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What Was the Judgment of Paris?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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The Judgment of Paris was a famous wine tasting which took place in Paris, France in 1976. During the tasting, judges tasted a series of wines from California and France and were asked to rate them. To the shock of the wine community, the California wines consistently rated better, debunking the popular idea that French wines were the finest in the world. The Judgment of Paris had a huge impact on the world, and this impact continues to be felt today; many of the California vineyards which dominated the tasting, such as Stag's Leap Winery in the Napa Valley, continue to produce very high quality wines which are famous around the world.

Before the Judgment of Paris, the generally-accepted idea was that French wines were the best in the world. Although a few upstart wineries in other regions of the world had distinguished themselves locally, the wine community agreed that while these wines might be of local value, they couldn't compete with the finest wines from France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine salesman, was curious about this claim, so he organized a blind tasting in Paris, little realizing the effect it would have.

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Chardonnays from the David Bruce Winery, Chateau Montelena, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Chalone Vineyard, Freemark Abby Winery, and Veedercrest Winery in California were pitted against French chardonnays from Batard-Montrachet, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Domaine Roulot, and Les Pucelles. In addition to the fleet of chardonnays, the 11 judges also evaluated Cabernet Sauvignon from French vineyards Chateau Montrose, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Leoville les Cases, and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild alongside California wines from Freemark Abby Winery, Stag's Leap Vineyards, Mayacamas Vineyards, Clos Du Val Winery, Heitz Wine Cellars, and Ridge Vineyards.

Each judge was instructed to rate the tasted wines on a scale of one to 20. The judges each had their own system for rating, which has often been used as a criticism of the Judgment of Paris, and the scores from the two non-French judges were dropped from the final calculation. When the final scores were announced, the audience and judges were shocked; the paradigm of the wine community had just radically shifted.

A lone Time reporter, George Taber, was present at the Judgment of Paris. He sent a four-paragraph story to the magazine which included choice embarrassing quotes from the French judges, such as “That is definitely California. It has no nose,” in reference to the Batard-Montrachet entry. In 1978, the Judgment of Paris was repeated in San Francisco, and the results were much the same.

Critics of the Judgment of Paris point out that blind tastings are extremely unreliable, and that the same panel of judges could have come up with totally different results the very next day. Furthermore, the lack of a standard rubric for rating wines was problematic. Be that as it may, the Judgment of Paris had a profound impact on the wine industry, and it's called “the tasting that changed the world” for a reason.

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