Already legendary wine tasting, which took place in Paris on 24 May 1976 on the initiative of the English wine dealer and expert on French wines Steven Spurrier (*1941). Also known as the "Judgment of Paris" (Paris Wine Jury), the event is memorable for several reasons. Firstly, no expert had expected this surprising result; secondly, there were worldwide discussions and significant repercussions in the international wine world; and thirdly, because the competition took place in four stages over a period of thirty years. The competition has so far been repeated three times with the original wines; the third and fourth only with the red wines. Finally, there was also a book about it. In 2006, the US journalist George M. Taber published the approximately 350-page work "Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine". And last but not least, this material was even filmed in 2008 under the title "Bottle Shock" with the director Randall Miller; however, Spurrier was very dissatisfied with it because of the details, which in his opinion were partly freely invented.
It was a competition of wines from France and California with ten red wines and ten white wines from renowned wineries. Spurrier intended to improve the bad image of American wines, but of course still expected a clear victory for the French. The eleven jurors were renowned authorities beyond all doubt or experienced wine critics. They were Pierre Brejoux (General Inspector AOC), Michel Dovaz (Wine Institute of France), Claude Dubois-Millot (Sales Director Gault Millau), Patricia Gallagher (Académie du Vin), Odette Kahn (1923-1982, editor Revue du Vin de France), Raymond Oliver (Restaurant Le Grand Vefour), Steven Spurrier, Pierre Tari(Château Giscours), Christian Vanneque (Sommelier), Aubert de Villaine(Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) and Jean-Claude Vrinat (Restaurant Taillevent).
Spurrier had also invited many reporters from well-known newspapers, but only the above-mentioned George M. Taber from US Time Magazine was the only one to attend. Hardly anyone doubted the outcome - namely that French wines would clearly beat Californian wines in the sense of "Everyone knows that French wines are in principle better than Californian wines and always will be".
The surprise was all the greater. When the result was announced, there was incredulous amazement and embarrassing silence. Some members of the jury wanted the ballot paper back in order to be able to evaluate again. Some also refused to sign the result. The judge Odette Kahn even accused Spurrier of manipulation and subsequently spoke very negatively about the competition. In any case, the result shook the wine world and led to heated discussions. Especially France was shocked and did not want to accept the "disgrace". The devastating result was first hushed up and only three months later in "Le Figaro" the "laughable event, which could not be taken seriously" was reported.
A serious evaluation was doubted, or the argument was used that French wines needed a longer period of maturation to develop. The fact is, however, that from this point on at the latest, wine from the USA was taken seriously or at least judged differently. For it marked a decisive turning point in the reputation of the products that had until then often been disparagingly referred to as Coca-Cola wines. It is by no means a coincidence that only three years later the joint venture Opus One was launched between the wine-growing legends Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) and Robert Mondavi (1913-2008).
The competition followed the rules of a half-blind tasting. The judges knew which wines were involved, but not in which bottle or glass. The evaluation was carried out according to the 20-point system that is widespread in Europe. All white wines were varietal Chardonnays. The red wines vinified in the Bordeaux style were (are) dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. During the tasting, the jurors were absolutely sure that they could already distinguish the Old World from the New World by smell, which proved to be wrong. Because the Chardonnay "clearly identified as Californian" with a "lack of aroma" turned out to be Burgundy Bâtard-Montrachet. With the red wines there were similar misidentifications with supposedly outstanding French wines, which then turned out to be Californian. For the white wine, all eleven judges gave either Chateau Montelena or Chalone Vineyard (both California) the highest number of points. The result (for the red wines in brackets the average points):
The white wines (Chardonnay) - 6 Californians, 4 French
The red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon dominates) - 6 Californians, 4 French
Spurrier had taken a pragmatic approach in calculating the final figures per wine. He simply added the individual numbers and divided the totals by nine (his own evaluation and that of Patricia Gallagher were not taken into account). The two economists Orley Ashenfelter and Richard E. Quandt (both professors at Princeton University in New Jersey) analysed the result again. Among other things, they also took into account the intervals between the evaluations and thus arrived at a "statistically better and more valid" result. They calculated three groups, whereby the wines within the groups are not statistically distinguishable and are, so to speak, to be considered equivalent: 1 and 2, 3 to 9, and 10. The result for the red wines is given in brackets above. This did not result in any significant changes, but at least the "French honour" is somewhat improved by this, since Château Montrose is now also at the top. In four cases the difference is only one place, in four cases the place number is even identical.
Another very important aspect to consider when comparing France (Europe) and California. California generally has a balanced climate, so that the vines are exposed to very similar conditions during the vegetation cycle every year. Thus, assuming the same vinification, the quality of the wines is almost the same in each year. In contrast, in Europe, especially in the colder wine-growing regions such as France (also Germany and Austria), there are relatively large fluctuations, so that a "good vintage" plays a much more important role.
One could now blame the "bad result" of French wines for bad vintages. But it should be noted that three of the four red wines were from 1970 and one from 1971. The "Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux" ranks 1970 among the "best four vintages of the last 45 years" and 1971 is described as "very good". In addition, this has even been studied for the appellations from which the red wines come: Pessac-Léognan, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien. Here too, similar conclusions were drawn for the two years. A "bad vintage" thus turned out to be an argument.
In January 1978, 20 months after the Paris tasting, a second competition was held in San Francisco. Its main purpose was to test the argument put forward by the critics that French wines would develop better than Californian wines as a result of ageing. Spurrier flew in from Paris to participate in the evaluation, which took place at the Vintners Club. The tasting teams consisted of 99 and 98 professional judges respectively. There were some changes in the ranking, but again the Californian victory was unshakable. Three Californian wines were in the lead for both white and red wines - a clear result for California (in parentheses the place of the first competition in 1976):
Compared to the first competition, the wines from Domaine Roulot, Joseph Drouhin and Ramonet-Prudhon achieved a lower ranking:
Compared to the first competition the wines of Château Montrose, Château Haut-Brion and Château Leoville Las Cases achieved a lower ranking:
For the 10th anniversary in 1986, two competitions with different tasting teams were held. Since it was rightly assumed that the white wines had already passed their peak, only the red wines were tasted. One competition was run by the magazine Wine Spectator in New York, with five Californians in the lead. The second competition was run by the French Culinary Institute, also in New York, with the support of Steven Spurrier. Here two Californians were in the lead (in brackets 1976):
Six judges tasted all ten wines:
French Culinary Institute
Eight judges tasted nine wines, Freemark Abbey Winery was missing:
Finally, the 30th anniversary of the memorable competition was celebrated on 24 May 2006. The fourth and final competition was again organised by Steven Spurrier, with two tasting teams active on both sides of the Atlantic in Napa and London. In London, for example, Michael Broadbent, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson took part. The clear result once again underpinned the previous results. The first five places were taken by Californian wines, the "Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello" was, by the way, at the top of both tasting teams (in brackets the place of the first competition in 1976):
The results underpin relatively clearly that wine evaluations generally have no scientific validity, because otherwise the results would at best be identical or at least very similar. If the same judges and the same wines were to repeat the competition the next day, the result would not be completely different, but most likely a slightly different number of ratings or, in part, a different ranking. But this does not change the fact that professional tastings are judged according to objective criteria and that the differences in evaluation are relatively small when tastings are repeated. However, this only applies on condition that the tasting is carried out by experienced and professional judges. See also under Wine evaluation, Wine address and Wine events.