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, 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 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 gave every winery a rating “from 20 points.” The assessors were allowed to assign grades based on their own 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 the 20-point scale. Their marks were added and divided by nine (the number of judges). All wine tasters were from France, which means top French Sommeliers decided the winners.

Steven Spurrier’s Impact on the Wine Industry

Two California wines, a 1973 bottle each of Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and Montelena Chardonnay, were granted a display cabinet at the Smithsonian Institute. Thirty years after the first competition, Steven Spurrier held another one, fully expecting 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.

Rank Grade Wine Type Vintage Origin
1. 14.14 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973  USA
2. 14.09 Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970  France
3. 13.64 Château Montrose 1970  France
4. 13.23 Château Haut-Brion 1970  France
5. 12.14 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971  USA
6. 11.18 Château Leoville Las Cases 1971  France
7. 10.36 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard 1970  USA
8. 10.14 Clos Du Val Winery 1972  USA
9. 9.95 Mayacamas Vineyards 1971  USA
10. 9.45 Freemark Abbey Winery 1969  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.

Like many other Napa Valley AVAs, Stags Leap District is famous for its well-known grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. Just at the 1976 Decision of Paris tasting event, the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet out of this region, which would later become an AVA, would triumph over categorized wines to take first place in the red wine category. There are currently close to twenty distinct wineries in the Stags Leap District.

From Grass to Grace

After the competition’s success, wines and their owners recorded groundbreaking success. Later on, Stag’s owner, Warren Winiarski, got his property sold for $185 million in 2007. Mike Grgich 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 and was no longer regarded with condescension. It 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.

Moreover, two decades after the Judgement of Paris, Cabernet Sauvignon, bottles of Château Montelena 1973, and those of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (1973) earned a well-deserved spot in Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

A Wine Lover’s Guide to Understanding History

The Reporter that Twisted the Hand of Fate

Before the event, 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 ben 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.”

The Judgment of Paris

Figure 2: Stag leap origin

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 is an elegant Chardonnay with 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. With grapes from the colder Coombsville and Carneros appellations, he skips malolactic fermentation, 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.

See more resources here.

Want to read more? Try these books!

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

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!