competition. According to Dr. Ashenfelter, the French wines were all purchased. For the NJ wines, producers who wanted to participate in the competition were asked to provide one red and one white wine and these (100 wines from 50 wineries) were all gathered in Princeton. The whites were required to be Chardonnay and the reds Bordeaux varietals. The wines had to be made from grapes grown wholly in NJ and the offering winery had to be bonded in the state.

Below is Dr. Karl Storchmann’s (Clinical Professor of Economics at NYU and AAWE Vice President) recap of the tasting. This recap is used with his express permission.

At its Annual Conference in Princeton, the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) organized a wine tasting called “The Judgment of Princeton.”  It was modeled after the 1976 “Judgment of Paris.”  In 1976, British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind wine tasting with 9 French judges who were associated with the wine industry in various ways (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants, or winemakers).  In the first flight the judges rated 10 white wines, 6 from Napa and four from Burgundy.  In the second flight the judges rated 10 reds, 6 from Napa and four from Burgundy.  In both tastings, a wine from Napa, then a relatively unknown wine region, was declared the winner.  George Taber of TIME magazine, the only attending journalist, reported the results to the world.  The results caused considerable surprise in France and the USA and helped to put Napa wines on the global wine map.

At the Princeton tasting, now led by George Taber, 9 wine judges from France, Belgium, and the US tasted French wines against New Jersey wines.  The French wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including names such as Chateaus Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion, priced at up to $650 per bottle.  New Jersey wines for the competition were submitted to an informal panel of judges, who then selected the wines that would compete.  These judges were not eligible to taste wines at the final competition.  The results were surprising.  Although the winner in each category was a French wine (Beaune Clos de Mouches for the whites and Chateau Haut-Brion for the reds), NJ wines barely differed in their average rank from the French wines.  Three of the top four whites were from NJ while the best NJ red was ranked third in the red category.  Prices for the NJ wines were typically one-third to one-twentieth the price of their French counterparts. 
Data Dr. Storchmann's; framework provided by author

A statistical evaluation of the tasting, conducted by Princeton Professor Richard Quandt, which was similar to an earlier analysis of the Judgment of Paris, further shows that the rank order of the wines was mostly insignificant.  That is, if the tasting were repeated, the results would most likely be different.  From a statistical viewpoint, most wines were indistinguishable.  Only the best white and the lowest ranked red were significantly different from the other wines.
There was a third similarity to the Paris tasting.  In Paris, after the identity of the wines was revealed, Odette Kahn, editor of “La Revue du Vin de France,” demanded her scorecard back.  Apparently she was not happy with having rated American wines number one and two.  At the Princeton tasting, both French Judges preferred NJ red wines over their counterparts from Bordeaux.  After the identity of the wines was disclosed, the French judges were surprised but did not complain.  In contrast, several tasters from the U.S. did not want their wine ratings to be published.

The judges for this event were:
Jean-Marie Cardebat, Professor of Economics, University of Bordeaux
Tyler Coleman,
John Foy, Wine Columnist, The Star Ledger
Olivier Gergaud, Professor of Economics, BEM Bordeaux Management School
Robert Hodgson, Fieldbrook Winery
Linda Murphy, Decanter
Daniel Meulders, Professor of Economics, Universite Libre de Bruxelles
Jamal Rayyis, Gilbert & Gaillard Wine Magazine
Francis Schott, Stage Left Restaurant, New Brunswick, NJ.


So what did I think about the tasting? First, I am always amused when new world wines -- riper fruit, more approachable wines -- are pitted against relatively young Bordeaux wines -- later bloomers. Second, I had not tasted any NJ wines prior to the conference but tasted a number of the wines at the conference reception and at lunch on the first full day. With the exception of an unoaked Chardonnay, I had not been too impressed. On the post-conference tour we visited two wineries and tasted the wares of three producers. On that visit I had the pleasure of speaking to the owners, and tasting the wines, of Amalthea Cellars and Heritage Estates. I was heartened by both experiences. Third, in the wrapup, George Taber spoke about holding the tasting within the parameters established by Steve Spurrier in his Paris tasting. One of the diferences in the two tastings that I noted was the number of academics on the judging panel in the Princeton tasting when compared to the Paris tasting (There is probably no significance associated with this fact but I thought I would mention it anyway.).

What will be the impact on NJ wines going forward?. The tasting no doubt gives a moral boost to the industry as current and future owners and investors see vindication of their efforts and passion. The industry will also, no doubt, seek to gain marketing leverage from the event. As a matter of fact, by the time we visited the wineries on Sunday, they already had flyers showing how the wines that they were pouring had done in the tasting. Such flyers, and other leveraging of the tasting, will undoubtedly increase the sales of NJ wines at the "cellar door" and could potentially serve to attract new market entrants. The results may also serve to bring more press- and critic-attention to Garden State wines and cause shoppers to take a second look at a NJ wine label if they encounter such in a retail establishment or restaurant.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Keith, what a great blog about a great event.
    Thanks, Karl Storchmann