The Judgement of Paris Wine Tasting Competition that Dethroned French Wine

The Judgement of Paris wine tasting changed the course of history. 

It was a blind wine tasting competition held in 1976 that totally shook the wine world. But not just in a way that fancy wine experts would understand or care about. 

It was a quiet – and accidental – revolution that rattled the wine establishment and opened the door for small wineries everywhere to get a spotlight on the global stage. 

Judgement of Paris wine tasting – the judges blind taste wine from California and France
The judges’ table at the Judgement of Paris

How It Started

Originally, it was just supposed to be a publicity stunt. Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant, thought that an event pitting highly regarded French wines against newer California wines would help drum up business for his shop. 

Spurrier enlisted the help of the finest wine critics in the biz to sit on the judging panel. This highly-qualified group included sommeliers at some of the best restaurants in Paris, the head of a vineyard, and the editor of The French Wine Review. 

There was a category for both red and white wines. To keep things consistent, all the reds were California Cabs and French Bordeaux. The white wines were all California Chardonnays and white Burgundies.

FYI, in France, rather than naming wines for the grapes they’re made from, wines are named for the region they come from. Bordeaux specializes in wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, while Burgundy specializes in white wines made from Chardonnay.

The panel’s challenge was to taste the wines blind – meaning the name of the wine and any identifying information on the bottle was hidden. Thus, they’d be able to judge the wines solely on taste – without any preconceived notions about where they came from or who made them.

Everyone assumed the French wines would win, because… well, French wines always won. It was such a forgone conclusion that the press didn’t even show up, save one journalist – George Taber – who went as a favor to Spurrier.

Judgement of Paris wine tasting – the exterior of Chateau Montelena, one of the tasting's winners.
The exterior of Chateau Montelena winery in Napa Valley, one of the winners at the Judgement of Paris in 1976.

How It Went Down

The judges didn’t have a specific rubric; they simply had to give each wine a score out of 20 possible points, using whatever criteria they saw fit. 

To everyone’s shock and awe, the winning wines were both from Napa Valley, California: a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and a Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena.

The noise of jaws hitting the floor was positively deafening. One judge even tried to get her score card back so the world wouldn’t know how she scored the wines. She didn’t, though. Taber wrote about the event, and it ended up being the biggest story of his career.

What it Meant for Wineries Everywhere

The Judgment of Paris wine tasting busted open the myth that only French wines could compete on the international stage. Not only did this stunning upset help the California wine industry, it offered hope to winemakers all over the world. 

After the competition, wineries started popping up in new regions, including new areas of the U.S. and around the world – from Australia to South Africa to South America. 

If you’re enjoying an award-winning screwtop Australian Shiraz, for instance, you might just have the Judgment of Paris to thank.

In Vino Finito

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Bright Cellars

Our staff is full of passionate wine lovers. With our amazing sommeliers at the helm, we’ve been schooled on all things wine. We came together to write this article, in hopes of spreading a little wine-ducation with you.

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