WINE IN FRANCE: The Macon Tasters Prove Their Worth

International Herald Tribune

May 26, 1978

Despite the serious, nationwide scope of Macon's annual wine judging, its continued existence may be threatened by loss of official recognition. The European Economic Community determines such things now and the future status of the Concours des Vins at Macon is up in the air.

The 24th wine judging recently held at the Lycée Agricole of Davayé, a little village near this city, put more than 5,000 sample bottles of wine from every region of France before some 1,100 tasters divided into three to five-person juries.

The tasters run the gamut from three-star restaurateur Jean Troisgros to anonymous red-faced peasant growers. They also include shippers, exporters, wine merchants, foreign importers of French wine, French government wine experts and a small but increasing number of women.

Jean Barbet, president of the Concours, emphasized the seriousness and care with which it is done. Almost all of the samples come from the last two vintages, although a few older wines are entered in consideration for a medal. The entries are submitted before May 1 and rest in a cellar until the morning judging.

The whites are brought to Davayé in refrigerated trucks at 5 degrees centigrade so that by the time they are tasted, they are at an ideal 8 to 10 degrees. The juries sit around tables covered with white paper tablecloths and are furnished the now standardized, tulip-shaped French tasting glass, a napkin and bread and mineral water to clear the palate. No cheese, because cheese alters the taste of wine.

Each taster rates each wine before him by checking a box marked "Excellent, Very Good, Good, All Right (convenable) or Mediocre/Eliminated," for its "eye" (aspect), "nose" (smell), "mouth" (taste) and "harmony."

At least two of the tasters, Mr. Troisgros, a regular jury member at Macon, and first-time taster Becky Wasserman, an American starting up a barrel and wine-exporting business from her home in Burgundy, share Mr. Barbet's conviction that the Macon judging is a serious, well-ordered event.

"I like to come here because the tasting gives me a general idea of the year in the region the wines at my table come from," says Mr. Troisgros. "All the members of the juries are professionals and are severe critics. The growers, shippers, exporters, wine merchants and restaurateurs have different views on what is really good and what will sell. As a restaurateur, I'm at the end of the chain in direct contact with the consumers, my clients.

"One taster at my table was from the Service des Fraudes and he tasted very differently from the way I did. He was very technical and analytical in his approach: how each wine was made – had it been heated during its fermentation, was it tannic, was it still undergoing its malolactic fermentation, did it contain excess sulfur dioxide, etc.

"I simply look for wines that please me, wines with body, taste, character and that are not too soft. All my clients want to know is if a wine is good or not. I like lively, fresh wines that match my style of cooking. I like Burgundy young and Bordeaux old."

Mrs. Wasserman shared many of Mr. Troisgros' impressions: "I was really impressed by the time and care each taster took to study each wine. I thought it was very serious and I was very pleased to take part.

"We had all sorts of points of view because of the variety of tasters. The growers tended to give higher marks to the wines but they were also the most knowledgeable about how the wines were made and what had gone wrong among the less good ones."

Asked if she thought women tasted differently than men, Mrs. Wasserman stated flatly, "A woman's point of view is no different than a man's." Amen.