1976 Paris Wine Tasting - California Trumps France

Up until the mid 1900s, French wines were thought by many to be the best on the planet. The White House served French wines from the days of George Washington right up through Lyndon B. Johnson. John F Kennedy was a big fan of the French wines. It wasn't until Johnson took office that the decree was made - only American wines would be served at the White House. At the time it was thought to be a nice gesture but not necessarily a great culinary one. Many believed, still, that the French had the best wines in the world.

The turnaround in wine knowledge began when wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a Paris Wine Tasting in 1976. He did this as a publicity stunt, assuming that the French wines would easily win. Spurrier has said "I thought I had it rigged for the French wines to win." 1976 was the bicentennial for the United States, and Spurrier, who ran a wine school, was hoping to gain some attention by comparing the US wines to the French.

The nine tasters were all French wine experts. They included famous culinary writers and the secretary general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes. The tasting was done blind, so that none knew what was being poured.

First, the whites. The comparison was with chardonnay - matching French Burgundy against US Californian chardonnays. The winner was the Napa Valley 1973 Chateau Montelena, to the shock of all present. It beat out the 1973 Meursault-Charmes Burgundy to win. Third and fourth place also went to Californian chardonnays 1974 Chalone Vineyard and 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard.

On to the reds. Spurrier knew that the Californian white had won, and panicked. Against tradition, he let the French tasters know that not only had they chosen a Californian wine for the top prize, but that 3 out of 4 of the top whites had been Californian. Since many wine drinkers consider red wines to be of even more importance than white, the French tasters were even more determined to choose a French red for the winner this time around.

The tasting progressed. The tasters, sure they could pick out the French wineries, began to make disparaging remarks about some of the "lesser quality US" wines. When the results were unveiled, the winner, to the chagrin of all present, was the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - from Napa Valley, California.

While the French did their best to hide the tasting results, a journalist from Time magazine, George Taber, was present and wrote it up. The news made front page headlines in the United States, and a world which had long ignored the quality of US wines woke up and took notice.

In May 1996, on the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington added a bottle of red and a bottle of white to their permanent collection, commemorating the Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap in its records of history.

Paris Tasting List of Entries

Wine Regions in History

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.