The Judgment of Paris: A Cultural Shift in New World Wine

by Daniel Frigeri

Enter scene: Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a struggling wine shop in Paris. Frantically, Spurrier draws up an ambitious idea to, hopefully, spark some life back into his humble Paris storefront. The idea was outlandish but feasible. Travel to California, pick up a few bottles of the best wine he could find and put them up against some well-known French producers. On May 23rd, 1976, Spurrier organized this blind tasting in Paris with the hopes of some publicity. Never in a million years could he have imagined what would happen next.

The Times in Paris

This event, aptly named “The Judgment of Paris” by George Taber, a journalist for the Times magazine in Paris at the time, has made astronomical waves throughout the wine world. Taber was actually the only journalist who cared to show up to the tasting with no real expectations for a developing story. However, when the California wines – a red and a white – beat out their French competitors, Taber knew something extraordinary was happening here. The judges were all French wine industry professionals from restaurants, publications, and vineyards, and all were starstruck to hear what wines they had chosen.

The winners at the tasting were a 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. (A bottle of each now resides at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.) Taber later stated that “It turned out to be the most important event because it broke the myth that only in France could you make great wine. It opened the door for this phenomenon today of the globalization of wine,”. David White, a popular wine writer also said that this historic tasting, “gave winemakers everywhere a reason to believe that they too could take on the greatest wines in the world,”.

Related: How to Read French Wine Labels

The Future of Wine Globalization

This event truly opened the doors for wine globalization while shining light on other regions’ wine-growing abilities. Who knows what our vast wine world landscape might look like if this tasting never occurred? While the tasting surely gave winemakers all around the world an extra boost of confidence, there has also been a wave of pop-culture influence as well. A drama/indie film called Bottle Shock, released in 2008, depicts all the events leading up to and during the tasting with Alan Rickman playing Steven Spurrier and Bill Pullman playing Jim Barrett, owner, and winemaker at Chateau Montelena (chardonnay winner at the tasting).

Here is the last paragraph from the original Times Magazine publication from 1976 by George Taber :

“When the ballots were cast, the top-soaring red was Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ ’72 from the Napa Valley, followed by Mouton-Rothschild ’70, Haut-Brion ’70 and Montrose ’70. The four winning whites were, in order, Chateau Mont-helena ’73 from Napa, French Meursault-Charmes ’73 and two other Californians, Chalone ’74 from Monterey County and Napa’s Spring Mountain ’73. The U.S. winners are little known to wine lovers, since they are in short supply even in California and rather expensive ($6 plus). Jim Barrett, Monthelena’s general manager and part owner, said: “Not bad for kids from the sticks.”” 



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