Judgment of Paris 40th Anniversary
Forty years ago Napa and Sonoma winemakers were just a bunch of unknown farmers to most of America and the rest of the world. If you wanted a good bottle of wine, you would typically choose something French off the restaurant wine list. Then, in one Time Magazine article that highlighted Napa Valley vintners as winners in a prestigious, blind tasting in Paris, France, California wine was instantly on the world map and demand has been growing steeply ever since.
Chateau Montelena, the first prize winner in the white wine category, is one example of the 11 American wineries represented at the tasting that has continued to thrive and excel at making high quality wines. Even today their Chardonnay still scores 90+ points from Robert Parker on average, and their estate Cab 93 points on average. They have weathered decades of market trends, production challenges and business hurdles. And, like their American peers at the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, their commitment to high quality wine remains paramount.
Heitz, Stag's Leap, Ridge, Freemark Abbey, Spring Mountain, Clos Du Val and Mayacamas are a few others from the tasting that have kept their position, so to speak, on the world map of fine wine. All have a breadth of offerings now, from the affordable to the luxury categories. They often fly under the radar, as they make wine that fits their historic vision, rather than the tastes of vocal critics. Increasing production quantities and higher release prices are evidence of their continued demand.
Chalone is the only winery from the tasting that has kept their wines affordable, yet has seen tremendous commercial success. Chalone wines are available at popular wine retail outlets across the US.
Some of the lesser known wineries that participated in the Judgment of Paris tasting include Veedercrest and David Bruce, both still in existence. While still focusing on quality, these two wineries haven't had the commercial success of the others. They also scored the least points in the Paris tasting 40 years ago. These wines may not be in your top 10 favorites, but you would certainly appreciate their finesse.
What is most interesting to me about the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 is that it was the springboard for getting Napa and Sonoma worldwide recognition of their high quality wine production. It wasn't like the 1855 Bordeaux classification - it didn't decide who the absolute best vintners were in California and mark them for perpetual dominance. This is America, where success is constantly challenged by newcomers. I think it is truly a testament to the hard work of the 11 American wineries that participated in the Paris tasting that they have built a legacy of high quality wine that spans generations.
There are realtively few, if any, bottles remaining of the wines featured in the 1976 competition, so we consider ourselves lucky to have two bottles of the 1973 Stags Leap Cabernet in our inventory. One bottle each of the Stags Leap Cab and the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay are featured at the Smithsonian. Hopefully kept at 55 degrees!? However, you can easily obtain the modern versions from these 11 wineries and we have several for sale in our inventory. Taste some living American history!
Or, if you are so inclined, you can do a similar tasting simulation of your own, as we also have several of the French wines from the Paris tasting in stock. What fun!
See products in stock for the red wine winners: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Montrose, Château Haut-Brion, Ridge Vineyards, Château Leoville Las Cases, Heitz Wine Cellars, Clos Du Val Winery, Mayacamas Vineyards, Freemark Abbey Winery