An anniversary: The Judgment of Paris


This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris where California wineries bested some of Frances most acclaimed wines in a head to head using French sommeliers and chefs. It is a fascinating story. 
The Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized in Paris in 1976 by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier. He had opened a wine shop in Paris to sell French wines and to run a wine school. He struggled in the early months. One of his employees was a young American woman named Patricia Gallagher. She had a great palate and was very knowledgeable about California wines, which in those days, were regarded as MUCH inferior to the great French Chateaux. Spurrier was impressed with the wines she touted, and was looking for an angle to promote his new shop. So he dreamed up this competition where the best of California reds and whites would be pitted against some of the most famous First Growths in France. 
Since he realized there would be no street cred garnered by the tasting unless the judges were the best of the French cognoscenti he began the planning for his project which would tap some of the countrys foremost wine authorities. In most cases the French wine community, at that point, did not even recognize that the Napa Valley existed. He and Patricia did their homework in the summer of 1975 by visiting a number of then tiny, cutting edge producers in California.

Their intent was to conduct the tasting during the summer of 1976, incidentally the bicentennial of the Revolutionary War when America gained its independence from the British. 
The California whites selected were from Chateau Montelena, Chalone, Spring Mountain, Freemark Abbey, Veedercrest and David Bruce. The white Burgundies were from Meursault Charmes Roulot, Beaune Clos de Mouches Joseph Drouhin, Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon and Pulignny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Lefalaive, all rock stars of their era. 

The California reds were from Stags Leap, Ridge, Heintz, Clos Du Val, Mayacamas and Freemark Abbey. The French reds were from Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Leoville Las Cases. 
The actual event took place on May 24 and to the amazement [and horror] of the judges, Stags Leap took the top red score and best 4 top ranked Bordeaux and Chateau Montelena the top white award beating all the French white burgundies. The rest of the California vintages showed very well. The entire story is dramatized in the movie, Bottle Shock. For those interested in more details, it might be a great movie to rent one quiet evening soon.
While Spurrier had invited many media, the only journalist to show up was Paul Tabor, then a correspondent with Time Magazine. While his report only claimed 4 paragraphs in the magazine, the story spread around the globe turned with world wine community on its ear. It served as the launching point for the emerging California industry as well as for other major international wine regions: since California bested the French, perhaps our wines too should be given more credibility. And while there cannot yet be a claim that Ohio could best France, we are producing some lovely, world class vintages here in this era. 
More about that later

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About the author:

Donniella Winchell, Executive Director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association...


Donniella Winchell