This July Fourth, I will be celebrating the United States’ independence, but I will also be reflecting on the day America gained its independence as a respected wine nation.
For centuries fine wine was confined inside the boundaries of prestigious European vineyards in regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Mention of cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir was found only in tasting notes or journals from noble families or those who acquired prestige or wealth enough to travel across the Atlantic. These were the privileged few who savored the sacred consumption of the world’s fine wines.
But, in 1976 a Paris wine retailer, alongside Britain’s Steven Spurrier, organized a unique and original blind wine tasting of California versus France. California wines were brought not only against historic wine greats, but also against the discerning taste of the world’s most elite palates.
This blind tasting resulted in California receiving an overall rating of superior when the winners were announced: a 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet and a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. You can only imagine the shock wave it sent ’round the world from the outcome of this competition.
George Taber, the only American journalist who attended and thought the event to be newsworthy, tells the story of this day of independence. His famous account of this tasting is revealed in his book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.
The 2008 docudrama Bottle Shock, available on DVD, also tells the story of the competition, but from a different perspective.
- 2008 Rodney Strong Sonoma Zinfandel , California (about $20 retail)
- 2009 Bonny Doon Big House White, California (about $11 retail)
- 2008 Bouchaine Pinot Noir Carneros, California (about $20 retail)
- 2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $38 retail)
- 2006 Grgich Hills Napa Chardonnay, California (about $58 retail)
- 2004 Bell Vineyards Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $98 retail)