Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Judgement of Paris

Never heard of it. No, me neither until relatively recently. Is it a book, a film or a major political happening in France? It's none of those, well actually that is not strictly true as it is a film and a book (written after the event), but a film of a different name.

The Judgement of Paris - May 1976
It is one of the most important happenings in the modern world of wine. On the 24th May 1976 wine merchant, now Consultant Editor of Decanter magazine, Steven Spurrier, organised in Paris, a blind tasting where French judges scored the best and most prestigious Bordeaux red wines and Burgundy Chardonnay against Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays from California.

Steven Spurrier (centre) in 1976 
Steven Spurrier - Today
The results stunned the judges and sent a seismic shock through the wine world and can be seen as year zero in terms of new world regions competing with the traditional old wine regions, in particularly the classic French regions.

Prior to that time the French had the monopoly on 'fine' wines and that reputation went around the world. Serious wine drinkers drank Bordeaux or Claret, as we British used to call it, and Burgundy.To take advantage of the USA's bicentennial celebrations Spurrier, then only 34 and running a wine school in Paris, decided to organise a blind tasting with the great and the good of the French wine world to do the judging. To this day, he thinks that he had rigged it for the French to win. But they didn't and the wine world changed forever.

Chateau Montelena 1973 - 1st place Chardonnay
The eleven judges, nine of them French plus Spurrier and Patricia Gallagher (American) of L'Acadamie de Vin tasted the whites first, four Burgundies and six Chardonnay from California. The judges scored the wines out of 20 and the scores were averaged. Amazingly California wines occupied four of the top 6 places including the prestigious 1st place going to the Chateau Montelena.

1.Chateau Montelena 1973   USA
2.Meursault Charmes Roulot 1973  France
3.Chalone Vineyard 1974  USA
4.Spring Mountain Vineyard 1973  USA
5.Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin 1973  France
6.Freemark Abbey Winery 1972  USA
7.Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 1973  France
8.Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive 1972  France
9.Veedercrest Vineyards 1972  USA
10.David Bruce Winery 1973  USA

Stag's Leap 1973 - 1st place red
After the whites came the all important reds, seen as more important. Spurrier knew that Chateau Montelena had won the white tasting and was so desperate for the French to win on the reds he even told the judges so they could mark accordingly. Four Grand Cru Bordeaux against six Californian Cabernets. Despite blatant marking down of the wines that the judges definitely thought were Californian amazingly the USA won again with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973 coming out on top.

1.Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973  USA
2.Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970  France
3.Château Montrose 1970  France
4.Château Haut-Brion 1970  France
5.Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971  USA 
6.Château Leoville Las Cases 1971  France
7.Heitz Wine Cellars Martha's Vineyard 1970  USA
8.Clos Du Val Winery 1972  USA
9.Mayacamas Vineyards 1971  USA
10.Freemark Abbey Winery 1969  USA

On hearing the results the French wine industry was horrified and Spurrier was shunned in French wine circles for a time for the damage he had done to their industry. 

The story of the event may not have become so well known had it not been for George Taber, the sole journalist that attended the event who wrote a four paragraph piece for Time magazine. When news of the event reached back to California the effect was electrifying. Where once it made only cheap 'jug' wines now many new people were ready to invest, in particular in Napa Valley which has become the most prestigious of all Californias' wine regions. 

The tourist trade has followed with visits to wineries becoming an important part of the tourism landscape of California. Reruns of 'The Judgement of Paris' have occurred repeatedly since 1976 with the USA wines continuing to win on a regular basis. And the Californian wine industry goes from strength to strength thanks to films like Sideways and the film that tells the story of that day Bottle Shock

But I think there is a lesson here for English wines too. Our English Sparkling Wine has done very well in competitions in the last few years, competing very well against Champagnes. What we need next is a momentous event such as 'The Judgement of Paris'. Over the next few years wine tourism in England and Wales is going to become a big but a little booster such as 'The Judgement of Paris' would be very nice indeed.

That is all for now. I will return with another blog soon. Thanks for reading. If you would like to meet me in person and home is in the UK why not book an event with me. More information can be found at my website www.gloryofwine.com. Maybe you need an excuse for a party involving some lovely wines. Or you might like to come to one of my events. Do get in touch.

You can also follow me on twitter or on facebook

 Enjoy your wine. Cheers!