Amid the hoopla of the American bicentennial celebration in 1976, a British wine merchant in Paris had a novel idea: a face-off between the finest French wines and those upstart newbies in California. Hoping to generate publicity for his wine school, L’Académie du Vin, Steven Spurrier arranged a blind tasting in Paris on May 24, 1976. The panel of wine experts tasted and scored six Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and four Bordeaux wines, plus six Napa Chardonnays and four white Burgundy wines.
Both the red and white winners — Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay — were American wines, a victory that shook the foundations of the European wine world and propelled California to elite enological status. The 11 judges (nine French, one British and one American) were stunned; French judge Odette Kahn unsuccessfully demanded her ballot back (she had scored Stag’s Leap the No. 1 red). Subsequent tastings in 1978, 1986 and 2006 only served to validate the original results — the California wines trounced their French counterparts every time.
Now, four decades later, the original victorious wineries are celebrating with a series of special events and tastings, as well as the release of 2013 vintages commemorating the Paris victory of 40 years ago.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Estate Cabernet Sauvignon offers a rich aroma of cocoa, blackberries and currants. Blueberry and wild berry flavors carry a hint of sweet oak spice on the long finish. Firm yet balanced tannins make this wine a good pairing with steaks on the grill, hearty beef entrées and mushroom risotto. The SLV estate (Stag’s Leap Vineyards) is the original vineyard whose 3-year-old grapes produced the winning 1973 SLV Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in Paris in 1976. The winery releases the 2013 vintage May 1.
The SLV Cabernet is available through some merchants in this area, including the new fine wine department at the West Broadway Gerbes; Check with your favorite local wine merchant for availability. Bek’s in Fulton currently carries Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV on its wine list.
Another Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars red worth tasting is Artemis, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with traces of Merlot and Malbec. The pleasant red wine with a plum aroma boasts a smooth flavor of ripe blackberries, chocolate and cherries. Artemis is easily found at Gerbes, Schnucks and Hy-Vee, and is on the wine list at Coley’s Bleu, Houlihans, CC City Broiler and Broil.
Chateau Montelena’s winemaking history goes back to 1882. One of the largest Napa Valley wineries by the turn of the 20th century, Montelena had a successful run until the death of the founder’s grandson in 1947 shut down operations. Revived by new owner Jim Barrett in 1970, Montelena produced its first wine in 25 years in 1972. The chateau’s 1973 Chardonnay won the white wine tasting at the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
The 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” chronicles Barrett’s story. A second film, “Judgment of Paris,” based on Time reporter George Taber’s book and focusing more on the Stag’s Leap Cabernet, is in production.
Sadly, Chateau Montelena wines are not available in mid-Missouri. To taste the lemon, peach and strawberry flavors of this famed Chardonnay, visit www.montelena.com.