The Day California Wine Made History
The French have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about their wine, and they are the first to let you know about it. So when American Steve Spurrier challenged France to a blind taste test, they were quick to accept. But the French didn’t know that Napa Valley is one of the best places in the world to grow wine grapes. So the stage was set, a faceoff between France and California.
A tasting panel of 8 French men and 1 French woman was assembled to judge the competition. Six California Cabernet Sauvignons were pitted against four of the top red wines from Bordeaux and six California Chardonnays competed against four highly regarded whites from Burgundy in the 1976 blind test taste.
As the tasting began, people who witnessed the competition realized that something was amiss as the judges couldn’t tell which wines from California. One judge noted, “That is definitely California. It has no nose.” He was speaking of the 1973 Batard Montrachet, which at the time, was regarded as one of the finest wines in the world.
> Another said, “Ah, back to France!” after tasting a Chardonnay from Napa Valley’s Freemark Abbey Winery.
The end results, as one witness put it, was a “shot heard round the world.” The 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won the red category. The 1973 Chateau Montelena from Calistoga was voted the best white.
Needless to say, the French judges were speechless after the points were tallied and the labels were revealed. The following is a summary of the results of the 1976 blind taste test, with the points each wine received in parentheses:
- 1) Stags Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley (127.5)
- 2) Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (126)
- 3) Chateau Haut-Brion 1970 (122)
- 4) Chateau Montrose 1970 (122)
- 5) Ridge “Mountain Range” 1971, Santa Cruz Mountains (105.5)
- 6) Chateau Leoville-Las-Casas 1971 (97)
- 7) Mayacamas Vineyards, Napa Valley (89.5)
- 8) Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley (87.5)
- 9) Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” 1970, Napa Valley (84.5)
- 10) Freemark Abbey 1967, Napa Valley (78)
- 1) Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley (132)
- 2) Meuralt-Charmes 1973 (126.5)
- 3) Chalone Vineyard 1974, Monterey (121)
- 4) Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley (104)
- 5) Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973 (101)
- 6) Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley (100)
- 7) Batard-Montrachet 1973 (94)
- 8) Puligny-Montrachet 1972 (89)
- 9) Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley (88)
- 10) David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mountains (42)
The effects of the ‘1976 Paris Blind Tasting’ were immediate. This event began the real-estate boom in the Napa Valley and surrounding wine regions, like Sonoma County and Mendocino. California was validated as a bonafide wine producing region. California now produces some of the best wine in the world, including several 100 point wines.
Looking back, the ‘Paris Tasting’ was one of the most important days in history of California and American Wine. We can thank Steve Spurrier for have the guts to challenge the best. If you want more information about this day, check out the movie Bottle Shock, which documents the vinous ‘shot heard round the world.’
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