Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
The Paris tasting: How S.L.V changed the wine world
On May 24, 1976, a wine tasting took place in Paris that changed the world’s view of California wines forever.
The tasting was the brainchild of Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant who owned an innovative wine shop and adjacent wine school in the center of Paris. Located near the offices of IBM, many of the students at L’Academie du Vin were Americans who worked in France and were anxious to learn more about wine. Spurrier was intrigued by some of the California Cabernets and Chardonnays his students brought by the shop. Curious to see how these newcomers would fare against French wines made from the same kind of grapes, he arranged a blind wine tasting in celebration of the American Bicentennial activities in Paris. The French tasters chosen for the event had impeccable professional credentials. The French wines were First and other classified growth red Bordeaux and white Burgundies. They were matched against California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The tasting was blind, with the identities of the wines concealed and the labels revealed only after the jury of nine tasters had voted its order of preference.
The unthinkable happened. The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon – the first vintage produced with grapes from vines a mere three years old – was judged the best. The Cabernet had bested four top-ranked Bordeaux, including first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from California bested its French counterparts.
TIME magazine’s Paris correspondent was on hand for the tasting and broke the news. Less might have been made of the whole thing had the French tasters been other than top-notch – and had they been less disdainful toward the California selections as they tasted. The French tasters were stunned when the names of the wines were revealed. The impact of the tasting for California wines was immediate, like a vinous “shot heard round the world,” as one observer put it, catapulting California wines onto the world stage by illustrating that exceptional wines could come from somewhere other than traditionally sacrosanct French terroir.
The 1976 Paris tasting has been duplicated over the years, often with similar results. One of those tastings took place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1996 to mark the 20th anniversary of the event. At that time bottles of the first-place wines—the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay—were placed into the Museum’s collections.
Today, the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars continue to command the respect and admiration of wine aficionados the world over, proving beyond a doubt that the Paris victory was no accident and that our wines age as gracefully as the beautiful and time-honored wines of Bordeaux