The Judgment of Paris and its Revolutionary Implications in the Winemaking Industry

On May 24, 1976, Paris played host to the renowned Paris Wine Tasting, popularly referred to as The Judgment of Paris. The event was planned by Patricia Gallagher, a colleague of the British wine dealer Steven Spurrier.

Motivated to bring Californian wines into the spotlight and create glowing publicity for his school, Steven Spurrier decided to make the tasting event in Paris a historical one. He selected the four finest white wines from Burgundy and the four best Bordeaux offerings to take on the American wines. To guard against prejudice and preconceived notions, he concealed the labels on the bottles and, at the last minute, announced that it was to be a blind-tasting event.

During the competition, French judges performed two blind taste assessments, one of several best Chardonnays and the other of the best red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California and Bordeaux wines from France). Here are the white and red wines (along with their vintage years and region) that were presented in this revolutionary (Judgment of Paris) wine tasting event:

White Wines

  • Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin (1973-France)
  • Chalone Vineyard (1974-California)
  • Spring Mountain Vineyard (1973-California)
  • Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles (1972-France)
  • Château Montelena (1973-California)
  • Freemark Abbey Winery (1972-California)
  • Veedercrest Vineyards (1972-California)
  • Mersault-Charmes Roulot (1973-France)
  • Bâtard Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive (1972-France)
  • David Bruce Winery (1973-California)

Red Wines

  • Freemark Abbey Winery (1969 California)
  • Clos Du Val Winery (1972 California)
  • Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (1971 California)
  • Château Mouton Rothschild (1970 France)
  • Mayacamus Vineyards (1971 California)
  • Château Haut-Brion (1970 France)
  • Château Léoville Las Cases (1971 France)
  • Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard (1970 California)
  • Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (1973 California)

In the blind tasting, the judges rated every wine “from 20 points.” The assessors could assign grades based on their standards because no predetermined grading structure was given. Subsequently, the individual judges’ wine preferences were ranked based on their assigned grades.

The ten wines, whites first, were served one by one. The tasters then ranked them using a 20-point scale. Their marks were added and divided by nine (the number of judges). All of the judges, other than Spurrier (British) and Gallagher (American), were French.

To everyone’s surprise, and to the dismay of the French, two California wines, a 1973 bottle of Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, each achieved first place.

The results would eventually send a shockwave through the wine world and put American wines on the map. Over the years, this became such an important piece of American wine history that both of the winning bottles were granted a display cabinet at the Smithsonian Institute.

Thirty years after the first competition, Steven Spurrier held another tasting event to retrace the steps of the first Judgment of Paris (often misspelled as The Judgement of Paris), fully expecting again for French wine to take first place. However, Californian wine won yet again.

Judgment of Paris

The judges’ table. Photo by Bella Spurrier.

Average Original Grades: out of 20 points.

RankGradeWine TypeVintageOrigin
1.14.14Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars1973 USA
2.14.09Château Mouton-Rothschild1970 France
3.13.64Château Montrose1970 France
4.13.23Château Haut-Brion1970 France
5.12.14Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello1971 USA
6.11.18Château Leoville Las Cases1971 France
7.10.36Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard1970 USA
8.10.14Clos Du Val Winery1972 USA
9.9.95Mayacamas Vineyards1971 USA
10.9.45Freemark Abbey Winery1969 USA

The Stags Leap District AVA is an American Viticultural Area within the Napa Valley AVA, located 6 miles (9.7 kilometres) north of Napa Valley, California. This district was the first designated as an AVA due to its distinct terroir characteristics. The area’s soil is composed of volcanic soil deposits left behind from the erosion of the Vaca Mountains, as well as loam and clay sediments from the Napa River.

From Grass to Grace. The Impact of The Judgment of Paris

After the competition’s success, wineries and their owners recorded groundbreaking success. Stag’s owner, Warren Winiarski, was able to sell his property and winery for $185 million in 2007. Mike Grgich, the winemaker for Chateau Montelena later established Grgich Hills, a very successful and popular Napa Valley winery.

The 1976 tasting was a milestone event that planted California wines on the map of global fine wine and transformed the wine business in Napa Valley. Before the tasting, there were only about 67 wineries in Napa Valley, but today there are about 400.

A Wine Lover’s Guide to Understanding History

George Taber: The Reporter that Twisted the Hand of Fate

Before the Judgment of Paris, Steven Spurrier invited many reporters to record this historic event’s details. Only one reporter accepted the invitation, George M. Taber from Time Magazine. Why waste time attending a predictable event? In hindsight, it turned out to be an unpredictable and game-changing event.

If Taber had not been present at the event or if Spurrier’s wife Bella had not captured photos of the tasting, there might have been no record of the Judgment of Paris. Nonetheless, Taber chronicled the event’s experiences to the very last detail and even wrote a book, The Judgment of Paris.

If Taber had not been present at the event or if Spurrier’s wife Bella had not captured the single existing photo of the tasting, there might have been no record of Judgment of Paris. Nonetheless, Taber chronicled the event’s experiences to the very last detail and even wrote a book, “The Judgment of Paris.”

Top 10 Values of 2021 Wine Spectator

The editors of Wine Spectator compiled a list of the best wines for 2021 for $40 and below and rated  +90 points or higher. Contributors to this collection include Tim Fish, Kim Marcus, Alison Napjus, Bruce Sanderson, and MaryAnn Worobiec.

In this 2021 ranking, Stag’s Leap wine was again ranked among the top ten wines.

Description of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars makes the greatest Chardonnay.

This elegant Chardonnay has pleasing citrus, orange blossom and apricot aromas. The wine is medium to full-bodied in weight, with a hint of minerality that keeps the wine refreshing.

Cabernet Sauvignon delivers expressive aromas of mocha, chocolate-covered cherry, crushed raspberry, olive and thyme. The palate has a pleasing bramble berry note that leads to a long finish with a hint of oak spice. Rich and flavorful, the wine is well-structured with fine-grained tannins.

For the past several years, he has collaborated with Karia, the ancient Greek term for “graceful,” to bring winemaking nearer to the field. He skips malolactic fermentation with grapes from the colder Coombsville and Carneros appellations, retaining the naturally occurring acidity and making balanced wines with silky acidity. Additionally, he grows fresh wood from Oak Knoll and Atlas Peak, where he thinks the Chardonnay fruit is richer for barrel fermentation and ageing.

The Judgment of Paris had revolutionary implications for the winemaking industry worldwide. It introduced Californian wines to the world stage and offered a chance for the French wines to review their winemaking procedures.

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Judgment of Paris- California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine To Cork or Not To Cork- To Cork or Not To Cork