No, we don’t mean that Judgment Day. Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the world’s most famous wine tasting: the 1976 showdown between Californian and French wines organized by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier.
The event became known as the Judgment of Paris not only because it was held in that city, but because, like the original Judgment depicted in the bas relief shown at left (wherein a shepherd named Paris is forced to choose the most desirable among three beautiful goddesses; result: the Trojan War) the outcome of the contest seemed destined to have world historical implications.
When the all-French panel (Spurrier tasted but his scores weren’t factored in) realized that they had rated several red and several white California wines highly, a kind of wine rhubarb ensued. California has of course not stopped crowing about this since. Nor have the French stopped making excuses. (Did we mention that the original Judgment of Paris was got up by Eris, goddess of discord?) Though many have interpreted it as a watershed event – in fact, the results are very hard to read as favoring either side.
True, the 1972 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay outpointed everyone else, but scoring on a 20pt scale, Stag’s Leap’s average score was only 14.5. A number of subsequent studies have found fault with the way the tasting was organized.
In a story that appeared in the June 16, 1976 edition of the New York Times, Frank Prial noted that while all the wines were extremely good, “the comparisons may not have been fair.”
“Only the most naive reader would conclude anything other than that on a certain day a certain group of French wine specialists agreed that California turns out some fine wines, too,” Prial wrote.
Reading Prial’s 35 year-old story today can still leave you with a dropped jaw – but for a different reason. Soon, he says, New Yorkers will be able to sample the 1974 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon for themselves at several outlets in the city – for about $7 per bottle.
Originally posted on Boston.com