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Who Really Won The Paris Tasting—A Recount

By Charles Olken

Follow along closely. An Aussie named David Morrison, living and teaching in Sweden, has been researching the results of the 1976 Paris tasting won by California wineries for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. To recap the event briefly, it was organized by Paris wine merchant Steven Spurrier on the occasion of the American Bicentennial for the purpose of showing the advancement of California wine.

The intent was not to prove which place made better wines, but there were scores and the addition of those scorings placed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars first in Cabernet and Chateau Montelena first in Chardonnay.

Mr. Morrison has an interest in the merits of scoring and was hoping to come across the raw scores of the judges. No one seemed to have the information until Morrison stumbled upon none other than yours truly. Connoisseurs’ Guide published those raw scores immediately after the tasting and they seem to exist in print nowhere else.

But, enter the fly in the ointment. Either we or the report of the tasting misread the results of one of the judges such that the reported scores for two judges are identical. And it is unlikely, given the wide range of ratings involved, that these two judges did, in fact, agree down to the last numeral.

All of this has led some to conclude that Chateau Montelena may not have “won” after all. And, yes, there is that distinct possibility, if winning is related to raw scores alone.

But here is the other, more relevant truth. Mr. Spurrier did not sponsor this tasting, with its panel of well-regarded, French wine industry judges, in order to proclaim a winner. It was not winning that he was after but the place in the vinous firmament to which California wine might have recently risen.

From that standpoint, it is irrefutable that the Paris tasting did indeed show that a group of professional French tasters liked the California entries in more or less equal proportion to their own wines. And no change in the scoring of one judge, no matter what that change might mean to the raw scores will or should cause so much as the slightest amendment to the conclusions that Spurrier was looking to find and did find.

So, when and if you hear that Ch. Montelena did not “win” the Paris tasting, or even that it may not have “won”, pay those comments no mind. California “won”, not because it wines finished first in both categories but because the California wines showed that they belonged on the world stage.

Mr. Morrison is trying to perfect the historical record, and in that, we wish him well. Perfecting the record however noble will add nothing in terms of the conclusions that were sought. The Paris tasting confirmed what we here knew. Our wines, in head to head tastings, were holding their own with their French peers and had for several years by that point.


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Paris competition
by Zig
Posted on:1/19/2017 9:45:02 AM

Interesting article about the 1976 Paris Competition.  What the movie Bttle Shock does not tell is that a California Winery, Cresta Blanca, won the competition for whites in 1898.  Charles Wetmore of Livermore took his wines to the competition then and won.  No direct flights in the 1800's!

European Competitions
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/19/2017 11:18:07 AM

I don't have the details but my recollection is that Inglenook won a prestigious European claret competition Pre-Prohition.

We all knew that CA wines had arrived in the years leading up to the 1976 tasting. There were lots of 70 Bdx vs 70 CA Cabs tasted together in the several years earlier with wineries like Mayacamas, Heitz, Lee Stewart's Souverain, Beaulieu, Robt Mondavi, Gemillo, Ridge, Freemark Abbey Bosche, Spring Mountain et all doing great jobs of holding their own.

As I said private to David Morrison, whose essay on the subject follows in the next blog entry, I have greatly enjoyed looking back at the days when CA wine came out of the doldrums and into the limelight.

Thanks for your note.


1976 tasting
by Thomas Kruse
Posted on:1/19/2017 11:20:38 AM

The article concludes with a statement that Ca wines had been up to the qaulkity exhibited in France for several years by the time of the tasting. How is that in any way a logical conclusion. Weall know of the variables from year to yeart. I would love to see a publicised tasting where American tasters of not taste French and American wines side by side. France might wind up in first place.

Who's On First?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/19/2017 12:35:11 PM

Mr. Kruse--

Thanks for your note. I wish you had given us more details about your desired methodology. There were, in the day, plenty of tastings of CA bottles with their French counterparts. In virtually all of those tastings, CA wines held their own. Sometimes they "won" and sometimes they did not.

But it was not the intent of most of those tasting to "win" but to determine CA progress. We were the new kids on the block and we could just as easily been embarrassed as not.

But, the fact is that we were not embarrassed, and that is why I can conclude with all due humility and with logic that lots of CA tasters had seen the equivalency equation looking very optimistic for our top wines before the Paris Tasting, which, for us, was not proof of equivalency but affirmation. 

Who Really Won?
by TurtleSalute
Posted on:1/19/2017 1:41:42 PM

Perhaps we could ask Mr. Morrison to research and recount the votes in the 2016 USA presidential election.

Earlier and later Robert Balzer tastings
by Bob Henry
Posted on:1/19/2017 10:11:09 PM

New York Wine Tasting of 1973 - Wikipedia

Robert Balzer later staged a replication of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and wrote about it in his "Private Guide to Food and Wine" (1976? 1977?, volume 6, issue &, pages 77-84).

Alas, the text is not available on the Web.


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