Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History houses, amid its illustrious artifacts, two bottles of wine: a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. These are the wines that won at the now-famous Paris Tasting in 1976, where a panel of top French wine experts compared some of France’s most famous wines with a new generation of California wines. Little did they know the wine industry would be completely transformed as a result, sparking a golden age for viticulture that extends beyond France’s hallowed borders to Australia, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and across the globe.

Then Paris correspondent for Time magazine, George M. Taber recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on the three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. At a time when California was best known for cheap jug wine, these pioneers used radical new techniques alongside time-honored winemaking traditions to craft premium American wines that could stand up to France’s finest. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks in captivating prose, bringing to life an eclectic cast and magnificent settings. For lovers of wine and anyone who enjoys a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old, this is an illuminating and deeply satisfying tale.

2 thoughts on “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine

  1. Excellent discussion of the tasting that brought California wine to the attention of the world I was in the US Navy in Chicago 1975-77. I was also beginning a hobby of collecting wine. After a trip to Napa Valley I began to pay attention to California wines. In mid-1976 I read an article in the NY Times about a tasting that had occurred in Paris earlier that summer in which 2 California wines, Stag’s Leap 1973 CS and Chateau Montelena 1975 Chardonnay had bested a group of respectable French Bordeaux and Bergundy wines. What was particularly striking was the all-French tasting panel. I…

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  2. Interesting history of CA wines and others, as well as the “Judgement of Paris” I’m usually not all that interested in history, but I AM interested in wine, so reading this has been both enlightening AND interesting to me!As this was published 12 years ago, a lot has continued to change for the California wine industry that is not mentioned, for instance the SoCal region of Temecula that currently has 50 wineries and is planning to double that within the next 5 years! BUT there IS a lot of Northern and Central involved in the “Judgement of Paris”. Plus…

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