If you mention the Judgement of Paris to anyone, you’re either referencing a blind wine tasting that rocked the wine world, or you’re talking about a beauty contest from Greek Mythology. As this is a wine blog rather than a Zeus fan-club, we’re going to be talking about the blind wine tasting that took place in Paris on the 24th of May 1976.
Very simply, the Judgement of Paris was organised by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier to compare the wines from two very different countries. On one hand you had France, a country renowned the world over for the quality of its wine-making industry. A country’s whose superiority was self evident and who’s industry leaders thought their product was far better than any other.
On the other side you had the USA, a country on the rise who believed in their own quality, even if nobody else did.
Steven Spurrier was a British wine merchant who sold only French wines, he was confident that the French wines would come out on top. What would actually happen would rock the wine world.
it was decided that a blind tasting would take place in Paris with eleven judges scoring the wines out of 20, an average would then be calculated to secure the winner. Among the eleven judges, 9 were French with one American and the British organiser Steven Spurrier completing the panel. However only the 9 French judges would have their eventual grades counted.
The USA secured the victory in both the red and white categories with the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 coming out on top in the reds and the Chateau Montelena coming out on top in the white category. Leading figures in the French wine industry were infuriated and the French papers refused to report the tasting for several months. So outraged were the leaders of the French wine industry, they banned Steven Spurrier from attending the nation’s very prestigious wine tasting tour for a whole year.
The New York Times later reported that several wine tastings had occurred on American soil, comparing American creations to their French rivals. In New York 6 months prior to the Judgement of Paris, American Chardonnays were judged ahead of Chardonnays that had been brought over from Burgundy. The leaders of the French wine industry cried foul, saying that the judges were American and as such they had a bias towards American wines. They also believed there was a chance the Burgundies had been mistreated on their journey across the Atlantic. The Judgement of Paris ensured that all these cries of foul play were silenced.
In 2006 Steven Spurrier organised an anniversary tasting, both in America and in France. Many expected the French wines to come out on top again, however the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet from California came out on top in both America and France.
Just how important was the Judgement of Paris? Many believe it was the turning point for the Californian wine industry, vaulting it onto the world stage. Wineries started popping up all over California, pushing each other to produce the best wines. In time the quality has risen and so has the price, but this development also forced the French industry to look at their own practices, if they wanted to stay on top of the Wine world, they would need to work to improve.