The Judgement of Paris | A World-Shaking Wine-Tasting

Harry Lambourne
3rd November 2023

The Judgement of Paris is the name now ascribed to one of the most significant wine tastings that the world has even seen. It changed the landscape of new world wine and showed that the world of wine was broader and more exciting than some had believed it to be.

Over this article, we’ll take you through the events of the Judgement of Paris as well as the fallout and follow up to it. We’ll also introduce you to the two winning wines.

If you’re a certified lover of Bordeaux wine and value French wine above all else, then you may want to stop reading now. The Judgement of Paris, (despite its namesake), was a day for California to shine.

Let’s learn about the Judgement of Paris.

The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris was the brainchild of English wine entrepreneur Steven Spurrier. Spurrier owned a wine shop and wine school in Paris and used this platform to showcase wines from other countries. At the time, this was something the French found unthinkable.

Steven Spurrier - Instrumental In The Judgement Of Paris
Steven Spurrier – Instrumental In The Judgement Of Paris (Photo Courtesy of Decanter)

In 1975, an associate of Spurrier had visited California and espoused the quality of the wines which they were producing. They asked Spurrier to come and sample some of the wines, with the idea of putting them into a tasting. Spurrier made a point to visit the smaller vineyards and on his journey managed to pick up a selection of wines which he thought could stand on the shelf next to anything.

They were taken back to Paris and the fateful tasting was set to take place. They would be pitted against four of the best white wines of Burgundy and four of the best red wines of Bordeaux in a tasting. The French line up included famous names such as Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion.

There were nine judges in total and the panel included Odette Khan, (the editor of a prestigious wine magazine), and Aubert de Villaine, (the director of the fabled Domaine de le Romanée-Conti).

The express goal was to simply show that Californian wines were delicious and at least comparable to what the French had to offer, while drumming up some publicity for his wine school. Then, at the last minute Spurrier decided to make it a blind tasting and the rest, as they say, is history.

George Taber was a journalist who was present at the time of the tasting and in possession of the details of the wines. He said that he knew the results would be interesting when a judge remarked of one white wine, “This is definitely California. It has no nose”. Unfortunately, this was a Burgundy Chardonnay from Batard-Montrachet which is regularly considered one of the best white wines in the world.

This was a clear indication of the results. California won. Château Montelena Chardonnay, (which cost just $6.50 at the time), of California was the outright winner for the white wines, with three other American wines rounding out the top 5. While Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon which had only started 7 years earlier beat out the historic Château Mouton-Rothschild with three hundred years of history behind it.

The fallout was immediate with the French judge Odette Khan demanding her scorecard back so the world wouldn’t know the scores she gave. While all this can be seen as a fun little story the effects of this blind tasting were wide-reaching.

New world wine was not as far-reaching or respected as it is today. This signalled that it was time for the world of wine to broaden their horizons. Very few people in Europe had sampled the wines of America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. This was all about to change. It was time for our palates to move beyond the classical old world styles.

Napa Valley Wine Region | Californian Wine Region
Napa Valley Wine Region – Forever Changed By The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement Of Paris – Round 2

One of the key criticisms from the French side of the tasting was that the new world wines were bound to win because they were more prone to be drunk young and that if the wine tasting was to be held later on, once the French wines had developed, then it would be no contest.

Unfortunately for them, they were correct. The competition was held again in 2006. The same wines were used across the board, but now they were thirty years older. Again, California came out on top and took all five of the top places. Once more, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was ranked the best of the best.

The Judgement of Paris – The Winning Wines

We couldn’t leave you without a little overview of the two big winners of the day. They certainly aren’t quite the same bang for your buck that they were in the 1970s, but they still make for wonderful tasting on a special occasion and you can drink something which has a real spot in the history of wine.

We’ll begin with the red wine from Stag’s Leap Cellars. It was the SLV Cabernet Sauvignon which caused such a stir back then and they still produce this range today. To add to the irony, it is aged in 100% new French oak! You’ll get a rich and structured concoction with aromas of currants, violet and cocoa. Then, dark chocolate and black fruits on the palate. It is decadent, dark and truly a great example of fine wine.

Now, we move onto the winner in the white wine category. Château Monteleana’s Chardonnay. Once again, they still make the same wine with a familiar label that will likely still haunt those blind tasters. A luxurious and luscious offering that has a wonderfully floral nose. Expect touches of chamomile, honeysuckle and orange blossom. Then, fresh fruit notes of lemon, lime, melon, green apple, pear, banana and starfruit all come through.

The flavours keep coming though. Through a variety of winemaking techniques, they have also been able to instil notes of lemon curd, crème brûlée, marzipan, candied citrus, baking spice and vanilla. Again, complexity of the highest order in a spectacular wine.

Chaateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena – A Winner At The Judgement Of Paris (Photo Courtesy of Chateau Montelena)

We hope you’ve liked learning about the famous Judgement of Paris and get out and try some Californian wines off the back of it! If you’re keen to kick back with a film while you enjoy that vino, then the events of the Judgement of Paris were turned into a film! You can watch ‘Bottle Shock’ starring the late great Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, in a film that takes a few liberties with the truth.

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