California’s prominence in the wine world is so well established today, it’s hard to imagine a time when it could have been otherwise. In reality, it isn’t necessary to go very far back in our past to discover a California whose wine industry was just getting started: specifically, the time before 1976, and the celebrated Judgment of Paris.

A blind tasting and competition held in May of that year by English wine seller Steven Spurrier, the event pitted the best California wines against their French rivals in two categories: chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. In the ’70s, French wines were generally considered to be far superior to anything made in California, but the hand-picked French judges shocked everyone by giving the win to California in both columns. For the reds, top honors went to Stag’s Leap ’73 SLV Cabernet; Chateau Montelena’s ’73 Chardonnay was the winning white.

Château Montelena in Calistoga - Joe Content

A Bit of the Old World in the North Bay: the Resplendent Chateau Montelena in Calistoga

Other than a few lines in Time Magazine, the event initially received very little attention, and it was ignored by the French press almost entirely. When it was mentioned in Europe at all, it was in a dismissive tone; the reputation of French wines was beyond question, and many considered the results of the Paris tasting a fluke. The sensitivity of the French was understandable: most of their wines competing in the tasting  came from the ’70 vintage,  a year judged by Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux to be among France’s best of the last half-century.

When francophiles claimed the California wines would never hold up to their French counterparts over time, a rematch was obviously in order. For the unbelievable results, check out the rest of the story at Belle Cora’s Kindred Spirits blog, here.