Smithsonian Commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the “Judgment of Paris”
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the famous “Judgment of Paris” wine tasting competition in 1976 with two special events May 16 and 17. Key participants of the 1976 event will share stories and celebrate its legacy, one that includes the fact that bottles of the winning vintages are held in the museum’s permanent collections.
Both “American History (After Hours): The Judgment of Paris & American Wine,” May 16, and “Judgment of Paris: Celebrating America’s Winning Wines,” May 17, will feature special guests Steven Spurrier, the organizer of the 1976 event; George Taber, the only journalist to cover the tasting; Warren Winiarski, the winemaker of the winning 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon; Violet Grgich, of Grgich Hills Estate and the daughter of Mike Grgich, the winemaker of the winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay: Bo Barrett, CEO and master winemaker of Chateau Montelena Winery and son of the late Jim Barrett, owner of the winery at the time; Heidi Barrett, winemaker and owner of La Sirena; and Ted Baseler, the president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
In 1996, on the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the museum collected bottles of the two winning vintages, which are now on display in the “FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950–2000” exhibition. At that time, the museum launched an oral history and documentation project on winemaking in 20th century America and formed the American Food and Wine History Project, which led to the collecting of winegrowing and winemaking objects, archival materials and audio interviews with many people working in the American wine industry.
Held in Paris May 24, 1976, the “Judgment of Paris,” also known as the “Paris Tasting,” was a formal blind tasting of red and white wines—six California Chardonnays against four white Burgundies and six Cabernet Sauvignons against four red Bordeaux—pitting the best of the Old World against the best of the New World.
The tasting was organized by English wine merchant Spurrier and his American business partner Patricia Gallagher, who enlisted nine well-respected French judges for the blind tasting. After results were tallied, surprise turned to shock as two California vintages, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, scored first in their respective groups. The outcome crushed the then widely held belief that only the French could make premium wine and brought significant acclaim to the winning winemakers, their wineries and the Napa Valley. It is regarded as pivotal to the rebirth of the American winegrowing and winemaking after the industry’s devastations during Prohibition.
The museum’s events in celebration of the 40th anniversary are made possible through a donation by the Winiarski Family Foundation as lead sponsor and additional funding by Altria Group.
American History (After Hours)
During the first of the two events, “American History (After Hours): The Judgment of Paris & American Wine,” the museum’s food history curator will lead the participants in a discussion of the tasting and its impact on the American winemaking industry. Following the conversation, the audience will be able to taste select wines and appetizers, speak informally with the guests and see historic objects from the museum’s wine history collections.
The “American History (After Hours)” programs are designed to bring audiences into the museum for unique evening experiences mixing historical topics with delicious food and drink. The program runs from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 16; tickets are $40 and can be purchased online at http://bit.ly/historyPM.
The “Judgment of Paris: Celebrating America’s Winning Wines,” the museum’s fourth annual Winemakers’ Dinner, May 17, is an evening fundraising event for the American Food and Wine History Project. This celebration will feature the wines and winemakers associated with the tasting and the enduring legacy of the “Judgment of Paris.” A culinary consultant will create a menu that is reflective of the new approaches to food that were emerging in California in the 1970s. Guests will be served wine pairings from the following winemakers: Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. and owner of Arcadia Vineyards; Violet Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate; Bo and Heidi Barrett of Chateau Montelena Winery and La Sirena respectively; and Ted Baseler of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
A limited number of tickets are available at $600 per seat. For more information, visit http://s.si.edu/AmericanWine.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
Image: Bottles of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, which scored first in their respective groups during the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History.