May 24th marks the anniversary of the 1976 Paris Tasting also known as The Judgment of Paris. In 1976, as America was celebrating its Bicentennial, English wine merchant Steven Spurrier founder of l’Academie du Vin, France’s first non-government wine education program, organized a blind wine tasting event. Eight French men and one French woman taster, all with distinguished wine credentials, were selected as judges for the panel. Assembled at Paris’ Intercontinental Hotel, California Cabernet Sauvignons were pitted against top red Grand Cru wines from Bordeaux, and California Chardonnays competed against the notable whites from Burgundy.
The results of the tasting were astounding. To the judge’s chagrin, the wines selected in first place were shockingly California’s Stags Leap 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon produced by winemaker Warren Winiarski and 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay produced by winemaker Mike Grgich. When the results were announced it was “like a vinous shot heard round the world.” noted Barbara Ensrud of the Wall Street Journal. Until this moment in time, French wines were unrivaled, their superiority had been sealed. California had been regarded for primarily serving plonk productions. To suddenly have fine California wine, produced by pioneers who took their craft to a new level, take the center stage in France and command first place was overwhelming. Ronn Wiegand later in an article captured the implications of The Judgment of Paris: “The French monopoly [on fine wines] was crushed permanently.” The quality of French wine was in no means tarnished by the verdict, its reputation of course remained intact . The event however put California wine on the map- and that’s something we can raise a glass to.
SFMOMA dedicated an exhibit to the historic event: How Wine Became Modern. For expanded details and interesting reading visit: