How fitting that Michigan Wine Month falls during May, a month chock-full of widely celebrated wine holidays: Sauvignon Blanc Day 5/7, Moscato Day 5/9, National Wine Day 5/25, and more! One holiday particularly important to the wine world falls on May 24 every year, and we just couldn’t let this one pass by without proper celebration!
May 24, 2021, marks the 45th Anniversary of the Judgement of Paris, otherwise known as the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. But what is it about this wine competition that makes it such an important part of wine history? It is hard to imagine now, but before this momentous day in 1976, American-made wine did not have the international popularity and respect it does today. This tasting was the competition that turned the wine world on its head and brought American wines, specifically California wines, to the forefront.
The tasting was organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, and his American colleague Patricia Gallagher. Spurrier carefully selected six California Chardonnays and six California Cabernet Sauvignons to compete against four white Burgundies and four Grands Crus Châteaux reds from Bordeaux. He invited nine of the world’s leading wine experts of the time, all of whom were French, to judge the competition. To remove any bias from the final scores, Spurrier asked the judges to blind taste each wine.
The judges were sure they would be able to easily discern between the fine wines of France and the unsophisticated wines of California, but what happened next was a shock to everyone. Of the 20 wines being judged, the wines that scored the highest marks were California wines – a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, CA, and a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, CA. The fact that these “New World” wines could not only hold their own but even outperform their French counterparts left the judges in utter disbelief. Some were so offended by the results that one of the judges demanded her scorecard back.
Before 1976, the French had erroneously convinced themselves and the world that only France could produce great wine. Humiliated and humbled, the competition results “gave the French a valuable incentive to review traditions that were sometimes more accumulations of habit and expediency, and to reexamine convictions that were little more than myths taken on trust” (Gerald Asher, 1997). In other words, the Paris Tasting of 1976 helped bring about more competition and innovation in France’s wines.
Galvanized by California’s sweeping success in Paris, aspiring winemakers and vintners all over the world set out to produce top-quality wines. Much of the globalization of wine that we enjoy today can be credited to the Judgement of Paris. While France remains a premier wine-producing region, areas like Napa, Sonoma, Columbia Valley, The Finger Lakes, Mendoza, Marlborough, and yes, even our lesser-known AVAs in the Traverse City Wine Coast are proudly producing award-winning wines year after year.
In honor of the Judgement of Paris and to show our gratitude for the California winemakers that paved the way for our industry, our tasting rooms will be offering Chardonnay specials for the week of Monday, May 24 2021 – Sunday, May 30, 2021. That week also plays host to another wine holiday; National Chardonnay Day falls on May 27 this year! Stop by one of two Traverse City are tasting rooms and enjoy $2 off glass pours and 20% off bottle purchases of our Sur Lie and Barrel Aged Chardonnays. This offer is only redeemable in person and cannot be combined with other coupons or discounts.