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Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Kicks off With Judgment of Paris Recreation

My view of the film Bottle Shock was partially obscured by a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, but it didn't really matter, because there were five wine glasses before me waiting to be filled.

At the kick-off event for the 11th Annual Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair, the intent was to recreate the pivotal "Judgment of Paris," where, in 1976, French judges held a blind tasting of white and red wines from California and Paris to determine which winemakers--the novice Americans or the esteemed French--produced the superior vino. To the shock of pretty much everyone involved, the California wines were deemed superior by the French judges in both the white and red categories.

In Sugar Land, however, the results were different, though the judges weren't experts, but guests at the Museum of Natural Science who were eager to try their hand at picking the best wine of the bunch.

The evening began with champagne and passed hors d'oeuvres, but the main event started when two white wines were poured to pair with the salad course and a dish of poached sole in a mushroom cream sauce. The event description promised "guests will feel as if they've gone back in time," and if the tasting itself didn't really seem dated (save for the dinosaur skeletons rising high above the tables in the main gallery of the museum), the food certainly did.

The first two white wines were Chardonnays--one from California and one from France, naturally--but no one at my table could discern which was which.

The third course of braised beef with potato croquettes was paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon from California and a Bordeaux from France. I will gladly proclaim my love of Bordeaux to all, so I was disappointed that I couldn't discern which wine was the Cab Sav and which the Bordeaux.

Throughout the dinner and tasting, we were treated to delightful music from the Danielle Reich Band, which re-imagined classic American big band and jazz hits in French, and journalist, radio host and author John de Mers, who served as emcee. The true stars of the evening were a pair of people dressed in 18th century French garb (think Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI) who made rounds in the dining area offering people "palate cleansers" (raisins) and "fine wine" (Boone's Farm). I noticed more than one person take the pair up on their offer of Su-Maid raisins and cheap malt liquor.

After the votes were tallied, a hush fell across the room as de Mers paced up front before a French flag and a Californian flag, pontificating on the significance of the original Judgment of Paris. The American bicentennial was brewing, he explained, and national pride was at an all-time high. When American wines beat out French wines in a blind taste test by French experts, United States wine makers finally felt they'd found a place in the national scene.

The tasting last night might have set Americans back a tad, though, as the French Chardonnay was deemed superior in the first round of tastings. America made a strong showing with the red wine though: The Cabernet Sauvignon from California beat out the French Bordeaux. In re-examining my score card, though, I found that I rated both French wines above the California wines. Sorry, brethren.

In all, the event was a fun and very tasty way to kick off the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair, even if the results of the second Judgment of Paris weren't exactly the same. And even if the food and wine hadn't been good, dining among dinosaur skeletons and massive crystals and geodes was a real treat.

Check out the full schedule of Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair events for more great eats throughout the week and weekend.

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Kaitlin Steinberg