Judgement of Paris

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Before 1976, the Judgement of Paris was a story from Greek mythology. However, the term has a new meaning since that year, when two California wines triumphed against best Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind tasting held in Paris.

Image: Judgement of Paris, wine-tasting event of 1976 © Gary Myatt 2012
Image: Judgement of Paris, wine-tasting event of 1976 © Gary Myatt 2012. From left to right: Raymond Oliver (uncovering the bottle of Chateau Montelena), Sir Peter Michael (not at the tasting but the owner of The Vineyard at Stockcross which commissioned Gary Myatt’s 2012 mural ‘After the Upset’), Patricia Gallagher, Pierre Tari, Michel Dovaz, a waiter, Pierre Brejoux, Odette Khan, Steven Spurrier (foreground), Christian Vannequé, Aubert de Villaine, Claude Dubois-Millot, Jean-Claude Vrinat and George Taber (with a copy of Time under his arm)

The Paris wine tasting of 1976, commonly referred to as the ‘Judgement of Paris’ in the wine world, was a wine competition organised by Steven Spurrier, then a young wine merchant in Paris, on 24 May 1976 with the intention to promote the expansion of wine production in the new world.

He gathered 11 judges (of which nine were French wine professionals) for a blind tasting of two groups of wines: one consisted of six Chardonnays from California and four top-quality Burgundies; the other included six California Cabernet Sauvignons and four red wines from reputable Bordeaux chateaux.

Image: Steven Spurrier (sixth from left) asked his wife Bella to take photos of the tasting – the only ones to record the famous event
Image: Steven Spurrier (sixth from left) asked his wife Bella to take photos of the tasting – the only ones to record the famous event

The judges were asked to give each wine a mark out of 20 points. Then each wine was given an overall mark by averaging the sum of the individual marks of the nine French judges.

To everyone’s surprise, Chateau Montelena 1973 and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, both from California, were ranked as the best white and red in each group, although French wines were generally considered as the most prestigious in the world at that time.

Steven Spurrier (middle) at the Judgement of Paris
Image: Steven Spurrier (middle) at the Judgement of Paris

Nowadays, the 1976 Judgement of Paris is described as the ‘tasting that changed the world’, for it put the then-emerging California wines on the world map of wine, and helped to establish its role of a major player in the wine industry.

A handful of 1973 vintage Napa wines tasted in the 1976 Paris tasting were picked out by the Smithsonian Institution as one of the 101 items that ‘made America’. The event has also been made into a Hollywood film, Bottle Shock, starring late Alan Rickman as Spurrier, and is the subject of numerous books.

The results of the 1976 tasting:

White wines:
United States – Chateau Montelena 1973
France – Meursault Charmes Roulot 1973
United States – Chalone Vineyard 1974
United States – Spring Mountain Vineyard 1973
France – Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin 1973
United States – Freemark Abbey Winery 1972
France – Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 1973
France – Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive 1972
United States – Veedercrest Vineyards 1972
United States – David Bruce Winery 1973

Red wines:
United States – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973
France – Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970
France – Château Haut-Brion 1970
France – Château Montrose 1970
France – Château Leoville Las Cases 1971
United States – Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971
United States – Mayacamas Vineyards 1971
United States – Clos Du Val Winery 1972
United States – Heitz Wine Cellars ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ 1970
United States – Freemark Abbey Winery 1967

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