Judgment of Napa
Top Napa Valley wines compete with the world’s finest.
Story by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
On the eve of America’s bicentennial, an English wine merchant in Paris had been quite impressed with the quality of California wines that he’d come across. Thinking it could be worthwhile to shine a light on the New World, Steven Spurrier and his business partner, Patricia Gallagher, decided to organize a competition.
Nine of France’s most noted palates were invited to judge these New World wines against France’s legacy wines in a blind tasting designed to generate some interest. What happened next was not only surprising, it changed the world of wine forever.
“On May 24, 1976, the nine judges chose California wine above the top wines of France and the rest is history,” said Spurrier in 2020.
Thankfully, Spurrier’s wife Bella attended that afternoon at the InterContinental Hotel to take photos and George Taber, a Time magazine reporter, showed up. No other journalists came, since the blind tasting result was assumed to be a foregone conclusion in favor of the French wines. Instead, a new understanding came to light on the day that California wines won in Paris: Namely, that great wines could originate in other countries.
Two weeks after the event he dubbed the “Judgment of Paris,” Taber wrote, “As they swirled, sniffed, sipped, and spat, some judges were instantly able to separate an upstart from an aristocrat. More often, the panel was confused. ‘Ah, back to France,’ exclaimed Oliver after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley.” Raymond Oliver was the chef and owner of Le Grand Véfour, a classic Paris restaurant with an 18th century heritage.
Today, Taber says that as he watched the tasting unfold that day, he did not realize the profound impact on the world that the result was going to have. Nonetheless, “It was a wonderful thing for the wines of California,” and the impact was felt immediately.
When the scores were tallied, the winners were a California white and a California red: the 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. In a salute to these vintages, a bottle of each now resides at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to represent one of the “101 Moments That Changed America.”
As the 45th anniversary of the competition approaches, “Judgment of Napa” is a tribute event to Steven Spurrier and George Taber, conceived and presented by Cultured Vine, a luxury experience company in Napa Valley. This once-in-a-lifetime event is a special occasion to judge Napa’s collector-worthy wines against fine, rare wines from around the world in an exclusive blind tasting of ten reds and ten whites.
In addition to Steven Spurrier planning to attend in person from the U.K., an esteemed panel of hosts includes Peter Marks, Master of Wine, and Andrea Immer Robinson, world-renowned Master Sommelier, plus notable Napa winemakers and vintners.
Guests may join the intimate occasion on March 3, 2021 at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California or at one of the five-star venues in six American cities over the following ten days. Judgment of Napa travels to wine lovers as follows: Spago in Beverly Hills on March 5, Dee Lincoln Prime in Dallas on March 8, The Conrad Hotel in Chicago on March 10, Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach on March 12, and to a location to be announced in New York City to conclude the tasting tour. Following the fine wine tasting event and tribute, a vintner dinner accompanied by some of the world’s best wines will be hosted by Favia, Penfolds, and Darioush wineries. In select locations, there will be a Rolls Royce experience plus a showcase by Davidoff of Geneva for a premium cigar and wine pairing experience.
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Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Laurie Jo Miller Farr is a transplanted San Francisco travel writer with deep roots in NYC and London.