Little Bits of History

May 24

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 24, 2017

1976: The Judgment of Paris takes place. Also known as the Paris Wine Tasting, it was organized by Steven Spurrier. He began his illustrious career at London’s oldest wine merchant, Christopher and Co. in 1964. He moved to Paris in 1970 and purchased an existing wine store and opened for business with a selling point being people could taste the wine before they purchased it. This led to his being recognized as an expert in his field and he opened the L’Academie du Vin in 1973 as France’s first private wine school. He sponsored the event held on this day where shocking results rocked the world of wine.

Wine competitions have the goal of comparing wines by trained experts. They can either judge vintages, categories, or brands of wine. They are given samples of wines without knowing from what label they were poured and then rate the beverage. On this day, they were rating both red and white wines. Spurrier was one of the eleven judges and he was joined by nine French judges and one American. The nine men and two women were given samples of California Cabernet Sauvignon wines and Bordeaux and also judged California Chardonnays against France’s.

The blind tests were performed with the highest rating given as 20 points. Each expert was to use their judgment and no framework was given. Personal criteria of experts was honored. Each judge ranked the wines personally and then an aggregate score was obtained by averaging the numbers. There were a total of ten reds (6 California and 4 French) and ten whites (6 California and 4 French). Each judge’s listing was different from the next, but by taking the scores and averaging them out, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 was voted the best red and Chateau Montelena 1973 was voted the best white. Both were American wines. Stag’s Leap was founded in 1970 with their first vintage produced in 1972. Chateau Montelena, another Napa Valley winery, was established much earlier, in 1882.

This upset helped place America’s vintners on the world stage. Spurrier only sold French wines at the time, believing them to be far superior. The California wins in both categories was an upset, in all senses of the word. Controversies abound concerning tastings. Personal criteria used and subjectivity along with the unscientific interpretation bring non-replicable results. It was noted that even the same judges tasting the same wines on a different day would likely rank them in a different way. Regardless of the science, California wines were able to carry the day.

The results of a blind tasting cannot be predicted and will not even be reproduced the next day by the same panel tasting the same wines. – Steven Spurrier

Intellectuals talk about ideas; ordinary people talk about things; but boring people talk about wine! – Fran Lebowitz

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy. I Benjamin Franklin

A sweetheart is a bottle of wine, a wife is a wine bottle. – Charles Baudelaire



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