May 24, 2021
First, thanks to listener and Patron Rafael C. for the podcast topic this
It is the 45th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris: a tasting
of California and French wines, organized but the late Steve Spurrier, that
opened the door for wines from the US and all over the New World to
be recognized for their excellence. We should raise a glass to him,
his partner Patricia Gallagher, and to journalist and author George
Taber, all of whom made this event so very significant.
Here's a quick recap, all of which we cover in the
In 1976, an English wine shop owner, Steven Spurrier, and the
director of his adjacent wine school, Patricia Gallagher, wanted to
introduce members of the French culinary elite to the wines of
California. The goal was to show them the new developments
happening across the world in wine (and to get publicity for Cave
de la Madeleine and the Academie du Vin -- genius marketing!).
Photo: Berry Bros & Rudd Wine
In preparation, Spurrier and Gallagher researched, tasted, and
carefully selected 6 boutique California Chardonnays and 6 boutique
Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. They brought these wines to France
and on May 24, 1976 conducted a three-hour tasting that
(unbeknownst to them) would change the wine world forever.
Nine French judges sat at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris
and sipped 6 California Chardonnays with a group of four high end
white Burgundies (100% Chardonnay). They followed that up with 6
California Cabernet Sauvignons and four of the best Bordeaux from
the Left Bank. The results were as follows:
- 1973 Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley (family owned)
- 1973 Roulot Meursault Charmes, Premier Cru, Bourgogne
- 1974 Chalone Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (owned by
- 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Napa Valley (owned by an
- 1973 Joseph Drouhin Beaune “Clos des Mouches,” Premier Cru
- 1972 Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (owned by Jackson Family
- 1973 Ramonet-Prudhon, Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru,
- 1972 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny- Montrachet, “Les Pucelles”,
Premier Cru, Bourgogne
- 1972 Veedercrest Vineyards, Napa Valley (shut down for 20
years, resurrected in 2005 under a sole proprietor)
- 1972 David Bruce Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains (family
Photo: National Museum of American History --
- 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley (owned by Chateau
- 1970 Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux
- 1970 Château Haut-Brion, Graves, Bordeaux
- 1970 Château Montrose, St-Éstephe, Bordeaux
- 1971 Ridge Vineyards, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains (owned
since 1987 by a Japanese pharmaceutical company)
- 1971 Château-Leoville-Las-Cases, St. Julien, Bordeaux
- 1971 Mayacamas Vineyards, Napa Valley (family owned)
- 1972 Clos du Val, Napa Valley (family owned)
- 1970 Heitz Cellars, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley (investor
- 1969 Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (owned by Jackson Family
Shocking and unexpected though they were, the results helped
land California a seat at the table in the world of serious wine
and paved the way for other regions to show that they were also
capable of making excellent wines.
Photo: Bella Spurrier
The contest was not without objection. According to George Taber’s book (FYI -this is an affiliate link
and I may earn a small commission from your
purchase) the major ones
- The 20-point system was too limiting (but 20 points was
standard at the time, I think any scale would have been
- For each category there were only four French wines to six
California wines, so the odds were statistically in California’s
favor (this is a very valid argument but the purpose of the tasting
was for fun and learning, so we can’t really fault Spurrier for not
- Spurrier didn’t choose the best French vintages (Spurrier
picked French wines he thought would win, this was the best
- The French wines were too young (the tasting has been
replicated and the California wines have aged better than the
- Blind tastings suck – (this is very true but there was no
"gotcha" here. It was just done to remove judgment, not to make
people guess what wine was what Chateau!)
My additional objections:
- It is quite unfair to judge French wine without food. A small
roll for palate cleansing isn’t enough. With a meal, the French
wines would have been different. Food must be at the table for a
- The order of the wines in a tasting matters. Of course a
lighter style wine tried after a heavier one will seem washed out.
I don’t know what the case was here, but the “out of the hat”
system was probably not the best order for the wines.
- We do need to realize that 1976 was a very difficult time for
France. It was still rebuilding after the trauma of two World Wars
in very quick succession and it took years to garner investment and
get the wineries functioning and modernized. This was likely in the
period of transition and that means the wines, made by traditional
methods may have tasted less “clean” in comparison to the wines of
California, which benefitted from cutting edge technology and
scientific know-how, which was part of the culture of the reborn
wine culture there.
That said, we all must raise a glass to Steve Spurrier, Patricia
Gallagher, and George Taber for holding/covering this event, which
improved and globalized wine for the modern times!
cover from Amazon.com
I highly recommend George Taber’s book "Judgment of
Paris" It’s a great read!
PS-- As we discussed in the show, check out my friend Tanisha
Townsend's podcast, "Wine School Dropout" and her site
Girl Meets Glass!
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