How The Judgement Of Paris Changed The Wine World

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In Greek mythology, one legend tells of a golden apple that was to be given to the fairest goddess of them all, judged by Paris of Troy. Paris, bribed with the promise of the most beautiful woman in the world, chose Aphrodite, and this sparked what became known as the Trojan War.

The Judgement of Paris is a term still used today to describe the first point that incites a major event, typically the first catalyst for war. 

However, the Judgement of Paris has a very different meaning in the world of winemaking, and both destroyed the traditional orthodoxy of the era and expanded the taste horizons of so many wine drinkers, opening the way for more eclectic regional traditions in organic wine.

Much like the ancient myth, it started with a contest that ended with a very unexpected conclusion.

The Orthodoxy Of Paris

France has one of the most widely acclaimed winemaking traditions in the world and whilst this still holds true to this day, in the 1970s, this disparity was even more pronounced as the French wine industry returned to prominence after the Second World War.

However, whilst dominant, France was far from the only country with a strong viticultural tradition, and vintner Steven Spurrier was interested in showcasing and introducing new wines in his Parisian wine shop, something that made him quite the iconoclast at the time.

After being inspired by associate Patricia Gallagher’s advocacy for the potential of Californian wine, he decided to choose a few potential candidates for a blind taste-testing competition scheduled to take place on the bicentennial anniversary of the United States.

The contest was rushed, with many of the American wines being bought at full price and smuggled through customs, so at the time it was believed to be a joke or even an attempt to sabotage the American wine industry. Of the many journalists Mr Spurrier invited, only George Taber of Time magazine attended.

The Sips That Shocked The World

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, also known as the Judgement of Paris, was a contest between Chardonnay white wines and red wine traditions from each region (Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon).

These were taste tested by nine expert judges, as well as Ms Gallagher and Mr Spurrier, but much to the surprise of everyone, the white and red wines with the highest grades were both American, with the 1973 Chateau Montelena and 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars respectively receiving the highest scores.

When this was reported by Time Magazine, it made waves internationally, framed at the time as an unexpected victory by David over Goliath, with cheaper wines by relatively new winemakers ranking higher than centuries of tradition.

Napa Valley, where both winners were from, is now a major wine region, and whilst the initial backlash to the decision was significant, causing Mr Spurrier to be banned from France’s wine-tasting tour, it highlighted that change was on the way in the wine world.

It was no longer solely about tradition and the projections of providence, but about taste, and many repeats of the Judgement of Paris have yielded the same or very similar results.

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