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The Best Wine Tasting You May Ever Attend. Anywhere.

Table setting

It is not only THE BEST wine tasting in Napa Valley. It just may be THE BEST wine tasting anywhere in the world. For sure, it is unique, original, one-of-a-kind. The kind of thing that makes headlines.

Everyone complains these days about the elevated – and nonsensical -- price of tastings at wineries in Napa Valley. And, for the most part, these gripes are merited.

But put into context, the $500 to $750 per person tasting fee at Blankiet, in Yountville, is actually a bargain.

Welcoming sign

Here you will compare Blankiet Merlot or Blankiet Cabernet against same-varietal, first growth Bordeaux wines, including Petrus, the world’s most expensive wine (100% Merlot), costing $6,500 a bottle on release. Or substantially more.

By comparison, Blankiet’s stunning, mouth-thrilling, exquisite, Merlot (called Rive Droite), is $250 per bottle, and it runs rings around the $6,500 Petrus.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Drone shot  Blankiet vineyards

Blankiet Estate, in Yountville.


Claude Blankiet and his wife, Katherine, hosted my two comparative tastings

I was fortunate to attend two of proprietor Claude Blankiet’s comparative, international wine pairings in the last month and on each occasion, his red wines trounced those of Bordeaux.

The tastings, which you can reserve online (details at the end of this story), are a sort of Judgment of Paris 2.0… pairing great Napa Valley wine against the best red wine that France can bring to the table.

(The first time this was done, in Paris, in 1976, the event became known as “Judgment in Paris,” and critics who rated the French and Napa Valley wines blind, were astounded when the winning Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon turned out to be from Napa Valley, and not France.)

I do not know of any other wine producer in America who has the balls to take on the French in such a fashion – and make the tasting so public, permitting guests to sign up, step up, and then spit out a series of such exceptional wines. Guests can decide for themselves which they like better -- the over-priced, French Cabernets or Merlots, or the fairly priced (by comparison) Blankiet reds.

But you’ll have to come to Yountville, close to the mid-point of Napa Valley, to have the experience.

Blankiet vineyards

Blankiet vineyards

Petrus, considered by many to be the best red wine in the world, costs on release about $6,500 a bottle, TWENTY-FIVE TIMES more than Blankiet’s Merlot, Rive Droite.

Having tasted these wines side by side twice this past month, I’d say the Rive Droite is a substantially better made wine.

So as well as being a serious wine producer, 80-year-old Claude Blankiet turns out to be a serious Mythbuster!

How does Blankiet make such phenomenal wine?

For starters, Claude’s estate vineyard crew makes 30 passes through the vineyard during harvest period, selectively picking blocks as they ripen and each of these blocks is fermented separately.

By comparison, many winemakers make one, or two, passes through their vineyard to bring in the majority of grapes at once, but when they do, there is no uniformity among the fruit.

And then there are the optical sorters that Claude purchased to improve grape selection. He bought two and placed them in sequential mode; according to Claude, the eight infrared cameras on the first sorter kick out berries that have not been pollinated and which are filled with malic acid, which adds bitterness to wine; the second sorter uses infrared cameras to remove overripe fruit, whose sugar content would increase alcohol and add undesirable, port-like notes to the finished wine.

This double-hurdle, optical sorting that Blankiet’s grapes must jump gives Claude’s wines a head start over many French wine producers.

Julian pours for the first tasting

Winery host and director of hospitality, Julian Christian, prepares most comparative tastings.


Graeme MacDonald

Another reason Blankiet wines are such winners: The resident winemaker is Graeme MacDonald, a fourth-generation, Napa Valley, grape-grower, who also makes a compelling wine under his own label, MacDonald.

Below are my notes from two comparative tastings at Blankiet.

At both tastings, the Blankiet Merlot (Rive Droite) and Blankiet Cabs, Proprietary Red and Mythicvs,  shamed the French wines.

The comparative tastings at Blankiet are created around classic Bordeaux properties:

The $750, “Right Bank tasting” of Merlot-predominant wines include:

  • Petrus
  • Cheval Blanc
  • Ausone
  • Lafleur
  • Masseto (A “Super Tuscan, 100% Merlot, produced by Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, called the Petrus of Italy.”)
  • One or two recent vintages of Blanket Rive Droite

The $500 “Left Bank tasting” of Cabernet-based wines include:

  • Lafite
  • Margaux
  • Haut Brion
  • Mouton Rothschild
  • A recent vintage of Blankiet Proprietary Red
  • A recent vintage of Blankiet Mythicvs

Right Bank Wines, First Tasting

Cabernets in the tasting

2018 Petrus

2018 was a good year in Pomerol and, if anything, the extra year of age could have given Petrus an edge over the younger Blankiet Rive-Droite. But even with the handicap, Blankiet beat it hands down.

The Petrus exhibited fresh baked fruit aromas on the nose and a hint of bacon. And these flavor notes persisted throughout the swallow. Nicely done. 98 points.


2019 Cheval Blanc

This wine, half-Merlot, half-Cabernet, is often considered one of the world’s great reds. The average price you’d pay online right now in the US is $900 a bottle. The wine has a perceptible, fermented-fruit aroma on the nose, almost moving into the umami range. A sort of soy sauce scent on taking a deep whiff. 96 points.

2019 Lafleur

This Merlot has a lovely, bright, fruited nose with complete follow-through… there is an exceptional hit of bright, ripe red fruit on the initial attack. Loved the middle palate and end notes, which linger. A bottle of this would set you back $2,000 today. Substantially more than a $250 bottle of Rive-Droite, which is the superior wine of the two. 99 points.

Rive Droit

2019 Rive Droite

This 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc wine is a showstopper. The nose closely resembles that of the 2019 Lafleur, but that’s where all similarity ends.

My tasting note for this wine has more exclamation marks than a Tom Wolfe novel. I scored the wine 102 points because it belongs on a pedestal in the Pantheon of Great Wines. It is like Petrus, only better; like Petrus on steroids. It has more definition, more length, more puissance, more elegance, and more finesse than Petrus. 102 points.

There is NO question in my mind after two tastings, or in the mind of the guests with whom I tasted – everyone was unanimous in each tasting – the 300-case, limited production, Blankiet Rive-Droite Merlot – is the David of Merlot, capable of slaying the Goliath of Merlot, Petrus. It’s the stuff you read about in Bible stories and in wine columns.

Lucio Della Gasperina

One of the guests at both tastings was Lucio Della Gasperina, a local grapegrower and winemaker, and friend.

Left Bank Wines, First Tasting

Chateau Margaux

2019 Margaux

Claude opened a bottle of this venerated wine to let guests taste it beside his best Cabernet effort, Mythicvs.

The disappointment was palpable. The Margaux is a solid citizen but not in the league of Mythicvs.

A bottle of Margaux costs $1,000. A bottle of 2021 Mythicvs on release is likely to be $350. Your honor, I rest my case which is the better value and also the better wine. The Margaux – 95 points.


2021 Mythicvs

Claude thinks this wine, which will be released in March 2024, will start to strut its stuff in four years and then hold its juicy, balanced, finessed, elegance for 20 or 30 more years. I would never be able to wait this long to swallow this ripe, red manna.

On the nose, there is so much ripe red fruit that it is fair to say there is a mouthfulof fruit on the nose! On the palate, there is cassis, ripe blue fruit, ripe red fruit, hints of tabac. This is poetry in your mouth.

For the uninitiated, regardless of how it is spelled, with that curious “V” instead of an “U,” it is pronounced as though it were spelled MYTH-EH-CUS. There are only about 175 cases made annually. 102 points.

For the record:

Mythicvs and Rive Droite are the two best wines I tasted in all of 2023. Nothing else comes close to their purity, finesse, elegance or balance. Not from any country, or wine region, whose wines I’ve tasted this year.

Second comparative tasting at Blankiet

Just to quell any argument that we may have tasted from flawed bottles at the first Judgment of Paris 2.0 comparative tasting, I accepted Claude’s offer to return for a similar tasting with wines poured from bottles not poured at the earlier tasting.

Again, the results were the same; the Blankiet Merlot-dominant and Cab-dominant wines crushed the French equivalents. I’ll give tasting notes in a moment for die-hard wine geeks, but I want to add a caveat to put the experience into context:

Bordeaux wines are meant to be aged 20- 30- even 40-years before they strut their complexity. It is also known that after several years, most Bordeaux wines go into a long, deep, brooding period where flavors and aromatics not only pale – they can go completely rogue and disappear.

So, an argument can be made that it is unfair to compare young Napa Valley wines with young Bordeaux wines – but the French wines chosen for these comparative tastings are of pre-shut-down age and if you’re spending $1,000 to $6,500 for a bottle of grape juice, it’s fair to assume the wine will be better than a $250 Merlot from Napa Valley. But we couldn’t find one First Growth Bordeaux wine that was.

Two other notes regarding the tastings:

Julian pours wine for the second tasting

The indefatigable host of your visit will likely be Julian Christian, a certified sommelier, a bon vivant, a raconteur of tales and a most affable host. Tell him that napaman sent you and he may just give you an extra tipple of some exotic wine… and if you’re palate’s on spec… you’ll most likely ask for more Rive Droite than Petrus!

Dustin Mowe

On our second tasting, we were joined by someone who touches the lives of more than 500 wineries in Napa Valley – Dustin Mowe is President and CEO of Portocork America. He’s the guy who puts clean, TCA-free, pedigreed Portuguese corks in so many wines bottled here. And he has a highly elevated palate, having been invited to taste at every significant winery.

“No other winery in Napa Valley offers a comparative tasting with international wines,” says Dustin. “Nor could they and hope to win. Claude has learned how to make wines that have more finesse, more elegance and more purity than the best wines of France.”

Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And now, if you’re still with us… on to the second tasting.

Right Bank Wines, Second Tasting


2016 Petrus

Claude bought this $4500 bottle from a respected merchant. The wine, 100% Merlot, exhibits roses and oil on the nose. Rather tight and short on the swallow. No finish. No polish. Bit of charcoal, maybe ash, if you can call this a finish.

I’d be plenty disappointed if I’d paid $4,500 for this bottle. 92 points.


2019 Cheval Blanc

Bright fruit on the nose resembling freshly cut flowers. Lovely fruited notes on the palate, ends with a bit of smoke, tar. Quite complex, really. 97 points.


2019 Ausone

The presence of so much Cabernet Franc in this wine (65%) is evident in the sniff n’ swallow; very focused, very young, lots of pepper and Turkish spices. 95 points.


2019 Lafleur

A blend of nearly 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this wine sports a nose of decaying irises, but the palate brightens considerably, offering a crescendo of fruit flavors. A lively, complex wine. 98 points.


2019 Masseto

So here we go, the 100% Merlot, Italian wannabe Petrus. Same nose as the Cheval Blanc if you sniff them blind, though the Masseto is a bit leaner on the nose. The wine is decent, just not evolved, elegant or gripping in any sensual way. 92 points.

Rive Droit

2019 Rive Droite

On the nose, in the same ballpark as Cheval Blanc and Masseto, but there all similarity ends. This wine is like a Tesla Plaid, capable of leaping out ahead of everyone else, and leaving them all in a distant, far-away, second place.

The Tesla Plaid actually gives you a bruised neck if you launch the car from a dead start; Rive Droite Plaid gives the drinker a sore forehead – what you get from slapping your forehead so many times as you repeat, “How can anything taste this good?”

The wine is sensual, alluring, capable of making you beg for an allocation. 100 points.

Left Bank Wines, Second Tasting


2018 Haut Brion

This $700 bottle, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Cabernet Franc, is warm, inviting friendly. But again, there is a hint of decaying lilies on the nose and the palate is pretty tight. 93 points.


2019 Lafite Rothschild

Warm and hints of jam-like fruit on the nose, with a cascade of fruit flavors on the palate. Well balanced. Pretty finish. 94 points.

Chateau Margaux

2019 Margaux

An unfocused nose, a bit ”smudge-y,” my tasting notes read.

A true classic Bordeaux wine, 20 or 30 years before it ever reaches puberty. Based on its eventual, likely ethereal pleasure, score it 97 points.


2016 Mouton Rothschild

A major disappointment around the table. Off-aromas of soiled clothes. A hint of brett (brettanomyces -- short form is Brett – is a type of yeast often found in wineries, which has the potential to cause spoilage in wine through the production of volatile phenol compounds). Feh. Hints of straw and barn with a short finish. Not what you want in a $900 bottle of wine. 91 points


2018 Blanket Proprietary Red

A blend of 85% Cabernet, 15% Merlot. Putting you nose in a glass of this wine is like putting you head in front of a large room fan that is blowing fresh fruit in your face. There is a purity to the aromatics and to the palate that have been absent in everything we’ve tasted from the Left Bank so far. The finish lasts a full minute. 100 points.


2019 Mythicvs

This wine has the same fresh fruit aromatics as the Proprietary Red above, though maybe even prettier. Even though there is no Merlot in this wine, it has a suppleness, a slipperiness, a sensuality that surpasses even the Proprietary Red. “This wine has it all,” says Dustin Mowe. “Power, finesse and length. This wine is literally off the charts. You never taste this kind of purity in the young wines of France. Not ever.” (For the record: His company puts the corks in most of them.) 102 points.

If you have questions regarding Blankiet’s comparative Bordeaux tastings, contact winery host, Julian, via email:

[email protected]

Go here to learn more about visiting Blankiet:

Go here to directly sign up for a comparative tasting:


January 14, 2023

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November 21, 2020

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December 30, 2019

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