Category Archives: The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris Revisited

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judgement-dinnerBack in May, Bristol Wine Blog remembered a famous event in the wine world that had occurred 40 years earlier, in 1976: the tasting that has come to be known as the ‘Judgement of Paris’.   A young Englishman, Steven Spurrier, living and working in Paris, invited a group of renowned French judges – restauranteurs, producers and wine writers – to compare (blind) a selection of top Californian wines – Chardonnays and Cabernets – with leading Burgundies and Bordeaux. The expectation was that the French wines would win easily.  Only it didn’t work out like that!

So, what would happen if a similar tasting took place today?  Great Western Wines in conjunction with Bath’s Allium Restaurant decided to find out.  They organised an anniversary dinner including recent vintages of the 2 winning wines, the most prestigious of the losers and, to make things interesting, a couple of other ‘mystery’ wines.  With the chance to taste such potential delights, my wife and I were quick to book tickets.

The dinner, good though it was, was always going to play second fiddle to the tastings which, mimicking the original event, comprised a group of  Chardonnays and another of Cabernet Sauvignons (or Cabernet dominated blends), all, of course, tasted blind.  Everyone present was invited to vote for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd in each category and the results were added up.   

Among the Chardonnays, the Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru ‘Les Pucelles’ (£210) gained revenge on the Chateau Montelena Napa Chardonnay (£43.50) this time, but both were beaten by the 3rd wine, Koo Yong’s Faultline Chardonnay from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula (£29.50).

The story was the same with the Cabernet Sauvignons.   Stag’s Leap SLV (£98) from California failed to repeat its earlier success.  Indeed, it, too, finished 3rd in its group behind the winning Château Mouton-Rothschild (£400) and the Cyril Henschke from Eden Valley in South Australia (£62).

A wonderful evening and a rare opportunity to taste some great wines – several at prices that I wouldn’t normally think of spending on a single bottle.  But, perhaps, more importantly, the chance to be part of an event commemorating a tasting that changed the face of the wine world for ever.

(The prices shown are those quoted by Great Western Wine.  For more information, email them at wine@greatwesternwine.co.uk).

“The Judgement of Paris”

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40 years ago this week, a tasting organised in Paris by a young Englishman, Steven Spurrier, stunned the wine world. He invited a group of renowned French judges – restauranteurs, producers and wine writers – to compare (blind) a selection of top Californian wines – Chardonnays and Cabernets – with leading Burgundies and Bordeaux. Of course, the French wines were certain to come out on top; it was really only a question of how close the best of the Californian wines could score.

Only it didn’t work out like that at all! From the 10 Chardonnays, the winner was Chateau Montelena from vineyards in Napa and Calistoga with 2 further Californian bottles – from Chalone Vineyards and Spring Mountain – 3rd and 4th. Just Domaine Roulot’s Meursault Premier Cru in 2nd place prevented a clean sweep in this category.

Surely the French would do better with their reds with star names Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion among their representatives? Actually, no! Those 2 managed 2nd and 3rd places but the winner, yet again, was from California: Stag’s Leap’s Cabernet from Napa Valley.

Judgement of Paris montage

(picture: thanks to Wikipedia)

Amazingly, the only journalist present (Spurrier was, at the time, a wine shop and wine school owner – his illustrious writing career came later) was George Taber from Time Magazine. He submitted a lengthy article only to see it edited down to just 4 paragraphs. But that was enough, especially as it appeared under the eye-catching title “The Judgement of Paris”. As soon as the magazine hit the newsstands, demand for Montelena and Stag’s Leap went crazy while some of the defeated French producers accused Spurrier of rigging the results (he hadn’t).

But the tasting didn’t just benefit the winning producers; Robert Mondavi commented later that ‘it put California on the world map of great wine-producing regions’. And I’d suggest that also it gave credibility to quality-minded producers in other parts of the world who, up to that time, hadn’t been taken seriously by wine lovers who were, by and large, traditionally Francophile.

I’ve tried France v the Rest of the World tastings on a number of occasions, generally with similar unpredictable results to The Judgement of Paris. It’s always great fun. Why not try it yourself with some friends?