One of the defining moments in oenophile history was the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Eleven experienced judges undertook a blind tasting in Paris, in which Californian wines snatched top honors from France, causing a major stir in the wine world.
Since then, numerous other blind tastings from many of the same or similar producers on both sides of the Atlantic (San Francisco 1978, French Culinary Institute 1986, Wine Spectator 1986) have established the quality of Californian wines despite the rage generated in the French press by Bordeaux producers who still dismiss the results as having no basis due to the subjectivity of taste in human beings.
Last week, I tried my own, very unscientific version of the Paris wine tasting at Empire Steak House.
I tasted current vintages from California and mostly Europe. It has an exceptional cellar that has not only wines from numerous of the producers of the 1976 tasting, but also many other exceptional vintages from around the world.
Empire’s wine list consists of 32 pages—337 selections and more than 4,500 bottles in inventory—which showcase top red and white wines from the United States (California, Washington, Oregon, and New York), also outstanding reds from Tuscany (including a number of top Brunellos and Chianti Classico Reservas), Piedmont (great Barolos and Barbarescos), and the Veneto (Amarone).
From France, of course they have grand Bordeaux wines—including a variety of Margaux bottles, Pauillac, Pomerol, Haut Médoc—as well as Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, and vintages from the Rhone Valley.
The only thing that I would mention is that the list is a bit light on Spanish and South American wines—especially now that exceptional Catalan, Chilean, and Argentinean bottles are available in New York City at very logical prices. But, I quibble …
I had reviewed Empire Steak House’s location on East 44th Street in the past, and its steaks are brilliant. Its main meat supplier is Master Purveyors, a 50-year-old family business that provides the best hanging meat on the East Coast. Most of the better steakhouses purchase their meat from them, and they guarantee steaks of the highest quality.
Eating at Empire, you are guaranteed a prime steak, properly cooked to your specification, with the proper sear—that telltale crusty char that seals in the steak’s juices. I have found that at Empire, whether one orders a filet mignon, a porterhouse, a sirloin, or a rib eye, the result has always been flavorful, marbled beef.
If it sounds like I’m gushing … yes, I am. I never had an inferior piece of meat there.
So, I had pieces of a nice filet, cooked black and blue as I like it, with some thick grilled bacon. I tried to replicate the Judgment of Paris by getting glasses of California wines to compare with a group of European wines.
My California glasses were 2011 Chateau Montelena, 2010 Cakebread Cellars, 2010 Stag’s Leap, 2010 Duckhorn Estate, and 2010 Far Niente, all exceptional cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.
The international wines were the 2009 Amarone Masi Costasera, and the 2010 Masi Campofiorin, two lovely Italians I’m very fond of, a 2010 Bolgheri Sassicaia, another premium Italian, the 2010 Domaine Rothschild (Lafite), from Pauillac, and a Penfolds from South Australia.
I admit that it is not a very scientific method, mixing Californian, Italian, French, and Australian wines. On the other hand, these are all considered top quality wines from their areas.
The result …
Few things pair better with a steak than a full-bodied red wine. They were all delightful bottles and they tasted equally good regardless of their place of origin. The winemakers behind these wines know what they are doing, and they do it very well. And the sommelier that developed the Empire’s wine list is also exceptional, acquiring extraordinary wines to pair with prime steaks.
To your health!
Manos Angelakis is a well-known wine and food critic based in the New York City area. He has been certified as a Tuscan Wine Master, by the Tuscan Wine Masters Academy, as well as being an expert on Greek, Chilean, and Brazilian wines. He judges numerous wine competitions each year and is the senior Food & Wine writer for LuxuryWeb Magazine and The Oenophile Blog.
Empire Steak House
237 W. 54 St. (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
Sunday & Monday 11:00 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Tuesday–Thursday 11:00 a.m.–12:30 a.m.
Friday & Saturday 11:00 a.m.–1:00 a.m.