The 1976 Paris Tasting
The 1976 Paris tasting, or Judgment of Paris as it became known, had a revolutionary effect, “like a vinous shot heard round the world.”
– Barbara Ensrud, Wall Street Journal
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 Napa Valley wines age as gracefully as the beautiful and time-honored wines of Bordeaux
The Wines of the 1976 Tasting
Following is a list of wines in the 1976 tasting, ranked by score.
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley (127.5)
- Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (126)
- Château Haut-Brion 1970 (125.5)
- Château Montrose 1970 (122)
- Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ’Mountain Range’ (Montebello) 1971, Santa Cruz Mts. (105.5)
- Château Leoville-Las-Cases 1971 (97)
- Mayacamas 1971, Napa Valley/Mayacamas Mts. (89.5)
- Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley (87.5)
- Heitz Cellars ’Martha’s Vineyard’ 1970, Napa Valley/St. Helena (84.5)
- Freemark Abbey 1969, Napa Valley/Rutherford (78)
- Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley/Calistoga (132)
- Meursault-Charmes 1973, Roulot (126.5)
- Chalone Vineyards 1974, Monterey County/Soledad (121)
- Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley/Spring Mountain (104)
- Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973, Joseph Drouhin (101)
- Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley/Rutherford (100)
- Batard-Montrachet 1973, Ramonet-Prudhon (94)
- Puligny-Montrachet 1972, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive (89)
- Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley/Mt. Veeder (88)
- David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mts. (42)