Every wine drinker needs to know about the “Judgment of Paris.”
Why? Because it was the day that our California wines actually beat out some of the best French wines in a blind tasting.
Even better — no one expected it.
Forty years ago, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop in Paris, was introduced to California wines. He was surprised at how good they were and wondered if they could stand up to the big preeminent French wines.
So on May 24, 1976, he set up a blind wine tasting in Paris, in conjunction with the Parisian celebration of our Bicentennial.
The finest French wine tasters were chosen as judges for the event. Spurrier chose the best French wines — the ones that are “first growth” and other “classified-growth” – which means they are France’s premiere wines. Specifically, red Bordeaux and white Burgundies (which you know now is Chardonnay) were chosen to be matched against California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays.
And the craziest thing happened. The California wines took first place in both the red and white categories.
And the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won in the white wine category.
What? Even the French judges were aghast and asked for a recount!
But we did it! And it put California on the map as one of the world’s premier winemaking regions.
And while many journalists were invited to the event, George M. Taber, from Time Magazine, was the only one that came. And the piece he wrote for the magazine after the event helped change the way world viewed our wines forever.
Those winning bottles are even on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. (Click here for a full list of the wines that were tasted and their rankings.)
And since we Americans believe in miracles, we participated in rematches throughout the years, including one thirty years later. That time, the same wines were tasted but only the reds, to see how they aged. Well we won again, though in a different order. This time, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello took first place (it came in fifth in 1976). The Stag’s Leap took second.
Taber went on to write a book Judgment of Paris. And then in 2008,Bottle Shock, an independent movie was released in 2008 that retold the story. Though many will argue the movie was a loose interpretation of the actual events, it’s still worth watching.
A supposedly more accurate movie is due out next year that actually features Chateau Montelena’s original winemaker Mike Grigich, who has had his own label for years now. The screenwriter Robert Kamen, who wrote the Karate Kid, and Lethal Weapon III to name a few, is a winemaker in his own right as well.
And while these winning wines sold for around $6.50 back in 1976 (and were considered expensive), they command a premium now.
But you if you want to splurge in honor of the 40th anniversary, you won’t be disappointed.
Big note though: Pay attention to the apostrophe. There is a Stags’ Leap Winery out there. See how the apostrophe is after the “s.” Those are different wines and were not included in the competition.
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2013 ($45), Napa Valley, CA
Citrus, lemon, vibrant minerality on the finish.
Stag’s Leap S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($128), Napa Valley, CA
Full-bodied, layered with flavors of black currant, wild berry and has a silky finish.
Stag’s Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 ($55), Napa Valley, CA
Also has 4% Merlot and 1% Malbec. You’ll get plum, figs and a soft finish.
And if these wines are out of your budget, just raise any glass to our American wines.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.
photo credit: http://blog.ridgewine.com/