The Judgement of Paris - Paris Tasting of 1976

Panel of French judges during the revolutionary Judgement of Paris. Image courtesy of npr.org

Panel of French judges during the revolutionary Judgement of Paris. Image courtesy of npr.org

Sunday School – History Lessons

The Judgment of Paris – Paris Tasting of 1976

A Taste – the Short Version

California wines were pitted against French wines in the 1970s in a blind tasting, judged by some of the most respected names in the food and wine industry. In an unprecedented outcome, California wines scored better than the French in both white and red categories. This revolutionary event changed the way that people came to view both California wines and other wine regions around the world.

The Full Pour – the Long Version

Attack – the Build Up

Stephen Spurrier, an English wine merchant in Paris, had heard about the excitement of the California wine industry and thought that it would be clever idea to pit California wines against French wines in an effort to boost business. He contacted some of the most respected names in the French food and wine scene, from sommeliers to head of vineyards, and Odette Kahn of the French Wine Review, to act as the judges for the event.

California wines were up against some of the most illustrious vineyards of France, from Burgundy Grand Crus to Bordeaux first growths. This event was seen as a “non-event,” the French were expected to win, once again establishing their dominance and superiority in the wine industry. It was such a non- event that only one reporter from the press bothered to show –George M. Taber of TIME.

Evolution –What Happened

On May 24, 1976 nine French judges sniffed, swirled, sipped, spat and score each wine out of 20 points. As the sole journalist at the event, Taber had almost unregulated access, he had the list of wines and the order in which they were to be poured. Taber watched and listened as the judges made their comments about the wines.

The Judgement of Paris has been referred as the “Popping of the Cork Heard Around the World.” The California wines beat the French contenders in both the red and white category: 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Chateau Montelena bested some of the famous crus in Burgundy, while Stag’s Leap Cellars outshined the likes of Chateau Mouton- Rothschild and Chateau Haut Brion.

Finish – Impact

Considered as a pivotal point in wine history this is quintessentially the “American Dream,” a narrative of underdogs climbing their way to victory. Emphasis was placed on developing different regions of the “New World,” exploration of places: South America, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington. The idea that prestige wines could be found outside of classical wine growing regions led to the investment in exploring and developing different regions and grapes.

Many journalists and wine enthusiasts would argue that the real winners of the revolutionary Judgement of Paris are the wine lovers. The development of different methods for making and preserving wine (screw caps) only allows for the discovery of new regions, wines, flavors, and tastes.

Fun Facts (Source: Wine Enthusiast): 

  • The 1976 Time magazine article on the winning California wines said they were “rather expensive ($6 plus).”
  • Although Chateau Montelena Winery is in the Napa Valley, most grapes for the winning Chardonnay came from neighboring Sonoma County (Russian River and Alexander valleys).
  • At the Paris Tasting of the Chardonnays, two other California wineries beat out French competitors: the 1974 Chalone Vineyard finished third and the 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard was fourth.
  • The blend for the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon included—surprise—1% Pinot Noir.
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For a fun, kinda historical, watch...catch Alan Rickman as Stephen Spurrier in the movie Bottle Shock

Join us for our very own "Judgement on Third Street"...we took on France in 1976, we're taking on the world in 2017. Tasters will be the judges!