The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 57 of 108

{ }  57 hen Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about "the shot heard around the world," he was refer- ring to the opening volley of the American Revolutionary War. Some 200 years later, that phrase would be renewed to describe another American revolution that again pitted Americans against the Old World order. In wine circles, that scrimmage is, of course, the famed Judgment of Paris, in which a couple of West Coast upstarts flummoxed French wine experts and caused a revolution in the way California wines were perceived. Steven Spurrier, a former wine merchant in Paris and one of the organizers of the historic tasting held in America's bicentennial year (and currently The SOMM Journal's London Correspondent), says he didn't expect to start a war. "We intended to show the wines to get their quality recognized and have something to talk about," he told guests at a retrospective tasting that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris. "We were so blown away by the quality of California wines that something had to be done." The story of how Chateau Montelena Winery and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars beat out the French is now well-told in wine lore and in Hollywood, thanks to the 2008 movie Bottleshock and George Taber's gripping account of the historic tasting in his 2005 book, Judgment of Paris. Judging from the turnout at the anniversary retrospective at the 2016 Naples Winter Wine Festival, it is still a story worth telling. "If there's one thing to be drawn, it's that France was sitting on its laurels with no incentive to advance," Spurrier says. "It was the beginning of the crack in French wines." Flying in from London, he was joined in Naples by George Taber, the Time magazine journalist who broke the story in 1976, and ambassadors of the Napa Valley upstarts: Bo Barrett, CEO and Master Winemaker of Chateau Montelena, and Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which now owns Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in partnership with Marchesi Antinori. The Naples event kicked off a schedule of events that will include tastings, master classes and feasts in select cities, co-hosted by the two Napa icons. Additionally, The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will commemorate the anniversary with two special events May 16 and 17 in Washington, D.C., where bottles of the winning wines are held in the museum's permanent collection. As the lone journalist attending the afternoon event on May 24, 1976 at the Paris InterContinental Hotel, Taber got the extraordi - nary scoop. In the years since, he realized its reverberation. "This wine tasting has been the turning point in California winemaking and someone had to tell the story," Taber told guests. "If I wrote Revisiting the event that changed wine forever Thanks to its winning Chardonnay in the original Judgment of Paris, Chateau Montelena became, and remains, a Napa Valley icon. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHATEAU MONTELENA

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - April / May 2016