An epoch-defining event in the realm of wine. An occasion when the underdog turned tables in dramatic fashion. A day that still stirs up heated debates and nostalgic reminiscences. May 24th, my dear oenophiles, marks the anniversary of the infamous Judgment of Paris. So, let's uncork this tale with fervor, as we toast the 47th year of this legendary wine event.
The Judgment of Paris was a duel that left no one indifferent. It was a moment where Californian wines donned the cloak of the dark horse, upstaging their venerable French counterparts. Equally so, it was a day when the French wine aficionados were jolted from complacency. The ramifications were profound; on one side it spotlighted Californian wines, while on the other it left the French winemakers in a dizzying state of introspection.
What's the story behind the Judgment of Paris?
It could be said that the Judgment of Paris was the result of audacity. It dared to defy the norms and dared to put an untested region up against the giants. The audacious mastermind behind the event, Steven Spurrier, owned a wine shop and a wine school in Paris and became more and more curious about wines being produced in California. So much so that he went to visit wineries there so he could judge for himself. And this is where the notion was sparked.
According to the anecdotal recounting of the event, the tasting was blind, with an eminent panel consisting of French experts. It was a test of mettle that ended in unexpected consternation when California emerged victorious in both the white (Chardonnay) and red (Cabernet Sauvignon) categories. The California wineries, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena, were catapulted to fame overnight, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did the Judgment of Paris impact the wine world?
In the wake of this seismic event, the world sat up and took notice of the wines being produced in the New World. It pushed boundaries and made it clear that great wines could be made outside of France. This notion was indeed a revelation for many.
George Taber, the only journalist present at the Judgment of Paris, said in his book on the historic event that "the Judgment of Paris changed the wine world. It gave winemakers everywhere, not just in California, the courage to try to make world-class wines. It also showed consumers that good wines could come from places other than France."
Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, called his surprise victory a 'Copernican moment' (after Nicolaus Copernicus who positied the heliocentric system i.e. planets orbit around the Sun). Quite sizeable then.
Such is the power of the Judgment of Paris. Indeed it has inspired a whole generation of winemakers to strive for excellence. It has given confidence to those who have dared to dream, to plant vineyards in untested soils and experiment with new styles.
Let's also pay homage to the French wines that took part in the competition. The Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, and Montrose for the reds and Meursault Charmes Roulot, Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive for the whites. While they might have stumbled in that historic tasting, these wines have continued to hold their own, offering a testament to the enduring allure of the French viticultural tradition.
And let us not forget Steven Spurrier, the orchestrator of the Judgment of Paris. Reflecting on the event, he once mused, “I may have lit the touch paper, but the rockets were already there.” Spurrier, a firm believer in the quality of wines beyond France, gave the world a chance to appreciate them too. You can learn more about his legacy with our friends over at Academie du Vin. As publicity stunts go, this is surely on the podium.
And what about the French perspective? Patricia Gallagher, who worked with Spurrier and assisted in the organization of the tasting, reportedly said: "The French were devastated. They had not thought it possible."
So, let's uncork a bottle from either the old or the new world, and take a moment to appreciate the upheavals and breakthroughs of the wine industry. To change and surprises. To the Judgment of Paris, that not only shocked the world but also shaped it. After all, without a touch of audacity, the wine world would be a much less interesting place.
Why not share a glass with someone who thinks they know everything about wine, and enjoy the delight of seeing their reaction as they delve into the richness of the story behind the Judgment of Paris. Because in the world of wine, as in life, there is always a new chapter to discover and a new perspective to appreciate. Here's to 47 years since that fateful tasting, and to many more ahead. Happy Anniversary, Judgment of Paris!