1976 was the year the United States of America celebrated its Bicentennial as an independent republic. However, this year was to become legendary in America, and around the world, for another reason. The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 – commonly known as the Judgement of Paris – is now an event recognised the world over for revolutionising the world of wine and establishing California as one of the top wine producing regions.

This iconic event that pitted the best of France against nouveau Californian wines was the brain child of British wine merchant Steven Spurrier. Having established a French-specialising wine shop in the heart of Paris in 1971, Spurrier and his colleague Patricia Gallagher organised the Paris Wine Tasting five years later. The format was simple enough; a panel of distinguished judges would blind taste red and white wines from both California and France and grade them out of 20 points.

“The Judgement of Paris was a watershed event for the wine world” – Steven Spurrier

The French wines included in the 1976 tasting came from some of the most sought after estates in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Representing Bordeaux were two First Growths, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion, accompanied by Chateau Montrose and Chateau Leoville Las Cases. The whites from Burgundy included Domaine Ramonet-Prudhon’s Grand Cru Batard-Montrachet, and Premier Crus Meursault Charmes Roulot, Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin and Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive.

On the other side were the relatively unheard of (at the time) Californians. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, Clos Du Val Winery, Mayacamas Vineyards and Freemark Abbey Winery were the contenders for the reds. Up against the Burgundies were Chateau Montelena, Chalone Vineyard, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Freemark Abbey Winery, Veedercrest Vineyards and David Bruce Winery.

There was little enthusiasm among the judging panel for the wines across the pond. Journalist George Taber, among others, turned down Spurrier’s initial invitation to the tasting. The California growers themselves were apprehensive about entering such a competition, with Mike Grgich unaware that his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 was included until the results were published (as depicted in the 2008 film, Bottle Shock).

The results? In both the red and white category, it was a resounding success for the Napa Valley contingent. Chateau Montelena came first amongst the Chardonnays, and was one of three Californian wines in the top 5 (Chalone Vineyard and Spring Mountain Vineyard being the other two). For the reds, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars triumphed over both First Growth Bordeaux and Chateau Montrose, with Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello placing fifth.

Taber’s article published after the tasting in Time magazine has been called “the most significant news story ever written about wine.” The news spread like wildfire and the reputation of Napa Valley’s wineries was secured.

The Legacy of 1976

In interviews after the Judgement of Paris, Spurrier highlights that it was “no coincidence” that the first vintage of Opus One – the joint venture between Bordeaux heavyweight Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton-Rothschild, and Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi – was in 1979. Wineries and investors from all over the world have since been flocking to California’s Napa Valley to claim a piece of this prized terroir.

The legacy of the 1976 tasting continues to live on and several ‘Judgements’ have been reproduced over the years. Recently in 2021, the Judgement of Napa was held, paying tribute to the achievements of Steven Spurrier, Patricia Gallagher and George Taber on the 45th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris.

Spurrier’s Paris Wine Tasting in 1976, with direct reference to the Judgement of Paris from Greek mythology which lead to the Trojan War and toppled a dynasty, signalled the end of French superiority in the wine world. There was little to no recognition of Californian wines prior to this event which kickstarted a global revolution and interest in new world wines that continues to this day.

Earlier this month our Buying Director spent a week in Napa Valley visiting a dozen or so wineries who have now opted to release through the Bordeaux Place in the upcoming September Releases. We will be taking a closer look at how the relationship between these two iconic regions are working together today to produce some of the most exciting wines to be found in any corner of the globe. Explore our dedicated US page and more, below.

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