Welcome back to the blog; I'm so glad you're here! Today (being May 24th), is a day that goes down in history for the United States...at least in terms of wine!
Why you ask? It was the day of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a wine competition organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant described as being a champion of French wine.
Photo courtesy of bridevalleyvineyard.com
The Judgement of Paris, as it would come to be known, began as a mere publicity stunt for Spurrier, who owned a wine shop in Paris. He was doing what he could to increase revenues in a world before hashtags, tweets, and re-shares were a thing. Spurrier sold only French wine and devised the tasting to show that the wines in his shop were of utmost quality.
Suffice it to say, Spurrier, advised by his American Associate Patricia Gallager, did end up "going viral" by staging this blind tasting, though not exactly in the way he had envisioned. He invited 9 of the most respected names in French gastronomy to blind-taste two comparisons: one of top-quality Chardonnays, and another of red wines (Bordeaux from France and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.) Among the nine judges were sommeliers from the most famous restaurants in Paris, heads of highly regarded vineyards, and Odette Kahn, the editor of The French Wine Review.
Photo courtesy of time.com
It was unheard of at the time to pit the finest wines in France against these unknown and unregulated bottles from the states. In fact, only one reporter bothered to show up (and only as a personal favor to Steven and Patricia.) This reporter was George Taber, a correspondent for Time magazine in Paris, who was quoted saying the event would be a "nonstory" since "obviously the French wines were going to win." Not to give away the ending here, but Taber ended up publishing the biggest story of his career when the California wines (both white and red) scored higher than their French competitors (gasp!)
Photo courtesy of vintus.com
The results revolutionized the wine world. As Taber stated so eloquently, "It turned out to be the most important event, because it broke the myth that only in France could you make great wine. It opened the door for this phenomenon today of the globalization of wine."
So what are these California wines that paved the way for winemakers across the globe and made room for new players to pull up a seat at the table? Well, first, let's talk about the method used for scoring...
Each judge blind tasted 10 red wines and 10 white wines (in each category, 6 wines were from the US and 4 from France) and scored each on a scale of 1-20, 20 being the best. No specific point metrics were provided; each judge was free to assign rankings however they wanted to and according to their own set of criteria.
In the end, the 1973 Chateau Montelena scored the highest in the Chardonnay category with a cumulative score of 132, and the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars took the reds with a 127.5. Both bottles live on an infamy at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Photo courtesy of time.com
Though perhaps an unintended repercussion, the event resulted in a surge of new vineyards not only around the United States, but around the world. For the first time, the winemakers of the world were encouraged to share their creations, passions, and techniques in a way that wasn't really possible before, and for that, we can all be truly grateful.
And what did Jim Barrett, part owner of Chateau Montelena, tell Taber when asked to provide a statement for the paper? "Not bad for kids from the sticks."
We tip our caps to you, Jim, and we couldn't agree more...not bad at all!
Photo courtesy of academicwino.com
Want to know more about the Judgement of Paris? Check out Bottle Shock, a feature film that debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, or Somm III, a documentary which centers on two modern-day tastings reminiscent of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Not to mention, a brand new Documentary titled "The Judgement of Paris" is in post-production and expected to hit the screens this summer. Directed by Jason Wise, this film dives into the event as told by those who experienced it first-hand, including voices rarely heard from before!
Thanks for joining me, Corkers! Don't forget to subscribe to my email list here, and follow me on Instagram @thecandidcork, where I will be sampling a 2018 Cheateau Montelena Chardonnay this Wednesday, May 26th for Wine of the Week! Be there or be square!
Until next time...